Introduction: Recovering the Dream Deferred
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Introduction Recovering the Dream Deferred Karen Kossie-­Chernyshev Recovery projects are simultaneously fascinating and inspiring. They affirm established bodies of knowledge and their affiliated associations, communities, and institutions. They demand a reevaluation of discourses and a restructuring of paradigms. Or they inspire, by their radical nature and sudden appearance, a new phase of creativityand related exploratory acts. The Lillian B. Horace Papers accomplish all three. In provenance, content, and form, they affirm the diverse and now weighty body of creative work labeled “African American Literature” and include the following artifacts: Horace’s diary, transcribed by Tom Kellam; her first novel, Five Generations Hence (1916), a back-­ to-­ Africa work that predates the Marcus Garvey movement of the 1920s and is both the earliest novel on record by a black woman from Texas and the earliest utopian novel by a black woman before 1950; Angie Brown, Horace’s unpublished second novel, which highlights the universality of women’s experiences and their need for economic fulfillment; her definitive biography of Lacey Kirk Williams, president of the National Baptist Convention in the early 1920s, who helped revolutionize the way black churches operated in Chicago during the Great Migration; and photographs, letters, telegrams, and memorabilia. The collection in all its breadth and scope expands the canon of works by African American women of the early twentieth century and invites readers to revisit the relationships among black southern women, intellectual production, and probable sites for creativity, affirmation , and dissemination. My 2003 encounter with the Lillian B. Horace Papers, owned by the Tarrant County Black Genealogical and Historical Society and housed at the Fort Worth Public Library, and the papers’ formal introduction into the historical and literary canon through this volume, highlight the importance of our being ready for the historical surprises that will continue to emerge as we dig deeper into the past. 2 Introduction And Horace was an extraordinary surprise indeed. As I leafed through her papers the details of her life emerged. They were so captivating that I gradually parted company with another project to investigate the life of this woman with whom I seemed to have so much in common. We were both African-­ American, southern, ambitious, perhaps naively idealistic, and enamored of intellectual activity. We loved to travel, we loved black religious culture, and we longed to “get published .” Horace was a woman from whose life I could safely critique my own and that of other women who share any or all of our identity markers. And she had lived a life and done work that merits sustained scholarly application. The absence of Horace’s works from the literary canon and the annals of African American social history inherently cautioned against the sometimes inflexible nature of paradigms. Horace’s first novel, Five Generations Hence, republished in the present volume, laydormant until Carol Kessler included an excerpt from it in Daring to Dream: Utopian Fiction by United States Women before 1950 (1995), the second edition of an anthology published first in 1984 and bearing the same title, but without the excerpt. This important introduction to the academic literature was nonetheless missed by historians, who until recent years shied away from creative literature as a reliable source of history.The connection was not made between Kessler’s Lillian Jones, evidence for whose existence stopped with the Fort Worth telephone directory, and the Tarrant County Black Genealogical and Historical Society’s Lillian B. Horace, whose collection teemed with historical artifacts, until series editors of Harvard’s African American National Biography politely acquainted me with Kessler’s anthology, and thereby tempered my claim to be “the first scholar” to engage Horace’s works. The nearly eighty-­ year interval between Horace’s publication of her own work and Kessler’s publication of Lillian Jones, as well as the twelve-­ year interval between the latter publication and my biographical essay on Lillian Horace, confirms the thesis of Michel-­Rolph Trouillot ’s Silencing the Past, namely, that silences occur in historical production in the making and interpreting of archives and the making and writing of history—realities ultimately related to power. This is particularly relevant in Horace’s case. Members of Tarrant County Black Genealogical and Historical Society, the organization that owns her works, recognized the significance of Horace’s contributions, a very 3 Recovering the Dream Deferred important first step, but lack of resources and a leaking building compelled them to seek a safe harbor for their vast collection at the Fort Worth Public Library. My encounter...