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The Making of African American Identity: Volume II, 1865-1917
Topic: FreedomTopic: IdentityTopic: InstitutionsTopic: PoliticsTopic: Forward
Topic: Institutions
Toolbox Overview: The Making of African American Identity: Volume II, 1865-1917
Resource Menu: Institutions
Text 1. Power
Text 2. Associations (I)
Text 3. Associations (II)
Text 4. Education
Text 5. Leadership
Text 6. Religion
Text 7. Business
Text 8. Family

Timeline: 1860-1920


   Resource Menu

Women's Clubs

 Topic Framing Questions
   •  What roles did institutions play in African American life at this time?
   •  In what ways did institutions shape and reflect African American identity?

» RESOURCE MENU Reading Guide Link
  1.  Power
- Rev. Alexander Crummell, "The Social Principle among a People and Its Bearing on Their Progress and Development," Thanksgiving Day sermon, Washington, D.C., 1875, excerpts

Alexander Crummell, born in New York City in 1819, is generally considered the leading black intellectual of the nineteenth century. He received his early education in Manhattan and in 1839 graduated from the Oneida Theological Institute in Oneida, New York. Prevailing over racial prejudice that threw up obstacles to his further theological training, he was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1844. He received a divinity degree from Queens College, Cambridge, in 1853, and after graduation went to Liberia, where for twenty years he ministered, taught, and promoted Liberian nationalism. Returning to the United States, he devoted himself to promoting urban black congregations, founding St. Luke's Church in Washington, D.C., which he led for twenty years.

In this sermon he calls for racial solidarity and self-help, forcefully addressing the question of why African Americans should have their own distinctive institutions. For him, the salvation of the race did not lie in political action, but rather in the application of the "social principle," the fundamental impulse that leads people to "join together for specific purposes." It, rather than the "wind and vanity" of political action, would rescue black men and women from aimless drifting and deliver them to "the deep, quiet waters of the fullest freedom and equality." He argues that institution building and racial identity are inextricably intertwined, one supporting the other, and from their combination will come the power that African Americans need to survive in a hostile environment. 3 pages.

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  2.  Associations (I)
- "The Benevolent and Charitable Societies of Cincinnati, Ohio," from The Proceedings of the Semi-Centenary Celebration of the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Cincinnati, 1874
- "Our Women's Clubs" (12 Sept. 1903) and "Women's Clubs" (6 August 1904), Cleveland Journal

During this period, among whites and blacks, benevolent and charitable societies, especially women's clubs, arose to address the problems of a rapidly industrializing society. Among African Americans these organizations were particularly important. Scanning the list of black societies in Cincinnati—it runs for seven pages with a lot of white space—will give you a sense of the typical causes the African American societies championed. On the list you will find a sewing circle, probably similar to the one described in the Hopkins's chapter below. The two articles from the Cleveland Journal, a black newspaper, suggest the tone of the societies and illustrate the interlocking themes of racial solidarity, identity, respectability, self-confidence, self-reliance, and general betterment that characterize virtually all black institutions at this time. 9 pages.

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  3.  Associations (II)
- Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins, Contending Forces, novel, 1900, Ch. 8, "The Sewing-Circle"

Increasing critical attention is rescuing Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins from literary obscurity. Born in Portland, Maine, in 1859, Hopkins attended public schools in Boston. Her future career was foreshadowed when, at the age of fifteen, she won a writing contest sponsored by novelist William Wells Brown. In the 1870s Hopkins wrote two musicals and acted in them throughout the country until 1892, when she undertook a career as a stenographer. While she abandoned play writing, she continued to produce fiction, largely for the magazine Colored American. In the preface to her best-known novel, Contending Forces, published in 1900, she explained her approach to fiction. The passage in which she does so illuminates not only the concerns of the chapter excerpted here but also the goal-oriented nature of African American literature in this period. "Fiction," Hopkins wrote, "is of great value to any people as a preserver of manners and customs—religious, political, and social. It is a record of growth and development from generation to generation. No one will do this for us; we must ourselves develop the men and women who will faithfully portray the inmost thoughts and feelings of the Negro with all of the fire and romance which lie dormant in our history, and, as yet, unrecognized by writers of the Anglo-Saxon race."

An example of conventional nineteenth-century domestic fiction, Contending Forces is a complicated story of love and treachery. Chapter 8, "The Sewing Circle," dramatizes Crummell's social principle at work and illustrates some of the various functions that institutions, especially the benevolent and charitable societies, performed in the African American community during this period. The characters, young and old, come together for a variety of specific purposes, all in one way or another involved with questions of racial solidarity, character, and racial identity. Structured as an act in two scenes, the chapter reflects Hopkins's experience as a playwright. The reader can easily visualize one set of characters exiting, while another set enters. The structure offers rich opportunities for comparison and contrast. 11 pages.

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  4.  Education
- Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery, 1901, Ch. 8, "Teaching School in a Stable and a Hen House"
- Frances Benjamin Johnston, photographs of students and teachers at Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, 1902

In this excerpt from Up from Slavery we witness institution building in its most literal sense from clearing land, to renovating structures, to raising money. Here Washington makes his case for the practical, trades-based education he installed at the Tuskegee Institute. He must make that case not only to whites but, judging from the responses of some of his students, to the very rural blacks for whom he established Tuskegee. Although Washington's style is simple and unadorned, the chapter does contain some compelling images—the white stereotype of the educated Negro, the young man in greasy clothes reading a French grammar, the pretentious students, the heroic Miss Davidson, the self-declared preacher, and the "old coloured man" who was astonished that Washington was going to clean out a hen-house in daylight. How Washington deploys these images offers a rich opportunity for insightful discussion. 6 pages.

Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) provided visual images of life at Tuskegee. A pioneer among women photographers in the United States, she did much of her work for George Grantham Bain's news service, one of America's earliest news photo agencies. In 1902 Washington commissioned her to shoot photographs he could use in magazine articles and lectures promoting the Institute. The pictures offered here document classes at the Institute from lessons on Capt. John Smith and Jamestown (note the lesson on the board in the history class) to furniture making, mattress sewing, lab work, and printing. 3 pages (9 pages total in Education).

» RESOURCE MENU Reading Guide Link
  5.  Leadership
- W. E. B. Du Bois, "The Talented Tenth," essay in The Negro Problem, 1903, excerpts

Du Bois included Crummell in the Talented Tenth, that natural aristocracy of exceptional men—and for the most part he meant only men—who would save the Negro race. Crummell urged African Americans to overcome their "lack of co-operative spirit," join together for specific purposes, and thereby achieve power. Du Bois certainly did not oppose that admonition, but he argued that without the leadership of the Talented Tenth, joining together might produce only "a headless misguided rabble." To assume their rightful positions of leadership, he maintained, the Talented Tenth required a college education, and by that he meant a liberal arts education, not industrial training of the sort Washington promoted. The "Negro people," he contended, needed "social leadership more than most groups," for they had "no traditions to fall back upon, no long established customs, no strong family ties, no well defined social classes." Thus they were in dire need of what colleges and universities, institutions that transmitted "knowledge and culture from generation to generation," had to offer. "Negro colleges" were institutions of "natural selection" that allowed "the talented few" to rise above the mass. 5 pages.

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  6.  Religion
- "African American Religion, Pt. II: From the Civil War to the Great Migration, 1865-1920," 2004, in Divining America: Religion in American History on TeacherServe© from the National Humanities Center
- William E. Mathews, Jr., "An Address Delivered in Baltimore on the Occasion of Our Semi-Centenary," 1866, in Rev. Benjamin T. Tanner, An Apology for African Methodism, 1867

The first selection, a secondary source, will illuminate and contextualize William Mathews's address. Written by a Fellow of the National Humanities Center, the essay discusses the differences between northern and southern African American churches during this period. It also provides valuable strategies for promoting student discussion and useful links to other online resources.

From William Mathews, a lay member of an African Methodist Episcopal church in Baltimore, we read a rousing summary of the growth of the African Methodist Episcopal Church from its European roots to the challenges it faces in 1866. He cites the growth of missionary societies, the value of church property, the number of ministers, etc. Imbued with evangelical fervor, he points out the work that remains to be done, naming specific reforms the Church must implement to carry out its special ministry to newly freed African Americans. 5 pages total.

» RESOURCE MENU Reading Guide Link
  7.  Business
- Edward Bannister, Newspaper Boy, oil on canvas, 1869
- Warren Coleman, Appeal to support a black-operated cotton mill, Daily Concord [N.C.] Standard, 5 July 1896

Best known for depictions of New England landscapes, Edward Bannister (1828-1901) was one of the leading black painters of the nineteenth century. Born in Canada, his mother was of Scottish descent, his father from Barbados. As a young seaman, he travelled to Boston and New York, where his desire to paint was nourished by visits to museums. His Newspaper Boy inevitably calls to mind the protagonists of Horatio Alger novels, and indeed, the painting appeared in 1869, just one year after Alger published his enormously popular Ragged Dick, or Street Life in New York. The racial identity of Bannister's boy is ambiguous. While the painting suggests some of the plucky resolve of an Alger character, it also captures the anxiety of a boy who, no matter how hard he tries, is unlikely to make it through the exertion of individual will. (When teaching the era of the Robber Barons, you might get at the underside of rugged individualism by asking your students to comment on this picture without knowledge of the artist.) For this newsboy to succeed, a whole race will have to make economic progress in this country, a cause Warren Coleman, a black businessman from North Carolina, tried to advance with his call to support a black-run cotton mill. Coleman understood that the mill was no mere business enterprise. 3 pages.

» RESOURCE MENU Reading Guide Link
  8.  Family
- Alice Dunbar-Nelson, "The Stones of the Village," short story, ca. 1905
- Photographs of African American families, 1870s-1910s, from Digital Schomburg

During this period, for the formerly enslaved populations of the South, the family, for the first time, became an institution that could be reliably counted on to communicate the legacy of one generation to the next. No longer did African Americans in the South live with the fear that the slave economy would sever generational ties by selling husbands, wives, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters to distant plantations. Even so, between 1865 and 1917, stories focusing primarily on African American family life are rare. Family concerns, if they appear in African American fiction at all, are usually subtexts, as they are in "The Stones of the Village." It would seem that the goal orientation of African American literature at this time caused authors to emphasize social and political issues above those of family. This was true for memoirists as well as fiction writers. Note how little Washington has to say about family in Up from Slavery.

Nonetheless, family is an important theme in "The Stones of the Village." The story illustrates the role of the family by depicting what happens when a person does not have one. Victor Grabért, the protagonist, is a black man, whose birth family is represented only by his grandmother. Passing for white in New Orleans, he cannot embrace even that lone family connection. He illustrates the point Du Bois makes in "The Talented Tenth" that the "Negro people" had "no traditions . . . no long established customs, no strong family ties." Grabért agonizes over his lack of family nearly as much as he does over the secret of his racial identity. He envies his white wife, whose "half a hundred cousins and uncles and aunts" keep her in "touch with the world." He possesses everything that other men of his class possess except "family traditions," and that deficiency makes "his life a misery." His crowning achievement, he believes, would be to found a dynasty. (One may think of the work of William Faulkner at this point.) "The Stones of the Village" does double duty in the Toolbox, for it also appears among the resources of the Identity section.

If "The Stones of the Village" illustrates Du Bois's point about black family traditions at this time, the images from the Digital Schomburg collection challenge it. Here we see people asserting family ties and generational connections. Some of the photos seem almost didactic in their determination to show future family members precisely what they have inherited. Note the way the photo captions contextualize the pictures. Excellent teaching tools. 21 pages.

Toolbox: The Making of African American Identity: Volume II, 1865-1917
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