AFAM 162: African American History: From Emancipation to the Present (2010)
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African American History: From Emancipation to the Present (2010)
AFAM 162 - Lecture 5 - Uplift, Accommodation, and Assimilation
Chapter 1. Alexander Crummell [00:00:00]
Professor Jonathan Holloway: Let me begin the lecture with the keywords for the lecture. Just a couple of words that will help you understand important themes for this lecture and for Wednesday, for the entire week, really. And those phrases are, the keywords are the Talented Tenth, Talented Tenth, uplift and respectability, putting them together, uplift and respectability, and race management. Talented Tenth, uplift and respectability, and race management. Let me start with a quote.
The quote is from a man named Alexander Crummell, from one of his final publications–essays–called “Civilization: The Primal Need of a Race,” excuse me, “Civilization: The Primal Need of the Race.” You’ll see in this lecture, and perhaps even identified a tiny bit in this quote, some linkages to the last lecture, thinking about manliness and civilization, and Ida B. Wells Barnett, and the kinds of claims she was making about the white South, that they were lacking in both. Today we’re talking–the reason there’s a linkage there, we’re talking about the same era, generally speaking. This week, we’re going to move from essentially the 1880s into the first decade of the 1900s, just to give you a chronological bearing. And that overlaps a lot with the lecture I was, I had on Wednesday, dealing with Ida B. Wells’ anti-lynching crusades as well.
Now I started the lecture with Alexander Crummell, and let me explain why. I think he’s a nice vehicle through which we can understand a lot of the themes of this week’s lectures. Crummell was a black man, born into a free family in 1819. His family was essentially a minority within a minority. Both parents were literate, they were active abolitionists, and they enjoyed a materially comfortable life in that particular context. Crummell is born free to literate parents and active abolitionists. He’s not the typical–This is not the typical African American experience part of emancipation. He’s educated by his father and at private schools throughout the Northeast, although not without controversy. In one of the schools he came to in New York, when the townspeople learned that they were going to educate free blacks at that school, really just a one room house, they hitched oxen to the house and pulled it in to a swamp.
Anyway, Crummell does get an education, becomes a minister, and then heads off to Cambridge University in 1848, excuse me, 1845. Crummell’s departure for England and his subsequent classical training marked a watershed moment in his personal intellectual development. He originally left the U.S. only to obtain a degree from Cambridge and raise money to build a new church back in the United States. Now he leaves in 1845. He does not come back to the U.S., except for two very brief visits, he does not come back to the U.S. until 1872. So he is gone from the country during the great sectional crisis. Goes to England in 1845, he doesn’t stay in England the whole time. He starts getting sick in England, and then he decides to move to a warmer climate for his health. This is the thinking of the time.
He departs for Liberia, the West Coast of Africa, in 1853, and he would remain there for almost two decades. By this action, it appears as if Crummell was doing exactly that which he fought so strongly against in his public orations prior to this moment. He was immigrating to Africa, just as the African Colonization Society recommended African Americans do. This is a group I mentioned in passing a week and a half ago, it’s a, you know, a group advocating blacks get out of the United States, and advocating colonization, go back to where they belong is the thinking, in shorthand. Well, when Crummell goes to England, he goes there somewhat against the activity of the African Colonization Society. He’s campaigning actively against that idea. We should not send blacks, you know, quote, “back to Africa,” black Americans, that is. Their homeland is the United States. But by the time Crummell leaves for Liberia, he actually is advocating colonization. So Crummell goes through this interesting shift, it seems. He leaves for England for a advanced degrees, and to get the education and raise funds to build a church back in the United States. He stays in England, then leaves for Africa, advocating colonization, the very thing that he had been fighting against for his adult life up to that point.
Now Crummell’s advocacy for colonization is different from that of people like in the African Colonization Society who are saying, “Let’s just get this problem out of our hair.” Crummell believed in the hierarchy of civilization. That’s an important phrase, the hierarchy of civilization. And he believed that African natives, who in Crummell’s mind were pagan, that African natives were at the bottom of this hierarchy. So instead of advocating for blacks to move to–black Americans to move to Africa to solve an American problem, he’s calling for black Americans to move to Africa to solve an African problem and a Christian problem. Crummell believed that at one time, black Africans were at the top of the civilizational ladder, top of the hierarchy. But over time, with technical innovation and divine providence, very important, he believed that Europeans, especially the English, were now at the top of the hierarchy, top of this ladder. So Crummell’s advocating blacks come–black Americans come to Africa to save the Africans, to Christianize them, to rise them up, to lift them up beyond their pagan roots.
Eventually, Crummell becomes frustrated in Liberia with his attempts to civilize the natives through letters in educational salvation. Returns to the United States to head up one of the most prominent churches in Washington D.C., St. Luke’s Episcopal, serving a predominantly black and almost exclusively wealthy black community. Comes back in 1872, starts up this–heads up this church and really helps expand it and grow it, and he dies in 1898. Now what does all this have to do with today’s lecture?
Crummell embodies many of the important elements that define black leadership and elite life in the second half of the 19th century. Although he did not coin the phrase, Crummell lived the ideology that suggested the Talented Tenth. The Talented Tenth would be the ones to save the race. Although he did not live long enough to see it mature, Crummell founded the American Negro Academy. More about that in a few minutes. Crummell founded the American Negro Academy which took as its–as its explicit mission to save the race via the profound ideas of the Talented Tenth. And although Crummell sees himself certainly as at least a political progressive, if not a radical, one can see in this quick glimpse, this tour of his biography, a notion that blacks had not attained sufficient greatness to be considered contributors to the civilized world. You can see in this kind of ideology–this kind of sentiment an inherent conservatism. And in this way, Crummell’s a race manager. So much of his project is about trying to find a way to save the race, to manage its problems and its solutions.
Chapter 2. The Talented Tenth [00:09:44]
Again, the keywords for today are Talented Tenth, uplift and respectability, and, implicit in both, race management. As I stated a few minutes ago, this lecture–this week’s worth of lectures lingers between around 1890 and 1910, an era famously referred to, at least famously in the black community, as the nadir, the worst part, the N-A-D-I-R, the nadir, the worst part of the free black experience. Saw last week frightful representations of white control via lynching, and I talked about other methods of social and political control used by whites to eliminate black economic opportunity and the black male voting presence. Now as bad as these things were, there’s no doubt it was horrific, it would be a mistake to say that blacks were without hope, that they were an utterly downtrodden people, doomed to their degraded position. There were in fact glimmers of hope and activism, even though it grew out of a reality of despair. So a profoundly difficult time for the post-emancipation African American experience, but don’t bottle it up and say it’s all despair and all misery.
See glimmers of hope can be identified in, sort of in essentially two ways: on the ground in daily acts of resistance, like the kinds you had read about in Tera Hunter’s wonderful book To ‘Joy My Freedom. And you see glimmers of hope perhaps in polite society, via the work of reformers, churches, societies, and associations. A few quick words about on the ground resistance. We know from Tera Hunter that thinking about struggle–her book, her argument, is about struggle on the ground, and the ways in which the black community was negotiating class politics during this era–on the ground struggles of daily resistance means small acts of resistance, until people like Tera Hunter came along, lost to history, one would think. It’s about doing work more slowly than you possibly can. It means stealing scraps when you know you shouldn’t be, stealing labor in a sense in the houses where you work or in the factories where you worked. Quietly finding ways to say no to the orders that you’ve been given, to the life you’ve been forced to lead, although outwardly you’re saying yes.
You can’t discount these small acts of daily resistance. They are important. Think of Tera Hunter’s laundry workers who would claim control of their bodies in the evening when they went out dancing. They had some sort of real psychological relief, physical relief, in exerting control over their own bodies and being out in a certain space, even though their own–their bosses wouldn’t have appreciated it, and certainly the black elite looked down their noses at their actions. This is important, but it’s also important to realize the psychological benefits could be fleeting, in the acts of daily resistance, because the fact of the matter is, when those workers woke up the next morning after a great night out, they had to go back to work. They had to find a way to put food on the table. And so although we cannot discount the benefits of psychological relief, we need to understand them as well for the real limits that they had. Life remained difficult.
Now you have, at the same time as Tera Hunter’s washerwomen, black activists who were thinking of long term gains for the black community that extended beyond the boundaries of their own body. These were the people, it’s important to realize, who had the freedom and security to think beyond the daily existence. They had some means. Now we’re not talking wealthy people, rich people, but they had some sort of security. They knew there were meals coming all week long. Their–Their house, they owned their house, they had shelter. They had some measure of education. So they had the leisure time to think about long-term solutions. These were the people who considered themselves the Talented Tenth. These were the people who thrived in polite society and who saw it as their duty to uplift the race.
Chapter 3. The Uplift Ideology [00:15:09]
Bless you. This last phrase, I want you to think about and what’s important for this lecture. They saw it as their duty to uplift the race. Now for the rest of the lecture I’m going to, in a sense, explore that phrase, and extrapolate meaning from it. For the rest of the lecture, I want to explore uplift’s roots in the Northern church. I’ll explore the linkage between uplift and the new growth of associations in American culture. But most importantly, I want to explore uplift’s investment in gender dynamics and uplift’s equally subversive and conservative nature. It’s really critical that you understand uplift was, at its core, a dynamic ideology that was imbued with that era’s restrictive gender and class conventions. There’s a gendered element to uplift, there’s a class element to uplift, that make uplift both subversive–subversive and conservative. Think back to my framing of Alexander Crummell’s life. He considered himself a political progressive and yet his ideology was fundamentally conservative.
Let’s look at uplift’s roots. We can trace uplift back as an identifiable ideology to a group called the American Baptist Home Mission Society, the American Baptist Home Mission Society. It’s a Northern and white-run effort to educate and civilize Southern blacks. It’s the Post-Emancipation and Reconstruction era we’re talking about here. The American Baptist Home Mission Society is a Northern, white-run effort to educate and civilize Southern blacks. One of the leaders of the Home Mission Society is a man named Henry Morehouse. He’s the man, white man, who coined the phrase Talented Tenth, that that ten percent of black America, really much more like a tenth of one percent, would be that group to uplift the race, to lift it up. In fact, Henry Morehouse, for those who know your historically black colleges–colleges and universities, Morehouse College, the most important black college for educating black men in history–still is, still is there today, still doing amazing work–is named for Henry Morehouse.
Anyway, this is an era when church membership–so why the American Baptist Home Mission Society? This is an era when church membership is increasing rapidly, but organized religious bodies start to clash with what can best be called grassroots black worship styles from religious organizations. One of the things that’s important to recognize is that much as prior to emancipation, blacks couldn’t marry, they couldn’t get an education, very often they couldn’t practice their own religious faiths, certainly not openly and publicly. So you see a sort of boom in black America, a public exhortation, or demonstration, of the desire to practice faith. But they wanted to do it in their own ways and form their own religious organizations. This is a complicating factor, to put it mildly, when it came to the American Baptist Home Mission Society. The Home Mission Society was coming down from the North, setting up schools and churches, setting up schools in sort of the same spirit as the Freedmen’s Bureau, setting up churches, Baptist churches, setting up an order of prayer, systems of practice, to educate and civilize–civilize through faith, adherence to the Bible and Christian ethics–so to save the, save the race.
Well, blacks begin to bristle at the fact that they are not allowed by the American Baptist Home Mission Society structure, that they aren’t allowed to contribute to the Sunday school teaching literature. Whatever they had to teach on a Sunday was, quote, “given to them” by this Northern church. The American Baptist Publication Society refused their contributions. It’s a tension here about religion and religious teaching, practices certainly, but it’s also about control over their secular activities. The American Baptist Home Mission Society wanted blacks to function in accordance with their guidelines and their principles. And, increasingly, blacks were saying, “I’m, you know, I’m getting frustrated by this.” You have a breaking point in 1895, the year, as you’ll see over this lecture and next lecture, very important year. Serious breach appears in 1895 when a number of blacks come together, Southern blacks, too frustrated any longer to abide by the American Baptist Home Mission Society’s edicts, and forms its own society, the National Baptist Convention.
The National Baptist Convention is created by and about blacks. It’s organized to establish black control over the church, their churches, their religious practices and secular activities. It even goes as far as to establish its own publishing company so it could produce, among other things, Sunday school literature written by blacks. So you have the American Baptist Home Mission Society coming down from the North with a frankly patronizing attitude about saving the race. After some time, the race says, “We’ll form our own organization if you won’t let us have some control in our own churches.” Thus the National Baptist Convention is formed.
Now before going any further, going any further, it’s important to think about what a church actually was. These were places to worship, of course, but it’s also important to realize that churches play many different roles in the black community, and the white community as well, but we’re talking about the African American experience right here. These churches were places where they taught literacy. Certainly that’s what Sunday school classes are partly about as well, but we’re talking sort of daily education. They were also places to find food. If you’re running short on food, you go to the church to be fed or get some supplies–provide basic healthcare, employment information, clothes. So the church was not just a place functioning in the black community–community as a site on Sundays to be in deep reflection and other days to seek solace. It was doing that certainly, but also feeding, educating, clothing the black community, and providing basic healthcare as well. So the church needs to be understood as what one scholar calls “a discursive space in the black public sphere whose very conscious role was to uplift the race.” “A discursive space in the black public sphere whose very conscious role was to uplift the race.” Saving the race through God, through food, through education, through clothing, through healthcare, across the board. So churches were religious and secular spaces.
Now in addition to the growing secular activity of the black church, there’s a rapid expansion of intellectual, social, and literary societies in black America. Now this is a phenomenon across the races, the United States during this time, the late 19th century. It’s important to realize the significant organizations in black America weren’t–black America weren’t just the churches. There’s cultural and intellectual societies as well. As far as black America was concerned, these societies, these associations, were all a part of the struggle to become self sufficient. It’s important to protect its own flanks and to provide for those who are less fortunate.
So you have fraternal orders and benefit societies, like the Masons, the Odd Fellows, the Knights of Tabor, all of which were for men. Or the Order of the Eastern Star, the Sisters of the Colanth for women. You have secret societies offering insurance–insurance against sickness and death, and aid to widows and orphans. And then eventually, you have insurance societies, companies, most famously the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. This is the largest black business in the United States for quite some time. The rise of black banks and so on. So you see a range of really, for lack of a better phrase, community service associations developing. Places for fellowship, sort of a secular fellowship, certainly, but also a place to gather to sort out information about somebody who might be in trouble that we can help out, to sort of raise funds to improve schools by hiring a new teacher perhaps; to provide resources when somebody dies, a mutual aid benefit society; give resources to the children, widows; to literally put your money some place. These were all rather dramatic changes. They may not–may not seem like much, but again, when you’re starting from zero, anything is something.
So in addition to these service societies, you have intellectual societies, like the American Negro Academy, founded in 1897. The ANA, the American Negro Academy, was not the first of its sort, but it was the first to talk about uplift in systematically intellectual ways. So it’s not about job training. It’s not about finding clothes or food for somebody. It’s about saving the race through the power of the intellect and through training. The ANA was limited to twenty or so leading men of the race, this would be the phrase of the time. Women were not allowed. And the goal of the ANA, those twenty leading men, would be to develop the next generation of leaders to solve America’s racial ills. It’s a rather ambitious goal, but that was it, quite literally.
W. E. B. Du Bois, someone who–a lot of you may see “Du-bwah” when you see the name, it’s “Du-boys,” that’s the way his family pronounced it–W. E. B. Du Bois, who we’ll hear more about tomorrow, and we’ll hear about intermittently throughout the course, a man of incredible importance in the 20th century African American experience–Du Bois had just received his PhD from Harvard, and is the first vice president of the organization. He’s Alexander Crummell’s protégé. As I said before, the ANA was exclusive to men. It’s an organization that really lasts about twenty-five years before it falls apart. I can’t say that it changes much of anything. It establishes a journal, it publishes ideas, it has lectures. Early on, it allowed one woman to lecture before its august body. But that was sort of, I mean I’m simplifying it, but the ANA did not offer much in transactional change for black America, but it’s articulating a vision that the way to save the race was through developing the intellect, civilizing the race with its most educated men.
Right at the same time the American Negro Academy is formed, in fact a year earlier, another association is formed, certainly more important and effective, called the National Association of Colored Women. The National Association of Colored Women, NACW. Tellingly, the motto of the NACW is “Lifting while we climb.” “Lifting while we climb.” Now what did it do? It was sort of an amalgamation of the American Negro Academy ethos, and the American Baptist Home Mission Society, and National Baptist Convention. It’s an organization of middle and upper classes, as far as status–social status–middle and upper class black women, the “best sort” as it were. That they would gather together on a, I don’t know, twice a month, monthly basis, network socially certainly. But they would also organize political protests, something really quite astonishing. This is not the kind of person, not the kind of woman, not the kind of class figure who would publicly protest. But I didn’t think to bring the image with me, but in the very first lecture, I showed a slide of members of the NACW picketing the White House for an anti-lynching law in the 1930s. Here’s a woman who’d walk the picket line to press a political point. And they also conducted basic agitation for child welfare reform.
So they’re trying to network amongst themselves, raise the political stakes, and also agitate for child welfare reform. They’re like the ANA, because they’re a certain type of person, of class. They’re like the Baptist Home Mission Society in the sense that they were trying to uplift the race, save the children. And in a sense like the National Baptist Convention, by acting in explicitly political ways. And the National Baptist Convention’s own creation was an explicitly political act. Thinking from the NACW’s perspective, uplift can be seen as both subversive and conservative. It was subversive, since it was helping educate and clean up poor and unclean people. Sad, sad to say, but this was a subversive act, trying to clean people up, trying to improve their health. And this is really something you need to be aware of. This was an era of an epidemiologist’s nightmare. Cities are really forming rapidly. People are coming to urban centers, but hygiene isn’t coming as fast as the people are coming. Cities and streets literally built on top of filth, of refuse, excrement. Disease is in the air. Tera Hunter lays this out in her book, all these campaigns to teach proper hygiene habits. It wasn’t just about nice manners–nice manners and a white dress. These were life and death kind of skills they were trying to teach the poor and the unclean. Trying to wage anti-tuberculosis campaigns, for instance.
So the NACW is trying to do something radical by trying to help educate and clean up people who were ignored by society. But it was also–excuse me, and it was also subversive for the way it engaged in explicit acts of political resistance like picketing, advocating anti-lynching, the passing of anti-lynching law, lobbying people. But uplift from NACW’s perspective, or it’s–the way it interpreted uplift, was also quite conservative, because NACW membership recognized in itself the express need for them to clean up the race; that the duty–I used the phrase, the word earlier in the lecture–it was the duty of the black middle and upper class, especially the women, to save the race, to clean it up and to get the poor and dirty blacks, Southern blacks, to learn how to behave respectably. Think back to the last lecture, the manliness and civilization, respectability floating through all of that. To the women of the NACW, they had a lot of work to do. Most blacks were unclean, and poorly behaved, and uneducated. So uplift taken all together then, radical and conservative, but essentially a manifestation of white middle class propriety that these black Victorians grew up in, took it as their own, and tried to perfect it for the next generation. Black women felt a sense of duty, these black middle class women and upper class women felt a sense of duty, and they had a special ability from their self-conception. They had a special ability to save the race.
Anna Julia Cooper, the leading black feminist theorist of her day, who was also a leading educator having taught at Dunbar High School–actually, I want to talk about Dunbar for just a few seconds, because it’s actually a remarkable institution. I’ll probably mention it in a few weeks. Anna Julia Cooper taught mathematics at–It was actually the M Street High School at the time in Washington, D.C. It’s name is changed eventually to Dunbar. Dunbar becomes the breeding ground, over the first five decades of the 20th century, of the black leadership elite for the D.C. area and, actually, for much of the nation. If you look at a lot of black political leaders, you will often see Dunbar High School on the résumé. So, you know, talking about a leading intellectual teaching at a high school, and that, and that, how can that be important? Dunbar was not your typical high school. It was by far the best black high school in the country. It was the best public high school in the District, black or white. If you look at the kind of training that the teachers had and the eventual career path of its graduates, it’s an astonishing institution.
Anyway Anna Julia Cooper, leading theorist of her day, teaches at Dunbar High School. Later on in her career, she leaves Dunbar. I think she’s sixty-three when she gets her PhD from the Sorbonne. She comes back to Washington, D.C. and establishes a university, Frelinghuysen University–I probably butchered it, I don’t know German. Essentially an evening university, “university” in sort of quotes, an institution where black workers who want to make that next step in advancement will come and get training in the evening, and so they can get a better job. That’s all quite a big tangent. Anna Julia Cooper, the leading black feminist theorist of her day and educator, exemplified this uplift ideology espoused by the NACW, and she made all of this quite clear, as early as 1892, even before the NACW was formed.
There’s a, There’s an interesting history behind NACW, two different black women’s organizations trying to fight it out over which would be the one to represent the race, and they merged in the NACW. In 1892, years before the NACW is formed, years before the American Negro Academy is formed, Anna Julia Cooper writes her manifesto, A Voice from the South. It’s a long book, very important. We can reduce it, at least today, to one quote. Cooper says, in A Voice from the South,
Women, black women, black elite women, black educated women, were the ones, the only ones, who could say how, when, and where blacks would rise up and join society as rightful members. Now Alexander Crummell, a man of his own time, recognized Anna Julia Cooper’s intellect and her, and her unique skills, but he was certainly as conservative on gender lines as one might expect. He certainly would have taken issue, or took issue with the idea that it was women upon whom this burden was placed, to uplift the race. So there’s a sort of gendered battle there about who it was most prepared to save the race. But Cooper and Crummell shared the same ideology. It’s the educated person, the civilized person, that’s who would save the race. Uplift is a middle class ideology then that was as much about race management as it was about anything else. Who was going to manage the race during a period of transition? Post-Reconstruction, era of Redemption, an era of the destruction of black male voting rights. Cooper declares that since women were perfectively respectable, a certain kind of woman, that they were the ones who would be the best race managers, who could espouse a Talented Tenth ideology and help navigate the race to a better way of living.
Respectability is something that you really need to linger on here, as well, throughout all of this. It’s the reflection of a bourgeois vision that vacillates between an attack on the failure of America to live up to its liberal ideals of equality and justice. Think about Ida B. Wells, that the white South lacked a proper notion of respectable behavior, because it was lynching these people. So respectability could vacillate between an attack on the failure of America to live up to its liberal ideals, like Ida B. Wells did, or respectability could be used as an attack on the values of lifestyles of the very blacks who transgressed this white middle class propriety. It cuts both ways. People like Ida B. Wells could tell white America, “Shame on you for being so cowardly when you brandished the whip and threatened with the lynching mob.” Ida B. Wells could also tell black Americans she believed beneath her–this wasn’t really Ida B. Wells’s style, but I’m taking, extending the point–“Shame on you for acting in ways that are improper.”
Now I opened this lecture with a quote from Alexander Crummell about the need for civilization, sketched out Crummell’s life experiences and explained why he’s such a great representative figure for the era. Let me close with a quote from his protégé, W. E. B. Du Bois. This will be one of the main figures I’ll focus on in–on Wednesday’s lecture. We can see in this quote the way in which the ideology of the Talented Tenth was driven by commitment to uplift the race and that this commitment to uplift the race was driven by the belief that the black poor, the black unwashed, were a negative drain on all blacks in America. Again, uplift was race management. And by the way, for those of you who know a thing or two about W. E. B. Du Bois and the phrase Talented Tenth, these two are linked, because Du Bois does write about the Talented Tenth, but he’s not the person who coins the phrase. He uses it from Morehouse’s American Baptist Home Mission Society, just so you’re straight on this issue. Anyway, Du Bois says the following:
Okay, I’ll stop there, and we’ll begin on Wednesday talking about–we’ll focus on Wednesday talking about Du Bois and his great foil, Booker T. Washington, and all of the different competing ideologies that are expressed in this time of incredible change for black America. Thank you.
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