African American Jeremiad Rev: Appeals For Justice In America
Publication Year: 2005
Published by: Temple University Press
Preface and Acknowledgments
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Much has changed in the fifteen years since the first edition of this book appeared, but its most basic presumptions seem as true as when I began: Cultures, including those of oppressed and oppressing groups, naturally interpenetrate and shape each other; Americans still hold and are influenced by messianic myths about...
Introduction: Civil Religion and the Anglo- and African American Jeremiads
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On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed a huge crowd of civil rights supporters gathered before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Thanks to the electronic media, he also spoke to a far vaster audience as he attempted to fix America’s attention on the urgent need for national political action to end racial segregation. The site for the event had been thoughtfully chosen. Conscious of the occasion’s historic...
1. Frederick Douglass’s Antebellum Jeremiad against Slavery and Racism
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Frederick Douglass, the preeminent African American jeremiah of the nineteenth century, was born a slave in Tuckahoe, Maryland, in 1817.1 His mother belonged to a superintendent employed by the area’s greatest slaveholding landowner. His father was white. After his mother’s death, Douglass spent his earliest years in his maternal grandparents’ home. When...
2. The Brief Life of Douglass’s “New Nation”: From Emancipation–Reconstruction to Returning Declension, 1861–1895
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The Civil War held deep mystical meaning for Frederick Douglass.1 The war brought abolition and, he believed, the possibility of a racially just, truly democratic America. It was the high point of his life and of his near-term hopes for America; he considered it a unique moment that transcended ordinary history. The war between the...
3. The Jeremiad in the Age of Booker T.Washington: Washington versus Ida B. Wells, 1895–1915
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The sharp reversals of the late nineteenth century led to the rise of a new type of national African American leader and spokesman. The social and political contexts in which Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass operated were starkly different. At the height of Douglass’s influence during and shortly after the war, rapid strides toward black progress were made with...
4. Great Expectations: W. E. B. Du Bois’s American Jeremiad in the Progressive Era
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Booker T. Washington's judgment that racism was presently insurmountable in American culture seemed confirmed by national conditions in the late nineteenth century. But between 1910 and 1920, more promising conditions enabled many black leaders like W. E. B. Du Bois to recapture some of Douglass’s enthusiasm for prospects for racial reform in America...
5. Mary McLeod Bethune and W. E. B. Du Bois: Rising and Waning Hopes for America at Midcentury
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In the interwar years, DuBois advised against seeking immediate racial integration of American society and instead urged blacks to develop independent social power. It is ironic that this founder of the modern civil rights movement was increasingly pessimistic about chances for interracial reform in the 1930s and 1940s just when other black leaders were growing...
6. Martin Luther King, Jr., and America’s Promise in the Second Reconstruction, 1955–1965
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W.E.B. Du Bois, by sheer will, maintained faith in eventual American and world progress, even though his analysis of postwar trends pictured white capitalist imperialism as a rising threat to international peace. Events led him to be deeply pessimistic about the chances of immediately alleviating...
7. Malcolm X: Jeremiah to Blacks, Damner of Whites—to the End?
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No African American stood more conspicuously apart from the heady interracial goodwill and optimism occasioned by the 1963 Washington March than did Malcolm X. At that time he was the best known representative of the nationalist socioreligious sect, the Nation of Islam (NOI), which championed black independence, spurned integration, and considered whites...
8. King’s Radical Jeremiad, 1965–1968: America as the “Sick Society”
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The sun had shone brightly on the civil rights marchers who descended on Washington on August 28, 1963, to demand national political action against racism. It was a day full of contagious hope and optimism. Basking in the warm national response, many blacks could truly believe, as King suggested, that all was possible on that day signaling a new beginning toward genuine democracy in America. But, just before the march...
Conclusion: The Enduring Black Jeremiad
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The African American jeremiad has been a staple of black protest rhetoric from before the Civil War to the modern Civil Rights era and after; its success in achieving major reforms, however, has not been constant. The Civil War and Civil Rights eras represent twin historic peaks when issues of vital concern to African Americans commanded national attention and redress. Voiced by Frederick Douglass between 1863 and...
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Publication Year: 2005