This article explores the relation between the dockside denizens of Claude McKay’s Marseille and the violent history of slavery and racism. It takes a longue durée approach to modernism by arguing that the previous five hundred years of colonization and conquest of Black and Indigenous life continue to constrain the possibilities of freedom imagined in the art and literature of the early twentieth century. Using Édouard Glissant’s poetics of relation, it considers how the shoreline in Romance in Marseille provides a fecund location for sifting through the residues of slavery to salvage possibilities for living otherwise than the racist state demands. In so doing, Romance in Marseille goes further than McKay’s other novels in asserting that Black femininity must be central to a Black reinvention of the human.

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