“We black folks had to wear lowells”: Negro Cloth, Enslaved People, and the Legacy of Lowell Manufacturing

A Virtual Lecture with Dr. Jonathan Michael Square

Dr. Jonathan Michael Square will present the first chapter from his forthcoming book Negro Cloth: How Slavery Birthed the American Fashion Industry (Duke University Press, 2025), which explores the pivotal role of enslaved individuals in the production and use of “negro cloth,” specifically “Lowell cloth.”

This chapter draws on slave narratives and testimonies collected by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), delving into the intricate web of the fashion supply chain during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Enslaved individuals found a powerful means of self-expression through the creation and wearing of textiles, a recurring theme across the book’s chapters. The chapter’s focuses on the significance of Lowell cloth, named after the Massachusetts city where these textiles were often manufactured. This textile not only highlights the prominence of Lowell as a shining example of American industrialization, it also highlights the pivotal role of fashion and textiles in understanding the experience of enslaved people.

Thursday, May 23rd, 2024


4 pm – 5:30 pm ET

Zoom, a link will be sent to participants the week before the lecture


Tickets for this event are sold on a sliding scale beginning at $10 with a suggested donation of $25, but if you wish to pay less or more than the suggested donation, you may select a different amount from the drop down menu. As always, we are grateful for your support, which ensures the continuation and preservation of textile knowledge. Thank you for making this series possible. 

Tatter Library is a registered 501(c)3. Our speaker series is part of our community programming and proceeds support the continued success of our talks with artists, scholars, and historians we admire. For this event, all ticket proceeds will go towards keeping this series alive. 


If you would like to apply for a scholarship spot, please email [email protected] with a short letter with insight into your creative and academic journey and how you think this lecture might support your growth.


This lecture will be recorded. A link to the recording will be emailed to all those who register following the live session. This link is live for one month for you to watch at your convenience.


Dr. Jonathan Michael Square is the Assistant Professor of Black Visual Culture at Parsons School of Design. He earned a PhD from New York University, an M.A. from the University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. from Cornell University. Previously, he taught in the Committee on Degree in History and Literature at Harvard University and was a fellow in the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He curated the exhibition Past Is Present: Black Artists Respond to the Complicated Histories of Slavery at the Herron School of Art and Design, which closed in January 2023. He is currently preparing for his upcoming show titled Afric-American Picture Gallery at the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. Dr. Square also leads the digital humanities project Fashioning the Self in Slavery and Freedom.


Kimberly M. Jenkins has spent over ten years studying the impact of our clothes and how we express ourselves, through the lenses of politics, race, psychology and anthropology. She has lectured globally, presented exhibitions and hosted in-person experiences to help us think more deeply about dress. Based in New York with a background in fashion studies, cultural anthropology and art history, Kimberly is the founder and Director of Artis Solomon, which offers a consultancy on fashion history and cultural awareness, as well as The Fashion and Race Database, a one of a kind learning platform that is supported by subscribing universities and museums globally. Most recently, she co-produced and hosted the podcast, “The Invisible Seam,” in partnership with Tommy Hilfiger, highlighting the underrepresented contributions Black culture to fashion. Kimberly formerly held the position of Assistant Professor of Fashion Studies at Toronto Metropolitan University and lecturer at Parsons School of Design and Pratt Institute. Kim is best known for introducing the course, Fashion and Race, at Parsons, and for working as an education consultant for Gucci in Europe and Asia to support their efforts on design and cultural awareness.