In the comic strip “Blanc around”, Wilfrid Lupano and Stéphane Fert tell with force and poetry the story of one of the first schools for young black girls in the United States.
We are in 1832, in Canterbury, in the North of the United States. Far from being intimidated by the local population, who are offended that she accepted Sarah, a young black woman, into her school for girls, teacher Prudence Crandall, 30, decides to welcome only students from color. This radical choice and the real surge of hatred it arouses in this small Connecticut town will remain an important episode in the movement against school segregation, declared unconstitutional more than a century later, in 1954.
Wilfrid Lupano, creator of the hit series The old furnaces, discovered this piece of American history by chance, during research on abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, one of the school’s most important supporters. If the courage of Prudence Crandall had already been commemorated in a few books and articles, this committed screenwriter, who refused in 2019 the Medal of Knight of Arts and Letters from the French government, criticizing his policy and in particular the “unworthy” reception of migrants, wanted to tell the story differently. Get out of the narrative stream of ” white savior Which tends to show that blacks obtained rights thanks to whites. “The focus was on the teacher, something was missing on the young girls. So I tried to imagine them, to embody them, ”he says.
Patriarchy and memory
To trace the outlines of these determined girls, mostly born within influential abolitionist families, Wilfrid Lupano called on Stéphane Fert, an “old friend” from his town of Pau, in the south-west of France, with which he had already signed a youth album on freedom of expression, When the circus came. Under the influence of the emotions and the bloodstrokes of the protagonists, the palette of this colourist constantly varies and the differences are erased, to the point that we sometimes no longer distinguish blacks from “surrounding whites”.
There is a convergence of struggles that crystallizes in this school
Plunged into a hostile environment, in which “the whole world” tells them “no”, the heroines of Canterbury are traversed by questions which are still very current: “Very old white men are debating among themselves, somewhere, for to know if we, young black girls, we have the right to study in this school, indignant Maggie, while the first trial of their teacher takes place, during which her lawyers will defend for the first time the right to citizenship of African Americans.
And when the name of Nat Turner, the leader of a bloody slave revolt that traumatized white America a year before, pops into the classroom, Sarah’s thoughts echo the most recent debates about the memory of the slavery and colonization: “I want to learn Alexander the Great, Christopher Columbus […]. But I need to understand the difference between a vile massacre and a historic conquest. Because I don’t see her miss. I do not see her. “
Women, black and educated
Even though slavery has already been abolished in Connecticut, it doesn’t feel good to be black there, let alone an educated black like Nat Turner, let alone be a woman. “There is a convergence of struggles that crystallizes in this school,” says the screenwriter, also co-founder of Ink Link, an association of comic book professionals that illustrates social, environmental and humanitarian causes.
Young Miriam got it right: “Educated black women will have educated children who will have even better educated children. This is the threat that these simple schoolgirls represent in the eyes of the white population. “They don’t want this to start. And it starts here, ”add his comrades.
Neither racist attacks nor the burning of their school by an angry mob will undermine their resolve. Many of them will in turn become figures in the struggle for the education of African Americans and for social justice. Sarah Harris Fayerweather and Mary Elizabeth Miles will even be pillars of the Underground Railroad (” Underground Railroad “) Borrowed by the fleeing slaves.