Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts by Rebecca Hall

“History written by the victors always erases the resistance. And those of us who live in the wake/ruins learn that we’re inferior and needed to be conquered and enslaved. This is the afterlife of slavery that the victors need us to inhabit. One in which we have always already lost and have accepted our fate a handed to us.”
― Rebecca Hall, Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts

Over the last couple months, I have been actively searching for information about hidden histories: the histories of people, places, objects hidden just below the surface that people don’t think about (or know about). These hidden histories can also be the histories of a people that weren’t deemed to be known by the winners of a conflict. During my latest deep dive, I found Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts. Rebecca Hall has, with the help of illustrator Hugo Martínez and lettered by Sarula Bao, written about the lives of enslaved black women warriors. This is a mix between a graphic novel and memoir, as Rebecca acknowledges during her flashbacks that she doesn’t know the full truth, so she has taken some liberties in discussing what actually happened.

During this book, Rebecca is a scholar working on her dissertation to find the truth about the black women warriors involved in slave revolts. Her research takes her across the globe as she works to fill in the holes in their histories. She is the granddaughter of slaves and has forever been haunted by their history and legacy. Wanting to know more about enslaved women, Rebecca heads to archives, courts, businesses, museums, and libraries to dig up their histories. She finds deteriorating correspondence, slave ship captain’s logs, old court records, and forensic reports/evidence that lead her to the truth of these women warriors.

Wake is illustrated gorgeously/hauntingly in black and white, pushing the boundaries of the history of these black women, while showcasing what Rebecca finds in the historical records and then her reconstruction of the past when no records can be found. In addition to the look at the past, Rebecca also shows how her own life is impacted by her research into slavery through her work as an attorney and a historian.

“We reach the final stage of healing from trauma when we integrate the past into who we are. It becomes a part of us that we acknowledge and provides understanding of our world […] Our memories must be longer than our lifetimes.”
― Rebecca Hall, Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts

“When we go back and retrieve our past, our legacy of resistance through impossible odds, our way out of no way, we redress the void of origin that would erase us. We empower and bring joy to our present. This is ancestry in progress, and it is our superpower.”
― Rebecca Hall, Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts

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