Conversation with A.E. Rooks | The Black Joke
Join us for a conversation with A.E. Rooks, author of The Black Joke: The True Story of One Ship's Battle Against the Slave Trade, a groundbreaking history of the most famous member of the British Royal Navy’s anti-slavery squadron, and the long fight to end the transatlantic slave trade. Rooks's conversation partner will be J. Marlena Edwards, Assistant Professor of History, African American Studies, and African Studies at Penn State.
The most feared ship in Britain’s West Africa Squadron, His Majesty’s brig Black Joke was one of a handful of ships tasked with patrolling the western coast of Africa in an effort to end hundreds of years of global slave trading. Sailing after the spectacular fall of Napoleon in France, yet before the rise of Queen Victoria’s England, Black Joke was first a slaving vessel itself, and one with a lightning-fast reputation; only a lucky capture in 1827 allowed it to be repurposed by the Royal Navy to catch its former compatriots. Over the next five years, the ship’s diverse crew and dedicated commanders would capture more ships and liberate more enslaved people than any other in the Squadron. As Britain slowly attempted to snuff out the transatlantic slave trade by way of treaty and negotiation, enforcing these policies fell to the Black Joke and those that sailed with it as they battled slavers, weather disasters, and interpersonal drama among captains and crew that reverberated across oceans. In this history of the daring feats of a single ship, the abolition of the international slave trade is revealed as an inexplicably extended exercise involving tense negotiations between many national powers, both colonizers and formerly colonized, that would stretch on for decades longer than it should have. Harrowing and heartbreaking, The Black Joke is a crucial and deeply compelling work of history, both as a reckoning with slavery and abolition and as a lesson about the power of political will—or the lack thereof.
A.E. Rooks hopes to always be a student of history, though that hasn’t stopped her from studying everything else. She is a two-time Jeopardy! champion with completed degrees in theatre, law, and library and information science—and forthcoming degrees in education and human sexuality—whose intellectual passions are united by what the past can teach us about the present, how history shapes our future, and above all, really interesting stories.
J. Marlena Edwards, assistant professor of African American Studies and History, completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the Africana Research Center at Penn State after earning a dual-major Ph.D. in African American & African Studies and History from Michigan State University. Her research interests include multiethnic African American identities, Cape Verdean and Afro-Caribbean migration, U.S. Immigration, and African diaspora histories. She's working on her first book documenting West Indian and Cape Verdean Immigrant communities and their lives after whaling in early twentieth century New England.
This event is co-sponsored by the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice.
We invite you to support the author by purchasing a copy of their book from Browseabout Books by clicking HERE. Call-in orders are accepted at (302) 226-2665 or you can stop by the store to purchase a copy. For store hours, please visit their website. Each copy comes with a signed archival bookplate.
NOTE: this meeting is being conducted through Zoom. You MUST REGISTER to receive instructions for joining the meeting.
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