Dark Places: Faculty in Print


Georgia Southern Professor Recounts ‘the most important court case you’ve never heard of’

It’s one of the most important legal decisions regarding slavery in U.S. history, it happened in nearby Savannah, Georgia, and most people have never heard of it.

Jonathan Bryant, Ph.D., associate professor of history at Georgia Southern University, is bringing national attention to a landmark court case in his book, Dark Places of the Earth: The Voyage of the Slave Ship Antelope, published in July of last year by Liveright, a subsidiary of W.W. Norton in New York. Soon after its release, the book was reviewed by such national media outlets such as Publisher’s Weekly, The Wall Street Journal, The Philadelphia Tribune and Kirkus Reviews. Bryant was also an hour-long guest on National Public Radio’s “The Diane Rehm Show.”

While the professor admits he’s been “surprised” by all the attention given to him and the book, he knew he’d landed on a good story.

“As I started going through the materials, I realized, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’ve got a thriller novel here,’” he said. “I’ve got lying lawyers. I’ve got conspiracies. Just a host of different things.”

SPRING16dark-places-2The case began in 1820, when the Antelope, a Spanish slave ship, was captured off the coast of Florida. Since the U.S. had outlawed its own participation in the international slave trade, the ship’s captives — almost 300 of them — were considered illegal cargo under American law. However, because slavery was such an integral part of the U.S. economy, the case would make its way to the Supreme Court to decide what should be done with them.

For the next few years, the case bounced around circuit court in Savannah, and went to the Supreme Court three times. Chief Justice John Marshall and his court, many of them slave owners themselves, finally wrote the decision that while slaves might be human beings, by law they are property. It was a decision that shaped American law for the next 35 years.

“It was a hellacious decision,” said Bryant, “that in essence said that you can take your property wherever you want to. Slavery could expand westward and it couldn’t be stopped by the state or federal governments.”

As for the captives, they were put to work on Georgia farms while the case made its way through the court system, and some of them waited almost eight years to learn their fate. Bryant says these captives were children, many of them between the ages of 5 and 10, and their voices are conspicuously absent from the court records.

“It’s very, very frustrating,” he said. “An interpreter is hired numerous times but never once do they record anything said by the captives. The captives themselves had lived in the Savannah area — depending on which one you were — seven to eight years. They learned to speak English, but again, nothing is recorded.”

Bryant first came across the Antelope case in 1999 while searching for class materials that might better engage his students at Georgia Southern, and revisited it for several years before finally devoting himself to research in 2009.

Bryant says that being published by such a noted company was a true stroke of luck, but he always thought the story would attract interest if given a chance.

“It’s a wonderful story of corruption and lies and duplicitous behavior by lawyers — all of those lovely things that we like to read about,” he said. — Doy Cave


Faculty in Print

In addition to the scores of faculty publishing papers in magazines and journals this year, several Georgia Southern faculty members received book deals, publishing works of fiction, biography and instruction.

Michelle Haberland, Ph.D., associate professor of history, wrote Striking Beauties: Women Apparel Workers in the U.S. South, 1930-2000, published by University of Georgia Press. The book examines the apparel industry in the South, which relies heavily on female labor, as an important industry that connects women’s history, southern cultural history and labor history.

Eric Allen Hall, Ph.D., assistant professor of history, wrote Arthur Ashe: Tennis and Justice in the Civil Rights Era, published in September by Johns Hopkins Press. Hall’s book tells the story of how this iconic African American tennis player overcame racial and class barriers to reach the top of the tennis world in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and his evolution into an activist who had to contend with the shift from civil rights to black power.

Daniel Pioske, Ph.D., assistant professor of religious studies, wrote David’s Jerusalem: Between Memory and History, published as part of the Routledge Studies in Religion series. The book explores the history of David’s Jerusalem, one of the most contentious topics of the ancient world, and looks at the breaks and ruptures between the locations remembered and historical past.

Teresa Buzo Salas, M.A., instructor of Spanish, wrote the Spanish language novel, Las hijas de la horas, or The Daughters of the Hours, published by Editorial Gregal. The story is an action-packed psychological thriller in which the main character, Virgilio, receives Facebook messages from his dead daughter. His desperation to find out who is behind the messages leads him on a dangerous journey around Africa, which changes his perspective of the world.

Adel El Shahat, Ph.D., assistant professor of engineering, wrote Smart Homes Systems Technology, published by Scholar’s Press. The book explores the “smart homes” of the future by examining existing technologies in smart grids, wind energy and storage devices for green energy, to name a few.

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