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Sitting in Darkness

Sitting in Darkness: New South Fiction, Education, and the Rise of Jim Crow Colonialism, 1865-1920

Peter Schmidt
Copyright Date: 2008
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    Sitting in Darkness
    Book Description:

    Sitting in Darkness explores how fiction of the Reconstruction and the New South intervenes in debates over black schools, citizen-building, Jim Crow discrimination, and U.S. foreign policy towards its territories and dependencies. The author urges a reexamination not only of the contents and formal innovations of New South literature but also its importance in U.S. literary history.

    Many rarely studied fiction authors (such as Ellwood Griest, Ellen Ingraham, George Marion McClellan, and Walter Hines Page) receive generous attention here, and well-known figures such as Albion Tourgée, Frances E. W. Harper, Sutton Griggs, George Washington Cable, Mark Twain, Thomas Dixon, Owen Wister, and W. E. B. Du Bois are illuminated in significant new ways. The book\'s readings seek to synthesize developments in literary and cultural studies, ranging through New Criticism, New Historicism, postcolonial studies, black studies, and \"whiteness\" studies.

    This volume posits and answers significant questions. In what ways did the \"uplift\" projects of Reconstruction-their ideals and their contradictions-affect U.S. colonial policies in the new territories after 1898? How can fiction that treated these historical changes help us understand them? What relevance does this period have for us in the present, during a moment of great literary innovation and strong debate over how well the most powerful country in the world uses its resources?

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-311-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-30)

    Two photographs document two schools a world apart, one in Tuskegee, Alabama, and one in Hawaii: Booker T. Washington’s famed Tuskegee Institute and Uldrick Thompson’s Kamehameha School for Girls and Boys. In the Tuskegee photograph, a class of about thirty boys and girls endure what appears to be a history lesson while sitting in rows on unpadded wooden benches. The girls wear beautiful dresses and blouses, each unique, with their hands in their laps and their hair often pinned up in a bun. The boys wear suit jackets and ties and have taken off their military-style caps with stiff, short...

  5. PART I. Black Education in Fiction from Reconstruction to Jim Crow:: Discovering a Liberal Arts Model for Citizen-Building in a Multiracial Democracy

    • [PART I. Introduction]
      (pp. 31-34)

      Chapter 1 opensSitting in Darknessby surveying debates involving black education during the Reconstruction period and after, mixed with an analysis of fictional texts published in the late 1860s and the 1870s that capture both the hopes and anxieties of the early Reconstruction era, especially in regard to the Freedmen’s Bureau’s and various Christian missionary societies’ ambitious plans to build and staff a network of schools across the U.S. South for black children and teenagers. Published fiction allows us to chart several competing models for black educational instruction as well as a distinct shift in national attitudes toward black...

    • Chapter One Changing Views of Post–Civil War Black Education in the Fiction of Lydia Maria Child, Ellwood Griest, and Constance Fenimore Woolson (1867–1878)
      (pp. 35-54)

      Nowhere does the United States’ conundrum over Reconstruction reveal itself more starkly than in the discourse surrounding the role of public education in the postwar South, especially black schools. Should the fall of the Confederacy be taken as an opportunity to set up for the first time a public education system for blacks in the South? If so, how should it be structured and financed? What should the curriculum be? Should the schools primarily be a system to reinforce class and racial divisions dangerously undermined by the currents of the war and emancipation? Or should such schools rather be an...

      (pp. 55-63)

      The pro-Reconstruction novelist who made the greatest impact in the postwar United States was undoubtedly Albion Tourgée, but he found loyal readers only after the battle for strong black schools available to all in the South had largely been lost. Tourgée’s account of idealistic Reconstruction agents,A Fool’s Errand(1879), and his exposé of the terrorist campaigns of the Ku Klux Klan,The Invisible Empire(1880), were best-sellers throughout the 1880s, even while the country as a whole had renounced Reconstruction and resigned itself to believing that white southerners, many of them ex-Confederates, knew best about what direction the region...

    • Chapter Three Of the People, by the People, and for the People: FRANCES E. W. HARPER’S CULTURAL WORK IN IOLA LEROY (1892)
      (pp. 64-74)

      The subject of Frances E. W. Harper’s novel,Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted(1892), is nothing less than the duty of black leadership and education in the postwar U.S. South tomakesomething of the freedom gained with so much pain and struggle. Harper was about as well qualified to discourse on this topic as any writer could be. Thanks to the detective work of Frances Smith Foster, Paula Giddings, Carla L. Peterson, and others, we now know much more about Harper’s travels throughout black communities in the South and the rest of the United States after the Civil War,...

    • Chapter Four Conflicted Race Nationalism: SUTTON GRIGGS’S IMPERIUM IN IMPERIO (1899)
      (pp. 75-82)

      No novel in U.S. literature more vividly captured the excitement and promise blacks felt attending postwar schools than Sutton Griggs’sImperium in Imperio(1899). The key protagonists are teachers: Belton Piedmont is hired by a school for Negro students in Richmond, Virginia; Bernard Belgrave teaches for a time in Louisiana. Griggs’s text also shows a wide range of education scenes, from small buildings in rural Virginia to informal reading and discussion circles set up by blacks for adults (97) and to respected universities such as Harvard and “Stowe” (Fisk University in Nashville). Griggs depicts students excited not just to be...

      (pp. 83-98)

      The black southern educator and writer George Marion McClellan (1860–1934) has mostly been written out of U.S. literary history—not that he was really ever in it to begin with. Primarily a chaplain, educator, and high school principal who was trained at Fisk University and worked in Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee, McClellan also wrote fictional prose, poetry, and literary criticism that he privately published between 1895 and 1916. McClellan’s fiction has received much less attention than that of other black prose writers who have recently been rediscovered and returned to literary history, such as Frances Harper, Pauline Hopkins, or...

  6. PART II. Jim Crow Colonialism’s Dependency Model for “Uplift”:: Promotion and Reaction

    • [PART II. Introduction]
      (pp. 99-103)

      Part 2 focuses first on a broad story: how the history of Reconstruction was rewritten by the New South and national Progressivist intellectuals and leaders in the 1890s and after to endorse U.S. colonialist expansion abroad. They linked disfranchisement and Jim Crow segregation at home with the apparent expansion of democratic rights in the new colonies—and called both progress. To chart this mess of historical contradictions, I have chosen as key variables the specific ways in which Reconstruction-era discourse regarding voting rights and proper educational models for southern blacks was adopted and revised to apply to new tropical colonials....

      (pp. 104-125)

      Southerners were among the U.S. citizens advocating expansion into the Caribbean, Mexico, and other areas, and they also played a central role both before and after the Civil War in the debates about whether an American empire was an inevitable expression of—or a threat to—a healthy democracy. Before the war many southerners envisioned making new slave states of territories such as Cuba to help displace northern dominance in Congress. The so-called Young Americans group of the 1840s united a younger generation’s banking, mercantile, railroad, and political interests, including Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, George N. Sanders of Kentucky,...

    • Chapter Seven From Planter Paternalism to Uncle Sam’s Largesse Abroad: ELLEN M. INGRAHAM’S BOND AND FREE (1882) AND MARIETTA HOLLEY’S SAMANTHA AT THE ST. LOUIS EXPOSITION (1904)
      (pp. 126-134)

      Tourgée’s early fiction sold so well it made him rich. It also brought him even more enmity than his previous work as a Yankee Reconstruction judge in North Carolina. For those who disagreed with his interpretation of Reconstruction as “the greatest political experiment in modern civilization” despite its flaws (Fool’s Errand142), they had to provide counterexamples to his influential characters and his narratives. Those ripostes in fiction came thick and fast, by Ellen M. Ingraham, Thomas Nelson Page, Joel Chandler Harris, Thomas Dixon, and even George Washington Cable, among others.¹ These writers differed in temperament and ideology: Ingraham, Cable,...

    • Chapter Eight Counter-statements to Jim Crow Colonialism: MARK TWAIN’S “TO THE PERSON SITTING IN DARKNESS” (1901) AND AURELIO TOLENTINO’S YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW (1905)
      (pp. 135-150)

      Where might we look in cultural history for what Marietta Holley called that other “strain,” critiques of the United States’ turn-of-the-century discourses of a civilizing mission justifying colonialism? In general, U.S. historians have tended to focus on only one area in the cultural spectrum, the writings of Boston’s Anti-Imperial League. Like their opponents, these figures were white cultural elites who had access to the most widely distributed public newspapers and periodicals. Many were northerners and once supporters of Reconstruction, but eventually there were branches of the League in other areas of the country, such as Minnesota. The Anti-Imperialist League’s most...

    • Chapter Nine Educating Whites to Be White on the Global Frontier: HYPNOTISM AND AMBIVALENCE IN THOMAS DIXON AND OWEN WISTER (1900–1905)
      (pp. 151-173)

      InInvisible Empire(1880), Albion Tourgée’s history of the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, he commented on the postwar financing of the new public schools in the South, citing Mississippi as a representative case: “Mississippi State law (after Reconstruction) established separate public schools for white and for colored children, and directed their support as to come from a common school fund consisting of the proceeds of certain land sales, penal fines, license taxes, &c. and the State Constitution levied in aid of this fund a poll tax. . . . Both the assessors of these taxes, and the teachers...

  7. PART III. The Dark Archive:: Early Twentieth-Century Critiques of Jim Crow Colonialism by New South Novelists

    • [PART III. Introduction]
      (pp. 174-176)

      Both those who reviled Reconstruction and those who revered it acknowledged that it greatly enlarged the powers of the U.S. government and, in doing so, transformed the nation. Proponents of Jim Crow colonialism, such as John W. Burgess and Woodrow Wilson, well understood that without Reconstruction’s expansive redefinition of federal powers the United States would not have been able to envision post-1898 imperial projects abroad, much less coordinate the military, bureaucratic, and corporate forces that supported these enterprises. True, not all who supported Jim Crow at home endorsed colonial enterprises overseas; such critics saw no reason why the racial conflicts...

      (pp. 177-192)

      Walter Hines Page’s one published novel,The Southerner: Being the Autobiography of “Nicholas Worth”(1909), may be a novel of ideas, but it cannot be adequately understood merely by summarizing its plot or Page’s critique of the New South. It is set in the 1880s in a fictional southern state that closely resembles Page’s native North Carolina. Although ideas and arguments about needed New South reforms live vividly in the book, they are expressed in the novel’s narrative texture with a complexity and nuance that so far has eluded the book’s few but earnest commentators. Literary critics have tended to...

    • Chapter Eleven Anti-colonial Education? W. E. B. DU BOIS’S QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE (1911) AND DARKWATER (1920)
      (pp. 193-206)

      Aesthetically speaking, W. E. B. Du Bois’s first novel,The Quest of the Silver Fleece(1911), is a bale mixing together weevil-damaged and good cotton. Du Bois hoped to make his economic and social analyses acceptable to a broad reading audience by employing melodramatic narrative and character conventions from popular fiction of the era. He gambled that if such formulas created huge popular successes for Thomas Dixon or Albion Tourgée, why not for his own fantasy about a multiracial Farmers’ League revolt led by an intrepid heroine? Ironically, though, it is thewhitecharacters (particularly John Taylor, Mrs. Vanderpool, and...

    • Chapter Twelve Romancing Multiracial Democracy: GEORGE WASHINGTON CABLE’S LOVERS OF LOUISIANA (TO-DAY) (1918)
      (pp. 207-218)

      George Washington Cable has been unfairly typecast as a major writer in a minor genre, the “local color” literature of New Orleans and the Old South. True, Cable’s most influential literary works came early in his career, withOld Creole Days, The Grandissimes, andMadame Delphine(1879–81). Cable responded to acclaim with mid-career essays and speeches castigating New South racism and hypocrisy, collected inThe Silent SouthandThe Negro Question(1885–90)—work whose reception in the South made the author feel obliged to move to Massachusetts. Cable continued to write fiction between 1880 and the 1920s, but...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 219-235)
  9. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 236-252)
  10. Index
    (pp. 253-259)