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·'TRUTH IS PATIENTAND TIMEIS JUST'': EARLY BLACK BIOGRAPHY ANDAUTOBIOGRAPHYREEXAMINED William L. Andrews. To Tell A Free Story: The First Centlll\' ofAJ1·0-America11 Autobiography, 1760-1865. L1rbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986. xii + 353 pp. Illus. Wil11am L. Andrews, ed. Sisters 1f the Spirit: Three Black Women's Autobiographies of the Nineteenth Century. Bloommgton: Indiana University Press, 1986. x + 245pp. R.JM. Blackett. Beating Against the Barriers: Bwgwphical Essays in Nineteenth-Century AJ,-o-American History. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986xviii + 417 pp. Lamont D. Thomas. Rise to Be A People: A Biography of PaulCuffe.Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986. xv + 187pp. Jason H. Silverman "Whenwe get a little farther away from the conflict,'' Frederick Douglass wrote attheend of his long, full life, somebraveand truth-loving man, with all the facts before him ... will gatherfrom here andthere the scattered fragments, ... and give to those who shall come after us an impartialhistory of this grandest moral conflict of the century. [For] truth is patient and timeisjust. Douglass could not have been more prophetic; nor perhaps could he have foreseen thetime and controversy that it would take before historians would begin their examinationof black history from black sources. Indeed, some half-century after Douglass'sreflection, the noted American historian, Richard Hofstadter, would writein 1944:''Let the study of the Old South be undertaken by ... scholars ... whowill concentrate upon the neglected rural elements that formed the great majorityof the Southern population, ... and who will realize that any history of ::-ilavery mustbe written in large part from the standpoint of the slave-and then the pos!:l1bilities of the Old South and the slave system as a field of research and historicalexperience will loom larger than ever.'' 1 Hofstadter's cajolement to his fellow historians, however, was but an opening salvo in an ongoing debate that, to this day, has not been truly resolved. Nevertheless,there were those who ultimately heeded Hofstadter's advice, even if1tdidtake almost thirty years more. At the core of this hesitation were, among otherthings, questions surrounding the veracity and value of early black auto- 256 Jason H. Silverman biographies and narratives. John W. Blassingame, himself at the vanguardofthe discussion with the publication of his Slave Community ( 1972)-the firstexamination of the peculiar institution to rely heavily on black source material-wrote persuasively in an early article that "one of the most important forums blacb have used to state their positions, to leave a record of their resistance, to inspire future generations, and to promote their national development has been the autobiography." Stephen Butterfield, an authority on black autobiography, perhaps more poignantly, concluded that: Black autobiographies arc ... a mirror of white deeds. They fill in many of theblank\ of America's self-knowledge. They help us to sec what has been left out of the picture of our national life by white writers and critics, how our critical judgment has beenhm1tcd indeed, crippled, by a blind spot toward Afro-American culture. More importantly,the{· arc an inspiration and a conscience. To read closely what they have to say, to allowthefr message entry into the bloodstream and vital nerve centers, is to look the mon~tcr ot slavery and racism full in the face, to confront it nakedly. 2 Once believed to be only a kind of ephemeral, politically-motivated writing,black narratives and autobiographies are today finally commanding the attentionofa large segment of the scholarly community. First the province of historians,then literary scholars, these writings are now of importance to anthropologists, folklorists , musicologists, sociologists, linguists, philosophers, economists and theologians . And, since the value of these documents as history and literatureseem~ self-evident to us in 1987, it is no small deed to lament their being' 'lost'' forsuch a long period. William L. Andrews, then, is to be commended for his two volumes under review. To Tell a Free Story covers in great detail the history of black America\ most innovative literary tradition, the autobiography, from its origins to the abolition of slavery. In so doing, Andrews moves well beyond such fine previous studies as Charles T. Davis and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The Slave's Narratil'e (1985); Marion Wilson Starling, The Slave Narrative: Its Place...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 255-263
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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