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African American Jeremiad Rev: Appeals For Justice In America

David David; Howard-Pitney Howard-Pitney

Publication Year: 2005

Begun by Puritans, the American jeremiad, a rhetoric that expresses indignation and urges social change, has produced passionate and persuasive essays and speeches throughout the nation's history. Showing that black leaders have employed this verbal tradition of protest and social prophecy in a way that is specifically African American, David Howard-Pitney examines the jeremiads of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. DuBois, Mary McLeod Bethune, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, as well as more contemporary figures such as Jesse Jackson and Alan Keyes. This revised and expanded edition demonstrates that the African American jeremiad is still vibrant, serving as a barometer of faith in America's perfectibility and hope for social justice.This new edition features: * A new chapter on Malcolm X * An updated discussion of Jesse Jackson * A new discussion of Alan Keyes

Published by: Temple University Press

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-viii

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...

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Introduction: Civil Religion and the Anglo- and African American Jeremiads

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pp. 1-14

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...

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1. Frederick Douglass’s Antebellum Jeremiad against Slavery and Racism

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pp. 15-32

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...

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2. The Brief Life of Douglass’s “New Nation”: From Emancipation–Reconstruction to Returning Declension, 1861–1895

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pp. 33-52

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...

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3. The Jeremiad in the Age of Booker T.Washington: Washington versus Ida B. Wells, 1895–1915

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pp. 53-89

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...

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4. Great Expectations: W. E. B. Du Bois’s American Jeremiad in the Progressive Era

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pp. 90-114

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...

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5. Mary McLeod Bethune and W. E. B. Du Bois: Rising and Waning Hopes for America at Midcentury

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pp. 115-138

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...

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6. Martin Luther King, Jr., and America’s Promise in the Second Reconstruction, 1955–1965

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pp. 139-160

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...

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7. Malcolm X: Jeremiah to Blacks, Damner of Whites—to the End?

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pp. 161-184

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...

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8. King’s Radical Jeremiad, 1965–1968: America as the “Sick Society”

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pp. 185-216

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...

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Conclusion: The Enduring Black Jeremiad

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pp. 217-228

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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pp. 229-268


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pp. 269-277

E-ISBN-13: 9781439903681

Publication Year: 2005