Virtue, Sacrifice, and Patriotism: Transnational Discourses of Revolution in Northern Black Antebellum Political Culture

Saturday, January 9, 2010: 9:40 AM
Edward A (Hyatt)
Erica L. Ball , California State University, Fullerton, Fullerton, CA
In the three decades preceding the Civil War, as northern free blacks grappled with their liminal status as nominally free men and women in a slaveholding republic, northern African Americans began the process of creating a usable history for the African American population.  Designed not just to educate the white population about their past contributions to the nation, this “liberation historiography” was placed in the service of the African American fight for freedom. And by the 1850s, northern free black writers, educators, activists, and intellectuals had created a pantheon of African American heroes, founding fathers, mothers and revolutionaries that free blacks were urged to emulate.
    Drawing upon the convention proceedings, newspaper articles, narratives and political fiction of the black public sphere, this paper will explore the transnational dynamics of northern black representations of revolutionaries in the decades preceding the Civil War. During this period, African American activists consistently identified their struggle against U.S. slavery and racism with the activities of revolutionaries in locations throughout the African diaspora, including L’Overture, Dessalines, and Cinque. But while praising these heroes as exemplary figures that all African Americans should emulate, black activists often likened these black heroes to European nationalists such as Tell, Mazzini, and Kossuth. The range of the patriots referenced in their political rhetoric suggests that on certain occasions, northern free black activists claimed a transnational identification that extended beyond the Black Atlantic, and drew upon gender-specific republican notions of virtue and sacrifice.
<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation