This 2019 news report from Al Jazeera Media Network’s online news site AJ+ examines “Slave Rebellion Reenactment,” a community-engaged performance that restaged and reimagined the German Coast Uprising of 1811–the largest rebellion of enslaved people in US history. The news report explores the historical events surrounding the uprising, and the political and cultural objectives that inspired the production of Slave Rebellion Reenactment by artist Dread Scott. On January 8, 1811, upriver from New Orleans, a group of slaves, led by Charles Deslondes, attacked their slave owners and declared themselves liberated. They marched to seize Orleans territory in the hopes of establishing a free republic for Black people in Louisiana as had been done by slaves in Haiti who successfully fought for emancipation from French colonial rule in 1804. The uprising would prove unsuccessful, but it challenged the myth of the “happy slave” — a false belief common in white American consciousness that slaves were content in their lives as slaves. This important event in the fight for freedom and racial equality has remained largely unknown over the past 200 years. Scott created Slave Rebellion Reenactment in order to raise awareness about the uprising, to emphasize that Black people have historically had agency and a will for self-determination, and to connect the German Coast Uprising to present day struggles for equality and racial justice. Scott’s reenactment reimagines the end to the rebellion; instead of reenacting the bloody and brutal put down that marked the end of the 1811 uprising, the 2019 version culminates with honoring the victims of police violence and a jubilant celebration.
How did artist Dread Scott choose to reenact this rebellion? What did he focus on? Why does he juxtapose players in period costume with modern day New Orleans and its environs?
What reasons are cited in the video about the lack of knowledge around this uprising?
Why is it important for marginalized people to “reclaim” their history and tell their own stories whether related to the past or the present?
What is the purpose and value of such a reenactment as a means of “rewriting” history or making it relevant to the present day? Why was it important for Scott to reimagine the way in which the uprising ended? What do you think about Scott’s creative decision?