Class Anxiety and Postbellum Black Fiction
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: University of Michigan Press
Series: Class : Culture
Introduction: Contending Classes, Dividing Lines
In a private letter written to a friend in January 1900, Boston clubwoman Addie Hamilton Jewell criticized what she considered a controversial subject in Pauline Hopkins’s historical romance Contending Forces (1900).1 Having heard Hopkins read from the forthcoming novel, Jewell did not object to its themes...
1. The Language of Class: Taxonomy and Respectability in Frances E. W. Harper’s Trial and Triumph and Iola Leroy
In Frances E. W. Harper’s Iola Leroy (1892), a former bondswoman’s speech draws attention to the criteria African Americans use to judge intraracial differences and the problematized vocabulary through which they express them. The affectionately known “Aunt” Linda Salters describes the social relations...
2. Working through Class: The Black Body, Labor, and Leisure in Sutton Griggs’s Overshadowed
Most memorably and soulfully rendered by twentieth-century singer Mahalia Jackson, the song “May the Work I’ve Done Speak for Me” asserts that work constitutes one’s legacy after the body ceases its labor and nothing more can be said.2 While this spiritual’s sentiments may refer to deeds performed in pursuit...
3. Mapping Class Difference: Space and Social Mobility in Paul L. Dunbar’s Short Fiction
In the article “Negro Society in Washington,” published December 14, 1901, Paul Laurence Dunbar introduces readers of the Saturday Evening Post to urbane African Americans, a sector of the American population seldom featured in the periodical’s pages. Assuming that his white readers would be unfamiliar...
4. Blood and the Mark of Class: Pauline Hopkins’s Genealogies of Status
Writing in the African Methodist Episcopal Christian Recorder on January 31, 1889, a contributor argues that African American literature needed to increase the public visibility of the “high-type Negro” as distinguished from the black “lowest class.” Taking the pseudonym “Common Sense” to recommend his or her...
5. Classing the Color Line: Class-Passing, Antiracism, and Charles W. Chesnutt
In a key passage of the address “Social Discrimination,” Charles W. Chesnutt makes a minute syntactical change that registers a critical shift in how Americans could conceptualize discrimination. Exchanging the preposition “against” for “among,” he recommends that rather than treating “colored people” as a...
Epilogue: Beyond the Talented Tenth
W. E. B. Du Bois’s essay “The Talented Tenth” (1903) offers what has become one of the most (in)famous paradigms for black intraracial class relations. As Du Bois envisioned it, the Talented Tenth comprises an educated cadre of African Americans responsible for mobilizing less privileged blacks toward social...
Index and Acknowledgments
My interest in the topic of Dividing Lines grew from my introduction to class studies at Spelman College. I remember Barbara Carter’s “Race, Class, and Gender” course, which awakened my attention to class disparities among African Americans. For motivating me to expand my ideas and my career...