THE WORK OF REBECCA HALL, JD, PHD
Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts
Written by Rebecca Hall, Illustrated by Hugo Martinez, Simon & Schuster, June 1st, 2021
Women warriors planned and led slave revolts on slave ships during the Middle Passage. They fought their enslavers throughout the Americas. And then they were erased from history.
Wake tells the story of Dr. Rebecca Hall, a historian, granddaughter of slaves, and a woman haunted by the legacy of slavery. The accepted history of slave revolts tells her that enslaved women took a back seat. But she feels the need to look deeper. Her journey takes her through old court records, slave ship captain’s logs, crumbling correspondence, and even the forensic evidence from the bones of enslaved women from the “negro burying ground” uncovered in Manhattan.
She finds women warriors everywhere.
Using in-depth archival research and the measured use of historical imagination, Dr. Hall brings to life the women who fought for freedom during the Middle Passage and the women who led slave revolts in Colonial New York.
We also follow Rebecca’s own story of resistance as living in the wake of slavery continues to shape her own life — both as a successful attorney and later as a historian seeking the past that haunts her. But in the process, she learns that the power of these women’s resistance, buried in the past, is still very much alive.
The past is gone. But we still live in its wake.
Wake will be available on June 1st, 2021, but you can pre-order it now:
“Not only a riveting tale of Black women’s leadership of slave revolts but an equally dramatic story of the engaged scholarship that enabled its discovery.”—Angela Y. Davis, Political Activist and Professor Emerita, Departments of History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies, UC Santa Cruz
“Dr. Rebecca Hall and Hugo Martínez connect the past and the present in a moving and exciting narrative that brings to light the history of slavery in the United States. Showing how enslaved women resisted slavery, even though their participation in rebellions remain largely absent from written records, WAKE will be a crucial tool to introduce students to the problematic nature of slavery primary sources.”—Ana Lucia Araujo, Professor of History, Howard University
“WAKE is a revelation. Hall’s prose intersects with Martinez’s beautiful woodcut-styled illustrations to show the power of visual narratives and hearkens back to graphic masters like Lynd Ward and Frans Masereel. The stark play of light and dark in Martinez’s work is a powerful index for the spiritually surreal and transcendent energy in every panel. Hall’s writing cleverly flows between the reality of her research on Black women-led slave revolts and speculative imaginings that uncover the spectrum of human experience and resilience.”—John Jennings, Eisner Award-winning illustrator of Octavia Butler’s Kindred and Parable of the Sower graphic novels
“In this beautiful and moving graphic novel, historian Rebecca Hall unearths a history so often overlooked: the significant role Black women played in leading slave revolts. Through Hugo Martinez’s vivid graphics, combined with Hall’s brilliant insights and powerful storytelling, Wake transports the reader to a moment in time when a group of Black women set out to overturn the institution of slavery in British North America. Their courageous story, told with remarkable skill and elegance, offers hope and inspiration for us all.”
— Keisha N. Blain, award-winning author of Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom and co-editor of the NYT Bestselling 400 Souls
“I was born to tell these stories,” Rebecca Hall writes. “Our memories are longer than our lifetimes.” Haunted, she bears witness to this transformative fact. The text is spare, informed, tuned to vibrating feeling and thought about historical and contemporary Black women’s agency and actions in resistance and rebellion. As powerful as the text are the astonishing graphics. Page after page, the black and white line drawings layer space to probe pasts, presents, and futures in repeating mirror effects. These drawings brought me to tears, recognition, fury, gratitude, solidarity. In both pain and joy in struggle, Hall gives her readers “ancestry in progress.” Consequences flow from living in the wake, admitting the haunting power of histories. Tuned to needed futures, Hall knows, “They await our signal.” —Donna Haraway, Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness Department and Feminist Studies Department, UCSC
“Knowing differently is key to the movement as we newly reckon with what has been memorialized in our past. We are lucky to be in Rebecca Hall’s wake as we look again toward the future, with fresh eyes from visualizing a deeper relationship to the revolutionary black feminist spirit that brought us here.”
—Gina Dent, Associate Professor in Feminist Studies, UC Santa Cruz
“In Wake, Rebecca Hall and Hugo Martinez use the graphic medium to stunning effect. More than just a history, Wake is a meaningful engagement with a living past. Read this book slowly. Savor the visual metaphors. Let them take you back in time while Hall’s narration pins you to the uncomfortable present. Make your reading a shared journey with friends or classmates who can help you uncover the deep meanings and cope with the emotions it raises. This book will haunt you the way that the legacies of slavery haunt this country.”—Trevor Getz, Professor of African and World History and author of Abina and the Important Men: A Graphic History
Rebecca Hall has done something quite important in WAKE The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts. She makes accessible the historian’s craft in the service of telling the powerful stories of women-led slave revolts. With the moving illustrations of Hugo Martinez and the impressive storytelling of Hall, we are transported into 1712, 1708, and the 400 year history of the Black Atlantic, gaining a deeper sense of women-led uprisings. Mincing no words, Hall captures the fierceness of Black women’s resistance. Infusing the text with her personal story and a sharp historical imagination, Hall never waivers in giving life to this history. She lifts the veil on enslaved women’s leadership in the relentless pursuit of freedom. She brings into the present stories that must be read and passed on.
—Rose M. Brewer, Professor, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
“We that live in the wake of centuries of white supremacy feel the hidden history of our ancestors ‘ struggle to survive uncovered in this book. In its pages we not only feel their sorrow in bondage, but also their elation when they finally broke free.”–Ben Passmore, author of Your Black Friend and Other Strangers
A lot of Black history is uncelebrated narratives, but even within that history there are narratives that are especially overlooked; these tend to be the stories of Black women. Rebecca Hall’s diligent research and intelligent storytelling has flipped that script to celebrate the brave enslaved Black women who fought and died for their freedom with dignity. Hugo Martinez’s expressive art brings these women to vivid life on the page.
—Joel Christian Gill, author of Strange Fruit and Fights: One Boy’s Triumph Over Violence
Interviews with Dr. Hall
Reviews of Wake
- ABC News: Untold History of Women-led Slave Revolts
- NowThis: Dr. Rebecca Hall on Reparations, Juneteenth, Untold Stories of Black America
- Comics Review: Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts
“Hall has written, and Martínez has illustrated, an inspired and inspiring defense of heroic women whose struggles could be fuel for a more just future.”—The Guardian
“…Hall has translated her academic research to a medium meant to reach the masses. She resurrects the stories of enslaved women whose resistance has long been excluded from history with the goal of inspiring activists fighting anti-Black racism today.”—NBC News
“Powerful…. Wake is operating in the wake of slavery, and in a state of being awake to the past, a process Hall frames as both devastating and grounding.”—New York Times
“Hall’s eloquence and frank emotionalism are transcendently realized in Martínez art, beckoning the reader inexorably into this story — even the parts that only take place inside Hall’s mind. With its remarkable blend of passion and fact, action and reflection, Wake sets a new standard for illustrating history.”—NPR
“Hall and Martinez deserve tremendous credit for their work in making this research accessible. Wake is a superb accomplishment on every level, and a book that every American needs to read.”—POPMATTERS
“A vividly illustrated account of Black women rebels that combines elements of memoir, archival research, and informed imaginings of its subjects’ lives…. An urgent, brilliant work of historical excavation.”—Kirkus, starred review
“Hall’s nuanced and affecting debut graphic narrative uncovers history that has either been assumed non-existent or rendered violently so by its almost complete erasure from official record…. The story follows Hall as she strives to write her dissertation on women-led slave revolts…. Hall’s singular look at these women, along with her own experiences and resilience, highlight how entwined the past and present really are. Martínez’s resonant black-and-white art cleverly integrates historical scenes into the present-day narrative.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Martínez’s dramatic woodcut-style illustrations are the perfect complement to Hall’s clear-eyed, impactful storytelling…A necessary corrective to violent erasure and a tribute to untold strength, this awe-inspiring collaboration should find a wide audience.”—Booklist, starred review
“This graphic novel format makes it easier to consume this history in a way just seeing the written words on the page alone would not. The art style is as raw as the history it explores and engaging throughout.”—Women of Color Read Too
“Wake…is a riveting combination of graphic memoir and inspirational scholarship.”—The Millions
“With a dynamic, personable, and aesthetically riveting interpretation of slave life- this upcoming graphic novel is changing the game in terms of historical fiction, playing with the bounds of genre and fact while informing of a force often looked besides in token recognition: The Black Revoltress.”—AfroPunk
“This book looks like a unique and accessible way to reframe everything we’ve been told about Black Atlantic history. By gaining a richer knowledge of history, we are better equipped to interpret our present and transform our future.”—Book Riot
“Historical texts that promise a “hidden history” should always go to the top of your to-read pile.”—SHONDALAND
“Heartbreaking yet triumphant, Hall’s vivid reconstructions bore laser-like into a history long hidden. Her engaged scholarship adds back facts that have been stricken from many histories, and it empowers current lives and activism.”—Library Journal
“Hall uses detailed research to evoke the often-erased history of women-led slave revolts while also telling her own story as she contends with the legacy of slavery in her life.”—ALTA
“Part historical reimagining, part graphic novel, and part memoir for the author, Wake is just as much about the research process as about the unearthing of facts and stories about the little-known women-led slave revolts.”—Fortune.com
“In graphic novel format, scholar activist Rebecca Hall provides an imperative and little-known history of revolts led by enslaved women.”—Ms. Magazine
Hall, Rebecca. “Not Killing Me Softly: African American Women, Slave Revolts, And Historical
Constructions of Racialized Gender,” Vol. 1, Issue 2 of The Freedom Center Journal, a joint
publication of University of Cincinnati College of Law and the National Underground Railroad
Center, June, (2010)
Winner of First Article Prize, American Historical Association, Coordinating Council for Women in History, 2011. Supported by the Mellon Foundation’s Post-Doctoral Fellowship at U.C. Berkeley, the American Association of University Women Dissertation Fellowship, and National Science Foundation/Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship.
In Not Killing Me Softly, I recover the stories of enslaved African American women leading revolts on slave ships and in colonial New York City, and show how to find the women in the documents: The court records, newspaper articles, captains’ logs of slave ships, insurance policies, government documents. The letters to the British Crown and its Privy Council. Regulations on how to “manage cargo” on slave ships. The correspondence of slave owners. Even the bones of enslaved women buried in “the negro burying ground” in New York City. We can recover these brave women’s stories and return their acts to history.
Mainstream histories emphatically insist that enslaved women in the United States did not participate in slave revolts. And why all this silencing, anyway? The first histories of slavery in the United States denied that enslaved people resisted at all, since the “peculiar institution” in the U.S. was so “benign” and “civilizing” for African people. Later white male historians would develop complex social theories as to why there was no resistance: slavery was a “totalizing institution,” similar to concentration camps. Slavery was “hegemonic,” and enslaved people consented to being enslaved. Radical historians like W.E.B DuBois and Herbert Aptheker were telling the truth about resistance, but that kind of work didn’t make it into the academy, or the textbook. As African American male historians began to be heard against the backdrop of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, they recovered the histories of the hundreds of slave revolts that occurred in this country, helping to bring down the institution itself. But they wrote in the framework of the pervasive discourse that insisted Black “sex roles” were dysfunctional—the men “emasculated,” the women “matriarchal.” So they insisted that enslaved women did not take up the “manly” work of coordinated acts of violent resistance. As Stokely Carmichael said when asked about the role of women in the Civil Rights movement, her replied: “The only position for women in SNCC is prone.”
As women’s history began to be taken seriously in the late 1970s and 1980s, these feminist historians never questioned the central assumption that enslaved women didn’t participate in revolt. Instead, they wrote to reclaim all the other acts of resistance: the arsons, the poisonings, the destruction of tools—those daily acts that wear on an institution, the “weapons of the weak.” They argued that these more “feminine acts” were just as powerful, if not more so.
“Not Killing Me Softly,” was the first historical work that pushed back against all this. I started doing the detective work we historians are trained for, and there, in the sources were the women. Read about the strength and sacrifices of our ancestors as they gave up their lives in the struggle for freedom. Let us honor these women. Read Not Killing Me Softly: African American Women, Slave Revolts, and Historical Constructions of