Arna Bontemps’s Black Thunder (1936) re-envisions Gabriel Prosser’s slave revolt in 1800 as he attempted to marshal eleven hundred slaves to fight for freedom. Instead of escaping slavery to become fugitives in the “free” North, he demands collective freedom in Richmond, Virginia. For Bontemps, pendulum-time is a potentially revolutionary construct of temporality. In Black Thunder, the pendulum swings from an imagined Africa pre-Middle Passage to a free future post-1968 and between times of real resistance, from Gabriel’s revolt to the Haitian Revolution and the ideology of the French Revolution to forms of black radicalism in 1936 and 1968. These repeated sets of gestures (past, present, and future) and divergent sets of hemispheric spaces (Virginia, France, and Haiti) are conceptually yoked together by the pendulum’s arc. In this essay, I argue that pendulum-time resists Gabriel’s revolt as a failure and offers instead a reading of slave revolt as a foundation for black radical traditions and visions of collective freedom. My discussions of pendulum-time and collective freedom redefine the neo-slave narrative, modern narratives that return to the time of slavery, by reorienting the individualist account of slave “escape” to collectivized slave revolt. I ultimately argue that Bontemps’s use of anachronism and prophecy, two constitutive features of pendulum-time, produces a temporality of indeterminacy that marks a vacillation between progress and defeat. Pendulum-time also makes visible emancipatory moments within the constraints of slavery and reveals predictive, even prophetic, temporalities of slave revolt.

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