Lit2Go

African-American Literature

African-American Literature

African-American Literature is the sub-category of American Literature that includes work produced in the United States by writers of African descent and directly pertains to the experiences and viewpoints of African-Americans. In this collection, we also include works by authors such as Harriet Beecher Stowe. While not an African-American, Stowe's work attempted to depict the lives of African-Americans living under slavery. Work such as this had a profound effect on public attitudes toward African-Americans and slavery in the United States.

Authors

William Wells Brown

William Wells Brown was a prominent abolitionist lecturer, novelist, playwright, and historian. Born into slavery in the Southern United States, Brown escaped to the North, where he worked for abolitionist causes and was a prolific writer. Brown was a pioneer in several different literary genres, including travel writing, fiction, and drama, and wrote what is considered to be the first novel by an African American. An almost exact contemporary of Frederick Douglass, Wells Brown was overshadowed by Douglass and the two feuded publicly.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass  was an American abolitionist, editor, orator, author, statesman and reformer. Called "The Sage of Anacostia" and "The Lion of Anacostia", Douglass is one of the most prominent figures in African American history and a formidable public presence. He was a firm believer in the equality of all people, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant. He was fond of saying, "I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."

W. E. B. Du Bois

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963) was was an African American author that pushed for civil rights and believed strongly in Pan-Africanism. In addition to this, W. E. B. Du Bois, was also an author, educator, poet, and co-founder of the NAACP (National Association for Advancement of Colored People).

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar was a seminal American poet of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Dunbar gained national recognition for his 1896 book of poetry, Lyrics of a Lowly Life.

Jubilee Singers

Jubilee Singers of Fisk University were a group of African American singers in the 1870s. Their repertoire centered on spirituals, but also included some Stephen Foster songs. The word "jubilee" was originally intended to set them apart from blackface minstrels, but was soon adopted in the names of several minstrel troupes.

The singers were a fundraising effort for Fisk University, a historically black university in Nashville, Tennessee, although one that was not initially approved by the university itself. The treasurer at Fisk at that time was George L. White. In an effort to raise money for the University, he gathered a nine-member chorus of students to go on tour in an attempt to earn money. On October 6, 1871, the group of students left for their U.S. tour. They began in small towns, some of which were not receptive to their performances.

Soon, the audiences they performed for began to appreciate their beautiful voices and they began to receive praise for their talents. Prior to the formation of this group, most black music was being performed by white musicians and it took a while for audiences to accept the talent of The Jubilee Singers as a group of black performers. Eventually, they were able to earn enough money to send back to Fisk University to help cover some expenses. Near the end of 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant invited them to perform at The White House.

After a tour of Europe in 1873, the group earned enough money to send back to Fisk to construct the university's first-ever permanent building. The building was named Jubilee Hall, and it is still standing today.

Elizabeth Keckley

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was a former slave turned successful seamstress who is most notably known as being Mary Todd Lincoln's personal modiste and confidante, and the author of her autobiography, Behind the Scenes Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. Mrs. Keckley utilized her intelligence, keen business savvy, and sewing and design skills to arrange and ultimately buy her freedom (and that of her son George as well), and later enjoyed regular business with the wives of the government elite as her base clientele.

After several years in St. Louis, she moved to Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1860, where she had the country's most elite women of the time requesting her services. Through shrewd networking and hard work, she ended up making gowns and dresses for more notable wives such as Mrs. Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis, and Mrs. Mary Anne Randolph Custis Lee, wife of Robert E. Lee. Of all her clients, she had the closest and most long-standing relationship with Mary Todd Lincoln, devoting many of her days during Abraham Lincoln's administration to being available to her and the First Family in a myriad of ways.

Booker T. Washington

Booker Taliaferro Washington (April 5, 1856 - November 14, 1915) was an American educator, author and leader of the African American community. He was freed from slavery as a child, gained an education, and as a young man was appointed to lead a teachers’ college for black Americans. From this position of leadership he rose into a nationally prominent role as spokesman for his race. He was a pragmatist and an accommodationist, and as such won friends in high places who helped him further his agenda of education for African Americans.

Phillis Wheatley

Phillis Wheatley (1753 – December 5, 1784) was the first female African American poet to be published in the United States. Her book Poems on Various Subjects was published in 1773, two years before the American Revolutionary War began, and is seen as one of the first examples of African American literature.

Books

Uncle Tom's Cabin (Told to the Children) (1852)

by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly is an anti–slavery novel by American author Harriet Beecher Stowe. Published in 1852, the novel had a profound effect on attitudes towards slavery in the United States. The book also helped create a number of stereotypes of African-Americans. To some extent, this negative effect has overshadowed other historical impacts of the novel.

The Told to the Children Series of books were published in Great Britain in the early 1900's. The purpose of the book series was to introduce readers between the ages of 9 and 12 to the best known classic novels of the 19th Century.

Clotel; or, The President's Daughter (1853)

by William Wells Brown

Clotel; or, The President's Daughter is a novel by William Wells Brown (1815 – 1884), a fugitive from slavery and abolitionist and was published in London, England in December 1853. It gained notoriety amid the unconfirmed rumors regarding Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. Brown was still considered someone else's legal property within the borders of the United States at the time of its publication. It is considered to be the first novel written by an African American. The book follows the experiences of three generations of women during slavery.

Brown used the injustices of slavery to demonstrate the destructive effects it had on the African American family, most significantly the so–called tragic mulatto. Brown had escaped from slavery in Kentucky while still in his youth, and became active on the anti–slavery circuit.

My Bondage and My Freedom (1855)

by Frederick Douglass

My Bondage and My Freedom is an autobiographical slave narrative written by Frederick Douglass and published in 1855. It is the second of three autobiographies written by Douglass, and is mainly an expansion of his first (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass), discussing in greater detail his transition from bondage to liberty. Douglass, a former slave, following his liberation went on to become a prominent abolitionist, speaker, author, and publisher.

Behind the Scenes (1868)

by Elizabeth Keckley

Behind the Scenes Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House is an autobiographical narrative by Elizabeth Keckley. In it she tells the story of her life as a slave and her time as a seamstress for Mrs. Lincoln in the White House.

The Colored Cadet at West Point (1878)

by Henry O. Flipper

The Colored Cadet at West Point is an autobiographical novel detailing the events leading up to Henry O. Flipper's groundbreaking appointment to the West Point Military Academy, and his active service in the U.S. Army that followed graduation.

Up From Slavery (1901)

by Booker T. Washington

Up From Slavery is the 1901 autobiography of Booker T. Washington detailing his slow and steady rise from a slave child during the Civil War, to the difficulties and obstacles he overcame to get an education at the new Hampton University, to his work establishing vocational schools (most notably the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama), to helping black people and other disadvantaged minorities learn useful, marketable skills and work to pull themselves, as a race, up by the bootstraps. He reflects on the generosity of both teachers and philanthropists who helped in educating blacks and native Americans.

The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

by W. E. B. Du Bois

The Souls of Black Folk is a classic work of African–American literature by activist W.E.B. Du Bois. The book, published in 1903, contains several essays on race, some of which had been previously published in Atlantic Monthly magazine. Du Bois drew from his own experiences to develop this groundbreaking work on being African–American in American society. Outside of its notable place in African–American history, The Souls of Black Folk also holds an important place in social science as one of the early works to deal with sociology.

The Heart of Happy Hollow (1904)

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

The Heart of Happy Hollow is a short story collection by Paul Laurence Dunbar that focuses on the experiences of African-Americans after the conclusion of the Civil War.

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912)

by James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man is a fictional, tragic tale about a young mulatto's coming-of-age in the early 20th century. The unnamed narrator, who has a black mother and white father, is light-skinned enough to pass for a white man but his emotional connections to his mother's heritage make him unable to fully embrace that world.

Humour and Dialect (1913)

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

This is a collection of poetry by African American author Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dunbar's work frequently features a conversational tone, innovative rhetorical structure, and a colorful use of both dialect and mainstream English. Dunbar was among the first nationally successful African American writers.

Lyrics of Love and Laughter (1913)

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

This is a collection of poetry by African American author Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dunbar's work frequently features a conversational tone, innovative rhetorical structure, and a colorful use of both dialect and mainstream English. Dunbar was among the first nationally successful African American writers.

Lyrics of Love and Sorrow (1913)

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

This is a collection of poetry by African American author Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dunbar's work frequently features a conversational tone, innovative rhetorical structure, and a colorful use of both dialect and mainstream English. Dunbar was among the first nationally successful African American writers.

Lyrics of Lowly Life (1913)

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

This is a collection of poetry by African American author Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dunbar's work frequently features a conversational tone, innovative rhetorical structure, and a colorful use of both dialect and mainstream English. Dunbar was among the first nationally successful African American writers.

Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow (1913)

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

This is a collection of poetry by African American author Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dunbar's work frequently features a conversational tone, innovative rhetorical structure, and a colorful use of both dialect and mainstream English. Dunbar was among the first nationally successful African American writers.

Lyrics of the Hearthside (1913)

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

This is a collection of poetry by African American author Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dunbar's work frequently features a conversational tone, innovative rhetorical structure, and a colorful use of both dialect and mainstream English. Dunbar was among the first nationally successful African American writers.

Miscellaneous Poems (1913)

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

This is a collection of poetry by African American author Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dunbar's work frequently features a conversational tone, innovative rhetorical structure, and a colorful use of both dialect and mainstream English. Dunbar was among the first nationally successful African American writers.

Passages