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Claiming Exodus

A Cultural History of Afro-Atlantic Identity, 1774-1903

Rhondda Robinson Thomas

Publication Year: 2012

During the 18th century, American Puritans introduced migrant and enslaved Africans to the Exodus story. In contrast to the ways white Americans appropriated the texts to defend the practice of slavery, African migrants and slaves would recast the Exodus in defense of freedom and equality, creating narratives that would ultimately propel abolition and result in a wellspring of powerful writing. Drawing on a broad collection of Afro-Atlantic authors, Rhondda Robinson Thomas shows how writers such as Absalom Jones, Daniel Coker, and W.E.B. Du Bois employed the Exodus metanarrative to ask profound, difficult questions of the African experience. These writers employed it as a literary muse, warranting, Thomas contends, that they be classified and studied as a unique literary genre. Through an arresting reading of works renowned to the largely unknown, Claiming Exodus uncovers in these writings a robust foundation for enacting political change and a stimulating picture of Africans constructing their own identity in a new and unfamiliar land.

Published by: Baylor University Press


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pp. 1-1

Half Title Page, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-v


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-x

Many colleagues, students, and friends have supported my work for Claiming Exodus. I acknowledge Gladys D. S. Lewis, my friend in the fray, as well as Carey C. Newman, my thoughtful, enthusiastic editor at Baylor University Press, along with Team Baylor, who were attentive to details at every step of the production process. I am especially grateful for my college friend Mitzi Smith, who connected me with Carey Newman at BUP. In the earliest stages of the project, John Ernest served as my careful...

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-13

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Introduction: From Egypt to Canaan, An Afro-Atlantic Journey

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pp. 1-7

In Sketches of My Life in the South, part I (1879), as Jacob Stroyer recalls how he obtained freedom, he recasts the history of African Americans as a type of Exodus experience, asserting that their liberation was effected by divine intervention. Like the enslaved Israelites who pleaded with God for relief from oppression, enslaved African Americans prayed for divine deliverance...

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1. Exodus and the Politics of Liberty (1774–1800)

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pp. 9-29

Approximately three months after American colonists staged the Boston Tea Party, Phillis Wheatley inaugurated the Afro-Atlantic Exodus literary tradition when she penned her most blistering attack against slavery. The twenty-year-old had just completed a successful tour of England, where she had been feted as a celebrated poet. Upon her return to Boston, she obtained her freedom. In her letter to Samson occum, a Mohegan Indian...

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2. Exodus as the Blueprint for Building Free Black Communities (1800–1840)

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pp. 31-58

In the first decade of the nineteenth century, England and America’s divergent approaches to slavery caused a significant shift in the development of Afro-Atlantic Exodus narratives. Abolitionists gained a major victory when both countries outlawed the transatlantic slave trade. Each nation developed different philosophies regarding its continued involvement with slavery, however. The United States further entrenched itself as a slave society...

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3. Exodus in the Era of Manifest Destiny (1840–1861)

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pp. 59-82

By 1840 nearly two and one-half million African Americans suffered in slavery, while more than three hundred thousand free blacks languished under laws that severely restricted their liberty.1 African American leaders and their supporters maintained their demands for freedom, while the majority of white politicians remained invested in strengthening the national economy through Southern slavery, Northern industrialization, and westward expansion...

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4. Exodus, the Civil War, and Reconstruction (1861–1877)

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pp. 83-111

During the early 1860s, the events leading to the outbreak of the Civil War compelled African American activists, white abolitionists, proslavery advocates, and white writers to develop distinct Exodus narratives to advance their disparate agendas for emancipating or subjugating African Americans. Economic policy disparities between the North and South, particularly taxation, continuing disagreement regarding states’ rights and slavery, and...

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5. African Americans in the Nadir (1877–1900)

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pp. 113-141

The failure of Reconstruction thwarted black and white writers’ attempts to create new national Exodus narratives that would have developed a more perfect union for all American citizens. Reconstruction had ushered in an era of unparalleled economic, educational, political, and social gains that signaled the transformation of the United States into a promised land, particularly for its African American populace. Within a decade, however...

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Afterword: The First Joshua Generation, Stranded on the Border of Canaan (1895–1903)

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pp. 143-159

Frederick Douglass’ death in 1895 precipitated a leadership crisis in the African American community. Approximately one year earlier, on the fiftieth anniversary of the day he was sold as a slave in Talbot County, Maryland, Douglass had penned a letter to his friend the Reverend Grimké. Reflecting on the dramatic changes that had occurred over his lifetime, Douglass mused, “I cannot believe that the Almighty power that has brought us so...


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pp. 161-174


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pp. 175-190


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pp. 191-205

Scripture Index

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pp. 193-194

General Index

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pp. 195-199

E-ISBN-13: 9781602585331
E-ISBN-10: 1602585334
Print-ISBN-13: 9781602585317
Print-ISBN-10: 1602585318

Page Count: 190
Illustrations: 15
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 826855640
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Claiming Exodus

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism.
  • Exodus, The, in literature.
  • African Americans in literature.
  • African Americans -- Race identity.
  • Bible -- In literature.
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