Black on Black

Black on Black: Twentieth-Century African American Writing about Africa

John Clllen Gruesser
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 216
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Black on Black
    Book Description:

    Black on Blackprovides the first comprehensive analysis of the modern African American literary response to Africa, from W.E.B. Du Bois'sThe Souls of Black Folkto Alice Walker'sThe Color Purple. Combining cutting-edge theory, extensive historical and archival research, and close readings of individual texts, Gruesser reveals the diversity of the African American response to Countee Cullen's question, "What is Africa to Me?"

    John Gruesser uses the concept of Ethiopianism--the biblically inspired belief that black Americans would someday lead Africans and people of the diaspora to a bright future--to provide a framework for his study. Originating in the eighteenth century and inspiring religious and political movements throughout the 1800s, Ethiopianism dominated African American depictions of Africa in the first two decades of the twentieth century, particularly in the writings of Du Bois, Sutton Griggs, and Pauline Hopkins. Beginning with the Harlem Renaissance and continuing through the Italian invasion and occupation of Ethiopia, however, its influence on the portrayal of the continent slowly diminished.

    Ethiopianism's decline can first be seen in the work of writers closely associated with the New Negro Movement, including Alain Locke and Langston Hughes, and continued in the dramatic work of Shirley Graham, the novels of George Schuyler, and the poetry and prose of Melvin Tolson. The final rejection of Ethiopianism came after the dawning of the Cold War and roughly coincided with the advent of postcolonial Africa in works by authors such as Richard Wright, Lorraine Hansberry, and Alice Walker.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5880-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. 1 Historical and Theoretical Introduction to African American Writing about Africa
    (pp. 1-19)

    African American literary depictions of Africa published between 1902 and 1982 either invoke or react against one or more aspects of Ethiopianism, the teleological and uniquely African American view of history inspired by the Psalms verse “Princes shall come out of Egypt, Ethiopia shall soon stretch forth her hands unto God” (68:31). Dating back to the eighteenth century, Ethiopianism figured prominently in sermons, pamphlets, speeches, and articles by black Americans throughout the nineteenth century.¹ Because classical authors and the King James Bible used “Ethiopia” as the term for Africa south of Egypt, Ethiopianism refers to the whole continent rather than...

  5. 2 Double-Consciousness, Ethiopianism, and Africa
    (pp. 20-49)
    Sutton Griggs, Pauline Hopkins and John E. Bruce

    Ethiopianism’s influence can be seen in the turn of the century’s best-known characterization of what it is like to be black in America, W.E.B. Du Bois’s concept of double-consciousness, which was first published in an 1897Atlantic Monthlyarticle and reprinted in slightly altered form inThe Souls of Black Folk(1903).¹ The first sentence of Du Bois’s two-paragraph definition of double-consciousness begins by blending the author's deliberately imprecise concept of “race”² with the prospect of Africa’s redemption: “After the Egyptian and the Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton, and the Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh...

  6. 3 The New Negro and Africa
    (pp. 50-93)
    Shirley Graham, Harry Dean, Langston Hughes, Henry F. Downing, Gilbert Lubin and George Schuyler

    During the Harlem Renaissance period, Ethiopianism continued to affect African American representations of Africa profoundly. In keeping with Marcus Garvey’s cultural, religious, and political project, poems, essays, and reviews appearing in the UNIA’s weekly newspaper, theNegro World, explicitly invoked Ethiopianism.¹ Those writers most closely associated with the New Negro Movement, however—Alain Locke (who announced the “Negro Renaissance” and gave it shape), Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Claude McKay—deliberately sought to distance themselves from the previous generation of African American writing and its monumental approach to Africa. In his essays Locke theorized about the relationship between African and...

  7. 4 The African American Literary Response to the Ethiopian Crisis
    (pp. 94-119)
    Langston Hughes, Melvin Tolson and George Schuyler

    Whereas the first generation of twentieth-century black American writers to depict Africa uniformly embraced Ethiopianism, during the second generation writers such as Locke, Graham, Hughes, and Schuyler consciously rejected some, most, or all of its basic tenets. On the subject of colonialism and imperialism, turn-of-the-century writers such as Griggs, Hopkins, and even the early Du Bois were at best ambivalent,¹ though John E. Bruce took a clearly negative stand. During the Harlem Renaissance period, in contrast, Hughes and Schuyler were unequivocally anticolonial and anti-imperial while diehard Ethiopianists like Garvey and Dean sought to replace European colonialism with some form of...

  8. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  9. 5 The Promise of Africa-To-Be in Melvin Tolson’s Libretto for the Republic of Liberia
    (pp. 120-134)

    Melvin Tolson’s humorous parody of Pope’s cautionary couplet—“A little of theLibrettois a dangerous thing. / Drink deep or touch not the Liberian spring” (Tolson’s journal; quoted in Farnsworth, 171)—pointedly comments on the content of as well as the critical response to theLibretto for the Republic of Liberia(1953), his eight-section, 770-line poem occasioned by the centennial of the West African nation’s declaration of independence.¹ Written in an array of poetic styles, saturated with allusions to hundreds of works in a wide variety of languages, and accompanied by seventeen pages of notes, Tolson’s poem cannot be...

  10. 6 The Movement Away from Ethiopianism in African American Writing about Africa
    (pp. 135-157)
    Richard Wright, Lorraine Hansberry and Alice Walker

    By the second half of the twentieth century, Ethiopianism’s influence had greatly diminished for a variety of reasons, even though some of its basic tenets have continued to figure in African American religious, cultural, and intellectual movements, such as the Nation of Islam, Black Judaism, Rastafarianism, the Black Arts Movement, and Afrocentrism.¹ A decline in religious faith generally and a lack of emphasis on Psalms 68:31 in sermons by African American preachers in particular stripped Ethiopianism of much of its spiritual power. As African independence movements grew after World War II, political and cultural movements on the continent began to...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 158-178)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 179-195)
  13. Index
    (pp. 196-206)