Columbus Museum of Art

Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson: Selected Database

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Curator’s comments


Joseph A Beatty, (Steven Reich) History Department, James Madison University, 800 South Main Street, Harrisonburg, VA 22807

Bilali, an enslaved African, lived on Sapelo Island in the Georgia low country during the first half of the nineteenth century. He arrived on Sapelo Island in 1803, and almost immediately became head overseer of Thomas Spalding's large plantation and workforce. For nearly fifty years Bilali led the people of Sapelo with dignity through both his action and example. During the War of 1812, as British troops lay off shore, he led a group of armed slaves to defend the island from attack. A decade later his quick thinking helped save Sapelo's residents from devastation during a major hurricane. Bilali, however, was more than just a protector of Sapelo -- he was also an educated spiritual leader. He penned a manuscript in Arabic that describes, in his own words, the foundations of his Islamic faith. The manuscript survived Bilali, and has become a part of regional literature and lore. He was then, and is now, an important figure in coastal Georgia; although, much of what is commonly known about him has been based on popular legend -- a problem compounded by a paucity of primary sources. The life of Bilali can be used as a vehicle for learning about the lives of slaves in coastal Georgia and their origins in West Africa. Furthermore, an examination of his life sheds light on the role of Islam in the Upper Guinea Coast and the complex social and economic relationships between Georgia and the Bahamas.

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Exhibition history

Symphonic Poem, 2002-03 (part of Doll House installation); Carl Solway Gallery

Category of Work