I’ll Fly Away: Birds, Slaves, Audubon, and Flying Africans

Tuesday, March 30, 2021 - 6:00pm - 7:00pm
United States

Join professor Brigitte Fielder as she examines symbolism of antislavery imagery.

Paul Laurence Dunbar knows “why the caged bird sings” in part because of such connections between the enslavement of black people and the captivity of animals that were so prominent in nineteenth-century culture. Because birds, in particular, were viewed as symbols of freedom, arguments that they should not be caged abounded in discourses on pet-keeping.

These arguments were often coupled with antislavery arguments, for example, in children’s stories about people who adopt abolitionist views in tandem with deciding to free birds from cages. Fielder reads the racial resonance of birds in John James Audubon’s narratives in this historical context of antislavery bird imagery and also against another “Bird—Slave” analogy: the “Flying African” stories of African American oral tradition. Reading the bird-slave analogy in this context, we see human-animal relations that defy more commonly discussed racist human-animal tropes and instead illustrate black resistance to oppression.

Event Type: 
History and Preservation
Global Region: 
Global Region: 
American (United States)