In July 2018, the New York Times reported on the remains of some ninety-five people discovered at a construction site in the Houston, Texas, suburb of Sugar Land. The archaeologists called in to identify the remains determined that they likely belonged to African American laborers who worked between 1878 and 1911 on the Imperial Sugar Company’s plantation as part of Texas’s convict-lease system. The remains unearthed in Sugar Land compel consideration of the tenuousness and illusory nature of freedom in the United States. Focusing on James Hannaham’s Delicious Foods (2015) and Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys (2019), this essay considers how the neo–slave narrative might allow access to enslavement and the plantation not as a retrospective event or site but as coterminous and ongoing iterations of US anti-Black violence. Thinking of the plantation not as a site but as a logic, this essay also proposes the concept of “plantation future blues,” expressed in forms of sociality meant to unthink Black unfreedom. Ultimately, the piece considers how contemporary novels might point toward both anti-Black violence and elaborate on the hope of Black futurity by engaging the genres of enslavement.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.