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Collection African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection

About this Collection

“African American Perspectives” gives a panoramic and eclectic review of African American history and culture from the early 19th through the early 20th centuries, with the bulk of the material published between 1875 and 1900. Among the authors represented are Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Benjamin W. Arnett, Alexander Crummel, and Emanuel Love.

The 400 + titles in the collection include sermons on racial pride and political activism; annual reports of charitable, educational, and political organizations; and college catalogs and graduation orations from the Hampton Institute, Morgan College, and Wilberforce University. Also included are biographies, slave narratives, speeches by members of Congress, legal documents, poetry, playbills, dramas, and librettos. Other materials focus on segregation, voting rights, violence against African Americans, and the colonization of Africa by freed slaves. Several of the items are illustrated with portraits of the authors.

Generally, there are three recurring themes present in the collection. The first of these themes involves the desire to "uplift" the black race in the United States and to "improve" the status of African Americans. This concern is almost always described in terms of the attainment of social, cultural, and material achievements in order to gain equality with whites. A second theme is encompassed by the struggle for civil rights and equality in the South. This is most often embodied as an appeal to the federal government to defend the constitutional rights of African Americans and protect them from lynchings, executions without trials, and other violence at the hands of Southern mobs. At the same time, the necessity for blacks to obey the law is constantly affirmed. The third theme questions the future of freed American slaves -- should they remain in the U.S. as freedmen or emigrate to the colony of Liberia in Africa? Several pamphlets mention the American Colonization Society and other such groups who supported the repatriation of freed slaves to Africa in an effort to establish and nourish the new colony. Further, a broad range of opinions are expressed in the pamphlets as well as the tensions between them. Concerning race relations, these items reveal strong notes of discord between accommodationist points of view and the supporters of a more militant stance. Most items lean more toward the former than the latter, although there are several militant writers to be found among them. Also, authors focus primarily upon the problems of Southern African Americans rather than those in the North. While northern blacks are not ignored and the problems facing African Americans are more often discussed in national terms, the overriding concern lies with the attitudes of Southern whites toward Southern blacks.

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