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When the nation was in peril; when the country was rent asunder at the center; when the rebel armies were in the field, bold, defiant and victorious; when our recruiting sergeants were marching up and down our streets from early morn til late at night, with drum and fife, with banner and badge, footsore and weary; when the fate of the Republic trembled in the balance, and the hearts of loyal men were failing them for fear; when nearly all hope of subduing the rebellion had vanished, Abraham Lincoln called upon the colored men of this country to reach out their iron arms and clutch with their steel fingers the faltering banner of the Republic; and they rallied, and they rallied, full two hundred thousand strong. Ah! then, my friends, the claims of the Negro found the heart of the nation a little more tender and responsive than now. But I ask Americans to remember that the arms that were needed then may be needed again. —Frederick Douglass, “The United States Cannot Remain Half-Slave and Half-Free,” in Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writing I would sing a song heroic Of those noble sons of Ham, Of those gallant colored soldiers Who fought for Uncle Sam! —Paul Laurence Dunbar, “The Colored Soldiers,” in Collected Poetry c h apt e r two Remembering “Those Noble Sons of Ham” Poetry, Soldiers, and Citizens at the End of Reconstruction Following French social historian Pierre Nora, Richard Terdiman has argued that a particular mark of modernity in Europe—and, ultimately, a central concern of modernism—is the “memory crisis” arising from people’s sense of “the insecurity of their culture’s involvement with its past, the perturbation of the link to their own inheritance” after the revolutionary period of 1789–1815 (3–4). If this sense of the insecurity or instability of cultural memory, if, again, “all that is solid melts into air,” is a central topos of modernityand modernism, then some of the earliest literaryengagements with the “memory crisis” took place in African American literature.1 The intertwined REMEMBERING “THOSE NOBLE SONS OF HAM” | 67 issues of national, racial, and ethnic identity in black writing, from that of Phillis Wheatley and Olaudah Equiano in the eighteenth century through the autobiographies of Frederick Douglass in the nineteenth century to debates between E. Franklin Frazier and Melville Herskovits in the twentieth century to the conversation about reparations for the descendants of slaves in the United States that still continues in the twenty-first century have significantly turned on the question of cultural memory, its disruption, displacement , survival, and possible recovery. Of course, to a certain extent the United States long prided itself on the disruption of cultural memory, as the place where the individual could fashion or refashion herself or himself, willfully repressing any collective memory of cultural origins in the Old World or, indeed, in the New—though this repression and remaking was not generally posed as a crisis. However, by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, what might be thought of as a double memory crisis arose, producing twinned anxieties about ruptures in cultural memory caused by mass immigration and assimilation and mass immigration and nonassimilation, between the forced or willed forgetting of “old country” cultures and the threat to “American” cultural, moral, and political identity occasioned by “offwhite” and fundamentally (and more or less perpetually) alien nationalities.2 It would not be until the rise of U.S. modernism and the emergence of a significant bohemia in the United State in the second and third decades of the twentieth century that these immigrants and their offspring, especially the “new immigrants” from southern and eastern Europe and the Middle East, began to make a noticeable mark on U.S. literature in English—popular music and theater were different stories. African American authors, then, were practically the only significant group of English-language writers in the United States who were not white Christians (generally Protestants) of northern or western European descent until the twentieth century—Emma Lazarus notwithstanding. If, as various scholars have noted, African American culture provided the children of the “new immigrants” models of becoming “American,” black authors provided early examples of engaging the double anxieties of cultural memory: the fear of becoming deracinated and the fearof being cast as the permanent alien who disrupts memoryas well as the body politic (“How does it feel to be a problem?” Du Bois famously asked in The Souls of Black Folk [10...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781469603100
Related ISBN
9780807834633
MARC Record
OCLC
731680439
Pages
264
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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