Plot: On Black Spatial Insurgency

Keynote speech by J.T. Roane

In the context of slavery, various interrelated iterations of the plot—the site of the body’s interment, the garden parcel, a roving imaginary of the potential for connection in land and waterscapes out­side of domination, and hidden insurrectionary activity—fostered a vision of de-commodified water and landscapes as well as resources among the enslaved. Evolv­ing in dialectic with mastery and dominion especially as expressed in the social-spatial form of the plantation, enslaved and post-emancipation communities plotted a set of communal resources within the interstices of plantation ecologies, constituting the Black commons. The paper examines the plot’s and the Black commons’ reorganization as living logics, as hybridized cultural praxes with capacity for incremental and radical transformation, translation, and translocation prompted by intracommunal dynamics and their expression in a dynamic relation with the forces that impinge upon Black placemaking from outside—extractionism, disposability, displacement, and death. Translated to the city in the context of the Great Migrations (1880s–1920s; 1945-1970) beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, this imaginary continued to underwrite a diverse array of visions for personal and collective urban social formations askew from the uneven terrain engendered by racial capitalism. In the rural context, the plot and the Black commons continued to evolve as a vision of an ecological otherwise, creating space of collectivity hedging the Jim Crow era enclosure. Finally, the plot served as the basis of radical thinker and writer June Jordan’s vision of terraforming “mississippi-america” through radical land reform and the abolition of property from the 1970s until her death in 2002.

Born and raised in Tappahannock, Virginia, J.T. Roane is assistant professor of Africana Studies and Geography and Andrew W. Mellon chair in Global Racial Justice in the Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice at Rutgers University. He received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University and he is a 2008 graduate of the Carter G. Woodson Institute at the University of Virginia. His book Dark Agoras: Insurgent Black Social Life and the Politics of Place is out in January 2023 with New York University Press. He serves as a member of Just Harvest—Tidewater, an Indigenous and Black led organization seeking the transformation of food in Virginia’s historical plantation region through political and practical education and transformation.

Photo: JT Roane and Brill Palmer, Blencathra, January 2023