Library of Congress


The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > The African-American Experience in Ohio

[Detail] Soldier and Two Women.

Literature and Literary Reviews

In the 1893 article, "Literature as a Pillar of Strength," John Hawkins discusses the importance of literature to earlier civilizations and he calls on African Americans to create their own great works:

America's greatness is already measured more by the ability of her statesmen and the profound thought, the sublimity, grandeur and purity of her scholars, than by the number of her cities or the strength of her army. And the general verdict is that a country, a nation, a people, without a high standard of literature, is yet void of one of the strongest pillars on which to build a character.

Page 9 (external link) [Transcription (external link)]

A search on literary reviews provides newspaper and magazine critiques as well as advertisements for some of Hawkins's most esteemed contemporaries while a general survey of African-American writers including Phillis Wheatley, Benjamin Banneker, and Frederick Douglass, is available in T.G. Steward's 1913 article, "Some Glimpses of Ante Bellum Negro Literature."

  • Why does Hawkins feel that it is important for African Americans to have their own literature?
  • Which African-American authors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries might agree with Hawkins?
  • Did literature become "a Pillar of Strength" among African Americans during the twentieth century? Discuss.
  • Can literature actually have a tangible effect upon people's lives? Why or why not?