Lamar University hosts the Greater Gulf Symposium

The Center for History and Culture of Southeast Texas and the Upper Gulf Coast convened a symposium at Lamar University on April 19 to consider the many experiences and expressions of slavery, abolition and emancipation in the region's past and publish this work in The Texas Gulf Historical and Biographical Record. The center invited proposals from established and emerging scholars who actively seek disciplinary intersections between art, economics, ethnicity, gender, history, literature, material culture, sociology and other fields.

Dr. Jimmy Bryan Jr., LU professor of history and center director, Dr. Brendan Gillis, assistant director, and Dr. Jeff Forret, LU professor of history, as well as the five symposium fellows, workshopped their individual essays throughout the day. With refreshments provided by dean Lynn Maurer’s office, Forret gave a keynote that evening, which was well-attended by supporters of the center and the COAS community, according to Bryan.

The topics of the symposium, he said, were chosen because they are significant to the region.

“Dr. Gillis and I considered several themes, but after consulting with Forret, we determined that the topics of slavery, abolition and emancipation remain under-studied field in our region, especially considering that the upper Gulf Coast occupies a unique yet contradictory place in the history of North American slavery. Encompassing the western fringe of the slave-owning South, the region was the site of both oppression and refuge," Bryan explained. "Weak enforcement along the coast and within the Sabine borderlands permitted Jean Lafitte, James Bowie, Timothy Meaher and others to smuggle enslaved people.

"Conversely, it created opportunities for freedom as it did in 1832 for three escapees who sought asylum with the Mexican garrison at Anahuac, or for the Ashworths, free Black siblings and themselves enslavers, who established a prosperous ranching enterprise on the lower Neches River before the Texas Revolution. These contradictions persisted through the waning years of slavery. In 1860 at Mobile, the Clotilda illegally imported the last enslaved Africans into the United States. Five years later at Galveston on June 19, 1865, Gen. Gordon Granger issued orders that declared freedom for the enslaved people of Texas, a date later celebrated as Juneteenth.”

The fellows consisted of scholars with a varied range of experiences and disciplines. The inaugural event welcomed five fellows:

• Michael Bailey (history Ph.D. candidate, Boston College), “Imperial Translators & The Expansion of Enslavement: Hiberno-Spaniards, the Bourbon Reforms, & Slavery in the Gulf Coast”

• María Hammack (Barra Postdoctoral Fellow, McNeil Center for Early American Studies), “‘Entitled to her freedom’: The Illegal Slave Trade & Black Women’s Resistance across the Gulf South.”

• Kayci Merritte (modern culture and media studies Ph.D. candidate, Brown University) “Rendering the Gulf Coast Landscape: Enslaved and Explorer Formations.”  

• Jane H. Plummer (history Ph.D. student, Texas Christian University), “The Maroon Community at Prospect Bluff in Spanish Florida.”

• Rachel Stephens (art history, associate professor, University of Alabama), “Art Justifying Enslavement: The 1844 Silhouette of the Young Family of Natchez."

With the success of this inaugural event, Bryan said the center hopes to host future symposiums.

“I was pleased with how quickly the symposium fellows formed a spirit of comradery and that the symposium opened the opportunity for them to form lasting relationships that will support them throughout their careers,” he said.

For more information about the Center for History and Culture of Southeast Texas and the Upper Gulf Coast, visit the center's website.