Jamaica

On May 3, 1494, Christopher Columbus sighted the island of Jamaica. Spanish colonists settled the island fifteen years later, and it fell into British hands in 1655. Although the Spanish introduced slavery to Jamaica, the British oversaw its development. By the end of the eighteenth century, Jamaica was one of the most valuable colonies in the world, its profitable plantation economy based on the production of sugar through the labor of African slaves.

View of Port Royal and Kingston Harbour in the Island of Jamaica. Engr. by F. Cary, Nov. 1, 1782. Prints & Photographs Division

Some measure of the human cost of this economy is apparent in African Slave Trade in Jamaica, and Comparative Treatment of Slaves, an essay read before the Maryland Historical Society in October 1854. In this treatise, which includes a statistical comparison of the cost of slavery in the United States and Jamaica, Moses Sheppard attempts to undercut British criticisms of American slavery by emphasizing Britain’s role in the introduction of slavery to the Americas and by recounting British atrocities in Jamaica. Sheppard’s essay is featured in From Slavery to Freedom: the African-American Pamphlet Collection 1822-1909. To locate more documents on this subject, search the collection on slave trade.

Wild Banana Plants, Jamaica, W.I.. [c1901?]. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Phtographs Division

Jamaica gained its independence from England in 1962 but remains a member of the British commonwealth. The U.S. has long been one of Jamaica’s principal trading partners.

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A Couple of Kansans

Playwright William M. Inge was born in Independence, Kansas on May 3, 1913. Inge wrote several hit plays including Come Back, Little Sheba, Bus Stop, and Picnic, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize. His first play, Farther Off From Heaven (1947), was revised ten years later for Broadway as The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. Many of his plays were made into films and, in 1961, Inge won an Academy Award for his original screenplay Splendor in the Grass.

Portrait of William Inge, Carl Van Vechten, photographer, Sept. 4, 1954. Van Vechten Collection. Prints & Photographs Division
Gordon Parks… [ca. 1943]. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division

Photographer Gordon Parks was a contemporary of William Inge. He was born less than six months prior to Inge on November 30, 1912 in Kansas. He also pursued a career in the arts. Parks began taking photographs during the Great Depression and was earning his living as a self-taught fashion photographer by 1940. A fellowship allowed him to come to Washington, D.C., in 1942 and work for the Farm Security Administration. Working through the medium of photography, Parks went on to become one of America’s finest social commentators. His autobiography, A Choice of Weapons(New York: Harper & Row), was published in 1966.

Washington, D.C. Government Charwoman. Gordon Parks, photographer, Aug. 1942. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division
Washington, D.C. Corner Store Which Is Patronized by Mrs. Ella Watson, a Government Charwoman. Gordon Parks, photographer, Aug. 1942. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division
Washington, D.C. Mrs. Ella Watson, a Government Charwoman, Receiving Anointment from Reverend Clara Smith… Gordon Parks, photographer, Aug. 1942. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division
Washington, D.C. Adopted Daughter of Mrs. Ella Watson, a Government Charwoman. Gordon Parks, photographer, Aug. 1942. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division

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