African American Perspectives, 1818-1907, contains 351 pamphlets and presents a panoramic and eclectic review of African American history and culture, spanning almost one hundred years. Notable people represented in the collection include Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett, among others.
These online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.
These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection although they may not be all-encompassing.
- Expansion and Reform, 1801-1861
- The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877
- Development of the Industrial United States, 1876-1915
- Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930
Related Collections and Exhibits
- African-American Odyssey
- African-American Perspectives, 1818-1907
- Civil War Maps
- Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865
- The Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana
Recommended additional sources of information.
Specific guidance for searching this collection.
For help with general search strategies, see Finding Items in American Memory.
The African-American Perspectives collection documents a wide range of events, topics, and issues in African-American history and culture. This collection recreates the public dialogue among African Americans a century ago, and highlights political, cultural, and social issues still debated today.
1) The materials cover important social issues and movements such as race relations, the development of racial pride, migration of African Americans to the North, and the colonization of Africa by freed slaves.
Search on race relations, pride, migration, and colonization. For example, search on pride for text such as,
My first advice then to the black man would be, be not ashamed of your race or color. Dare to be a black man, and accept the position that God has assigned you, and do not believe that it is an inferior or degrading one. Be a black man. It is as honorable to be a black man as it is a white one. Aim to make yourself not a white man, but a perfect black man. Have faith in your race, in its capability and in its future. Give your presence, your influence, your support to your own race and color.
From the pamphlet: "A duty which the colored people owe to themselves. A sermon delivered at Metzerott hall, Washington, D.C., November 17, 1867 by Charles Brandon Boynton."
2) The collection covers changes in the political issues faced and the political causes espoused by African Americans during a one hundred year period.
Search on politics and governmentfor text such as,
Never in human history did men so belie their own professions as did our forefathers when they set up, what they claimed to be, a free government and then made constitutional provision for the enslavement of a portion of the people.
From the pamphlet: "A constitutional defense of the Negro: by Algernon Sidney Crapsey; delivered at a mass meeting of citizens in the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, Washington, D.C., December 15, 1901."
3) The collection presents an excellent selection of well known African-American authors including Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary Church Terrell, Benjamin W. Arnett, Alexander Crummel, and Emanuel Love. The collection also includes less well-known African-American writers whose work helps illuminate the concerns of generations from another era.
Search on prominent authors by name. Search on specific topics to discover writings of lesser known authors. For example, search on Mary Church Terrell (President of the National Association of Colored Women) for text such as,
Consider if you will, the almost insurmountable obstacles which have confronted colored women in their efforts to educate and cultivate themselves since their emancipation, and I dare assert, not boastfully, but with pardonable pride, I hope, that the progress they have made and the work they have accomplished, will bear a favorable comparison at least with that of their more fortunate sisters, from the opportunity of acquiring knowledge and the means of self-culture have never been entirely withheld. For, not only are colored women with ambition and aspiration handicapped on account of their sex, but they are everywhere baffled and mocked on account of their race. From the pamphlet: "The Progress of Colored Women."
4) The collection offers a strong chronicle of civil rights issues.
Search on voting rights, franchise, rights of women, segregation, Jim Crow laws, violence, employment, and education. For example, search on segregation for text such as,
Mr. Morse introduced a bill to provide separate schools for colored children, and for other purposes. This bill gave to all colored children rights in the common schools, but where there was not room for them, or where popular prejudice would not permit their attendance, separate schools were to be provided.
From the pamphlet: "The black laws: speech of Hon. B.W. Arnett of Greene County, and Hon. J.A. Brown of Cuyahoga County, in the Ohio House of Representatives, March 10, 1886."
5) Religion and the role of the church in African-American history figure prominently in the collection. Many sermons and church-sponsored conferences feature speeches on politics, government, and civil rights. Other pamphlets focus on family life and personal issues.
Search on religion, sermon, church, and specific topics. For example, search on sermon for text such as,
The conflict of right and wrong is not confined to the human heart, but found in the laws and customs of men. They find themselves incorporated into the fundamental law of nations. In the declaration of rights and wrongs, they are often sanctioned by the Legislators formulating them, and spreading them on the Statute book. They are seen in the judicial decision of the Supreme Court, in the dissension of the minority from the majority. But though wrong may be written in the constitution, and affirmed by the judicial decision of a thousand courts, it will not be right. It may be law, but law is not always right.
From the pamphlet: "Centennial Thanksgiving sermon, by Benjamin William Arnett, 1876."
6) One fascinating aspect of the collection is presentations on American history by African Americans. Pamphlets such as "History of American Abolitionism: Its Four Great Epochs" (1861), "The Negro as a Soldier in the War of Rebellion" (1897), and "Chronology of the War with Spain" (1898) document how history has been written and perceived by African Americans over time. These historical narratives were written at important moments in history, when the issues were passionate, contemporary concerns.
Search on specific topics or titles of pamphlets. The collection especially is strong in titles that reflect on the meaning, experience, and memory of the Civil War.
The pamphlet collection can help students develop chronological thinking about patterns of change and continuity in social and political attitudes. Students can study issues such as women and work, race and equality, or the colonization of Africa, to trace and attitudes over time. In order to study changing attitudes, students may need a time line or other narrative sources to provide historical context for the pamphlets.
Throughout the collection, students can juxtapose two or more pamphlets to compare and contrast attitudes of the time. These comparisons will help students analyze the narratives for what they reveal about motivations, intentions, hopes, fears, and doubts of the people involved.
Two documents in the collection, Ida B. Wells "Lynch Law in Georgia" and Rev. Emanuel K. Love's "A Sermon on Lynch Law and Raping," reveal discordant voices on an urgent issue at the end of the nineteenth century.
The Rev. Love takes on a voice of conservatism, in which he accepts the white separatist's correlation between lynching and the rape of white women. He criticizes those who "wave the bloody shirt." Love opposes "intermingling" of the races in his desire to "make the South the glory of all the world."
Ida B. Wells, on the other hand, is angered by those who "justify savagery on the ground that Negroes are lynched only because of their crimes against women" and provides evidence to the contrary.
Historical Analysis and Interpretation
Using this collection, students can build historical thinking skills by examining how an author's race, gender, and social class influenced the point of view presented in a document. Students can also examine the influence authors had on their audiences. For example, students might study writings by leaders of the national anti-lynching movement including Ida B. Wells-Barnett.
Historical Research Capabilities
This diverse collection can support many research projects. The documents are varied, ranging from sermons to pamphlets to poetry. Students can research a topic from different points of view, places, and time. They can study the development of different perspectives on historical events or periods. Secondary sources can provide context for this rich collection of primary source materials.
For example, many history textbooks cover John Brown's raid. Inthis collection, Frederick Douglass gives a speech praising John Brown. Students might compare Douglass' speech to a textbook account. They might seek additional points of view about John Brown in other primary sources such as newspapers of the era.
Historical Issue Analysis and Decision Making
The collection lends itself to providing historical context for issues relevant in today's society. Students can study the history of issues such as segregation, social mobility, and violence against minorities. They can role play and act out, how, under the circumstances of another era, they might respond to these issues. Using the pamphlets, students can examine how African Americans generated effective political action under the political, social, and economic conditions in which they were living.
Arts & Humanities
1) Persuasive Argument
This collection is an excellent resource for studying persuasive literature and the techniques authors use to put forth an argument. Using the pamphlets, students can analyze the strength and persuasiveness of an author's argument. Students can search in other parts of the collection or other sources for evidence that the author's arguments or causes bore fruit over time. Using the collection, students might create their own pamphlets on contemporary issues of importance to them.
2) Poetry and Prose
The collection offers poetry and prose useful for studying themes such as courage and risk, achieving independence, vision and ideals, self reliance, friendship and love, family, growth and change, loss and recovery, corruption and consequences. For example, one poem evokes the dramatic story of a slave auction where a son is separated from his mother and sold. The poem is both an example of 19th century poetry and a poignant piece on the themes of family, loss, and consequences (of the slave system).
Search on poems for selections such as,
THE SLAVE MOTHER (Begins on page no. 6)
Heard you that shriek? It rose
So wildly on the air,
It seem'd as if a burden'd heart
Was breaking in despair.
Saw you those hands so sadly clasped--
The bowed and feeble head--
The shuddering of that fragile form--
That look of grief and dread?
Saw you the sad, imploring eye?
Its every glance was pain,
As if a storm of agony
Were sweeping through the brain.
She is a mother pale with fear,
Her boy clings to her side,
And in her kyrtle vainly tries
His trembling form to hide.
He is not hers, although she bore
For him a mother's pains;
He is not hers, although her blood
is coursing through his veins!
He is not hers, for cruel hands
May rudely tear apart
The only wreath of household love
That binds her breaking heart.
His love has been a joyous light
That o'er her pathway smiled,
A fountain gushing ever new,
Amid life's desert wild.
His lightest word has been a tone
Of music round her heart,
Their lives a streamlet blent in one--
Oh, Father! must they part?
They tear him from her circling arms,
Her last and fond embrace:--
Oh! never more may her sad eyes
Gaze on his mournful face.
No marvel, then, these bitter shrieks
Disturb the listening air;
She is a mother, and her heart
Is breaking in despair.
From the pamphlet: "Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects," by Harper,
Frances Ellen Watkins, 1825-1911