Friday, February 8, 2013

Reading (and Viewing) Suggestions 1

Dear Class,

Here is a the documentary produced by California Newsreel of Bayard Rustin's life and career as an activist.

Suggestions for further reading:

The first comes from an essay that has won a prize for the best essay on Civil War scholarship from the official journal, The Journal of the Civil War Era, of the Society of Civil War Historians. The essay, titled “‘Only Murder Makes Men’: Reconsidering the Black Military Experience,” was written by historian Carole Emberton of the University of Buffalo. I have not been able to locate a full-text copy of the article, which appeared in the September 2012 issue of the journal. (The journal appears to be available through Project Must, but the library may not have a subscription. Please let me know if you have any better luck.) However, I have copied the first paragraph of her article below:

“In his pioneering study of emancipation, W. E. B. Du Bois made a provocative assertion about the manner in which African American men earned their freedom. ‘How extraordinary,’ he wrote, ‘and what a tribute to ignorance and religious hypocrisy, is the fact that in the minds of most people, even those of liberals, only murder makes men.’ Reflecting on the relationship between violence, manhood, and freedom, he continued, ‘The slave pleaded, he was humble; he protected the women of the South, and the world ignored him. The slave killed white men; and behold, he was a man.’ Du Bois’s discomfort with the relationship between military service, manhood, and freedom seems at odds with the view held by many people at the time, particularly abolitionists, who imagined the military as not only the most direct path to political equality for African Americans and the swiftest route to slavery’s destruction but also as an indispensible vehicle for the internal transformation of slaves into free men and citizens. Frederick Douglass heralded soldiering as the key to both collective and personal liberation. He reminded a crowd in Philadelphia in 1863 that ‘slavery can be abolished by white men, but liberty so won for the black man, while it may leave him an object of pity, can never make him an object of respect.’ Confident ‘in the full belief that the true course to the black man’s freedom and citizenship was over the battlefield,’ Douglass worked tirelessly as an army recruiter to convince his fellow African Americans to share in his libratory vision of military service. For Douglass, whose own transformation from slave to free man had begun years earlier when he drew blood in battle with the slave breaker Covey, fighting back enabled black men to break both the physical and mental bonds of slavery. The story of black manhood won on Civil War battlefields became a point of pride for African Americans in the dark days of Jim Crow. Why, then, did Du Bois seem so disenchanted with the glorious narrative of the black Civil War soldier?

As mentioned in class:
Langston Hughes, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" (1926). This essay has been anthologized often, so you should be able to locate a copy pretty easily. If not, I have it in my office.

Kenneth Warren, What Was African American Literature? Harvard University Press, 2012.

And two more:
Glenda R. Carpio, Laughing Fit to Kill: Black Humor in the Fictions of Slavery. Oxford University Press, 2008

Jelani Cobb, "Barack X." Posted on The New Yorker's "News Desk" Blog:

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