University of St Andrews

Neil Smith Lecture presented by Professor Nik Heynen

Professor Nik HeynenProfessor of Geography, University of Georgia, USA will present the Neil Smith Lecture on Monday, 5 February 2018 in the Irvine Lecture Theatre; 3.15-5pm, followed by a reception.

The Pirates of Racial Capitalism and Abolition Ecology

At a prominent kitchen table on Sapelo Island I was once told that if Edward Teach’s treasure, rumored to be on Blackbeard Island just across a small tidal channel, was recovered it would prevent the remaining Geechee community on Sapelo from further displacement and experiencing cultural genocide.  Blackbeard’s treasure was in part generated by his engagement in the Transatlantic slave trade, which matters because Sapelo Island maintains the most in-tact remaining Gullah/Geechee community in the U.S., having been home to eleven generations that directly tie their ancestry to first slaves brought there in 1802.  I’ll stretch this kitchen table conversation toward its global implications to show how the last slave ship to illegally unload on U.S. shores did so on Jekyll Island in 1858, just south of Blackbeard and Sapelo Islands.  This is the same island that in 1910 JP Morgan, who fashioned himself as a pirate, clandestinely organized a meeting that led to the formation of the U.S. Federal Reserve bank.  These historical connections are important because of how robber barons of the gilded age produced a particular kind of nature along the Southeastern U.S. coast through their purchase of land across this distinctly racialized archipelago and their exploitation of “dead labor” invested in the land through slavery.  The paper is about the pirates of racial capitalism and the persistent need for abolition ecology amidst their historical wake.