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c h ap t e r o ne Dueling Banjos African American Dualism and Strategies for Black Representation at the Turn of the Century Paul Gilroy has powerfully claimed that the notion of double consciousness in which the black subject “ever feels his twoness” was used by W. E. B. Du Bois to figure a diasporic and sometimes transatlantic black modernity expressing the ambivalent location of people of African descent simultaneously within and beyond what is known as “the West” (Gilroy, 111–45). Certainly, Du Bois’s articulation of dualism, largelydrawing on the language of William James and early U.S. psychology, has remained a powerful trope available to a wide range of artists and intellectuals both inside and outside the United States down to the present.1 To understand why Du Bois’s formulation of the concept had such force, however, one has to examine the relationship of his formulation to similar expressions of African American dualism, within the political and cultural context in which these various articulations appeared. As Ernest Allen Jr. points out, Du Bois’s notion of double consciousness in The Souls of Black Folk as an appropriate description of the literally divided spiritual, psychological , and even cultural conditions of individual black artists and intellectuals at the turn of the century is dubious at best in an empirical sense— however powerful the metaphor seemed to later generations (Ernest Allen, 217–53). However, as a figuration of the divided political status of African Americans, and theirambivalent position in what might be thought of as the consciousness of the nation as expressed in law, historiography, literature, art, popularculture, and so on, the concept of double consciousness and other tropes of African American dualism were convincingly apt. Du Bois’s book is often rightly seen as sounding a note of dissent within what is frequently termed the age of BookerT.Washington in African American politics, thought, and letters—though, to extend the musical metaphor, one can see Souls in many respects as a variation onWashington’s theme or a revision of a Washington riff.Yet it is worth recalling that it was also the age of Paul Laurence Dunbar, whose critical and professional success as a liter- 28 | DUELING BANJOS ary artist among black and white readers was unprecedented for an African American author.Of course, PhillisWheatleyattained a considerable notoriety among many of the political and intellectual leaders of her time at home and abroad (as well as a position of historical note as only the third woman from what would become the United States to publish a book of poetry in English), and Frances E.W. Harper sold thousands of volumes of her poetry, perhaps even outstripping Dunbar in that regard (Boyd, 15). But, as Countee Cullen claimed in the introduction to the 1927 anthology of black poetry Caroling Dusk, black and white readers assigned Dunbar a “uniquity as the first Negro to attain to and maintain a distinguished place among American poets, a place fairly merited by the most acceptable standards of criticism” (x–xi). Dunbar, in fact, was among the most successful poets, arguably the most successful, of his era. James Weldon Johnson, recalling an extended visit that Dunbar paid his family in Jacksonville in 1901, noted that when Dunbar sent off poems to the leading literary journals of the era, acceptance notes (and checks) followed almost immediately. Dunbar ’s work also inspired black literary societies devoted to the reading of his poetry, both “high literary” and “dialect” (JamesWeldon Johnson,AlongThis Way, 160; Knupfer, 223–24). The age of Dunbar, Washington, and the early Du Bois is a paradoxical one. The paradox is that Dunbar (born 1872) and Du Bois (born 1868), and their African American age cohort, including James Weldon Johnson (born 1871) and even the older Washington (born 1856), Anna Julia Cooper (born 1858) and Charles Chesnutt (born 1858), were members of the first generation to grow up after Emancipation. Unlike his parents, who had been slaves, Dunbar was born free after the passage of theThirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. Yet the hopes and promises of Reconstruction were clearly fading with the increasing advance of Jim Crow segregation and black disenfranchisement in the South (and elsewhere) in the early 1890s despite the fact that those amendments remained part of the Constitution. One might say that Reconstruction, like Prohibition later, was essentially overturned. However, unlike the case of Prohibition and the Eighteenth Amendment that underwrote it, the portions of the amended Constitution that undergirded Reconstruction...


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