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The Insistent Call

Rhetorical Moments in Black Anticolonialism, 1929-1937

Aric Putnam

Publication Year: 2012

Throughout the nineteenth century, African heritage played an important role in black America, as personal memories and cultural practices continued to shape the everyday experience of people of African descent living under the shadow of slavery. Resisting efforts to de-Africanize their values, customs, and beliefs, black Americans invoked their African roots in public arguments about their identity and place in the “new” world. At the outset of the twentieth century many still saw Africa primarily as the source of a common cultural and spiritual past. But after the 1920s, the meaning of African heritage changed as people of African descent expressed new relationships between themselves, the United States, and the African Diaspora. In The Insistent Call, Aric Putnam studies the rhetoric of newspapers, literature, and political pamphlets that expressed this shift. He demonstrates that as people of African descent debated the United States’ occupation of Haiti, the Liberian labor crisis, and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, they formed a new collective identity, one that understood the African Diaspora in primarily political rather than cultural terms. In addition to uncovering a neglected period in the history of black rhetoric, Putnam shows how rhetoric that articulates the interests of a population not defined by the boundaries of a state can still motivate collective action and influence policies.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-v


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p. vii

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p. ix

When I think of these words appearing in print I am inclined to pinch myself, not only because clearly I need waking up, but also because a good pinch would remind me how it feels to write a book. All scholarly labor is collective and so was this project. My collective begins with Kirt Wilson, who has been a great adviser and an even better friend. The book also benefited from the advice and insight of my...

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Introduction: Rhetoric and Diaspora

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pp. 1-14

In 1924, at a Civic Club gathering to celebrate Jessie Fauset’s book There Is Confusion, Alain Locke was asked to edit a special issue of Survey Graphic magazine. Locke’s objective was to shed light on African America’s Harlem and to document the sociological and artistic developments that were creating a “black mecca” in a New York neighborhood.1 The result of his labors, eventually published as...

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1. The Politics and Practices of Colonialism

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pp. 15-32

Black anticolonial rhetoric emerged in the context of America’s history with colonialism. What “colonialism” was (is) and America’s relationship to it are issues of public and scholarly debate today. This chapter explores colonialism from both historical and theoretical perspectives in a search to understand the implications of colonialist discourse for domestic rhetorical cultures. My purpose is to provide an...

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2. Black Ethos and the Rhetoric of Pan-Africa

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pp. 33-52

In the previous chapter, I sketched a history of imperialism and identified the politics and cultural practices with which colonialism operates. I argued that colonialist practices were founded on the belief that cultures were distinct and that commerce between them occurred through diffusion. According to the diffusionist paradigm, a more developed “metropolitan” culture always existed at the spatial “center” of...

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3. “Unhappy Haiti”: U.S. Imperialism, Racial Violence, and the Politics of Diaspora

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pp. 53-73

In the first quarter of the twentieth century, people of African descent in the New World argued about what Africa could mean to its people in diaspora. These arguments took the form of speeches, essays, poems, newspapers, music, and visual art. By and large, much of this discourse operated within the same assumptions about the nature of culture and parameters of black public space that structured the Pan-African...

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4. “Modern” Slaves: The Liberian Labor Crisis and the Politics of Race and Class

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pp. 74-96

The violence at Aux Cayes inspired the United States to initiate a policy called “Haitianzation,” which gradually ceded political power to Haitian authorities. The same violence encouraged people of African descent in the United States to question their relationships to Africa, its diaspora, and United States democracy. As the colonial policies of the occupation became public knowledge, black Americans recognized...

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5. Ethiopia Is Now: J. A. Rogers and the Italian Invasion of Ethiopia

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pp. 97-118

When he responded to the Liberian labor crisis, George Schuyler expressed a black ethos that encompassed the African Diaspora and echoed with the voice of labor. His novel Slaves Today suggested that black workers around the globe shared a position within modernity: they were subject to the dehumanizing bureaucracies of the bourgeoisie and the imposition of racial thinking upon their daily lives...

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6. Anticolonial Rhetoric and Black Civil Rights History

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pp. 119-129

In 1935, Samuel Daniels, founder of the Pan-African Reconstruction Association and a prominent Harlem race advocate, suggested that Haiti, Liberia, and Ethiopia should unite and form a single corporation. He reasoned that this economic conglomerate could compete with European imperialism and establish a transnational base of “African” political power. Although the idea may seem fanciful, even utopian...


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pp. 131-154


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pp. 155-156

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613762219
E-ISBN-10: 1613762216
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558499775
Print-ISBN-10: 1558499776

Page Count: 168
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 830023591
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Insistent Call

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Race identity -- History -- 20th century.
  • African Americans -- Attitudes -- History -- 20th century.
  • African diaspora.
  • Anti-imperialist movements -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Rhetoric -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • American prose literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism.
  • Haiti -- History -- American occupation, 1915-1934 -- Social aspects.
  • Labor movement -- Liberia -- History -- 20th century.
  • Italo-Ethiopian War, 1935-1936 -- Social aspects.
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