Prof. Gabrielle Foreman
Race, Resistance and Activism in the Nineteenth Century
In this class, we’ll examine the writings and lives of nineteenth-century activist-authors. Our subjects will include Harriet Jacobs, the post-war advocate for freed people and author of the most famous woman’s slave narrative and Frederick Douglass, whose speeches, newspaper articles and novella based on an actual slave mutiny we’ll explore. Rebecca Latimer Felton, a powerful white activist in the post Civil War South who was a progressive activist on issues of education and prison reform for the white poor and the most rabid racist women’s leader of her era, will be our next subject. We’ll then examine the work of Reverend Harvey Johnson and Amelia Johnson. Amelia Johnson wrote the second full-length novel penned by a Black woman, a work widely characterized—and dismissed—as a temperance novel; she also wrote strident pieces in the Black press. Rev. Harvey Johnson was the most important and the most radical Black minister—and legal activist—in postbellum Maryland. We will end with Ida B. Wells’s protest writings and anti-lynching activism with allies such as Albion Tourgee, who wrote the brief for Plessy V. Ferguson. We will pair activists’ novels, narratives, speeches, sermons and newspaper writing with secondary sources including selections from biographies and critical essays. Requirements will include primary research, community based learning projects and web work.
Options for the Final Project:
Community-based projects will extend to our own time the kinds of nineteenth-century projects we’re studying. For instance, just after the Civil War, Harriet Jacobs was a strong advocate for once enslaved people who took their freedom into their own hands by fleeing the South as the War broke out. She took on powerful forces to help secure affordable housing and educational opportunities to (new) citizens treated as refugees. Rev. Harvey Johnson linked with other ministers and founded a group to fight for judicial reform, protection from workplace harassment and educational access. We will partner with groups that build on this legacy of struggle and who are working on similar issues. This project is worth 45% your total grade. Approximately 10 hours a week (including travel time).
Primary Research Project
Students who choose this option will work on some aspect of the Creole Mutiny, a major international event precipitated by a mutiny in which 19 enslaved people freed themselves and more than a hundred others by steering a ship bound to the New Orleans’ slave market to the Bahamas instead, which was by that time free British territory. The US government was incensed by British “interference” and the possibility of open hostility was finally arbitrated. In research papers, students can explore this mutiny from one of various different angles: by trying to trace the mutineers and their descendents, by researching the leader’s early allies, by examining newspaper accounts of the mutiny, by comparing the Creole to other mutinies, by examining the insurance records of the slave holders who filed loss reports or by looking at the international diplomatic dispute that ensued, for example. In total, this project is worth 5O% of the final grade.
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