Envisioning Freedom

Envisioning Freedom: Cinema and the Building of Modern Black Life

Cara Caddoo
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Envisioning Freedom
    Book Description:

    In Cara Caddoo’s perspective-changing study, African Americans emerge as pioneers of cinema from the 1890s to 1920s. But as it gained popularity, black cinema also became controversial. Black leaders demanded self-representation and an end to cinematic mischaracterizations which, they charged, violated the civil rights of African Americans.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-73559-0
    Subjects: Sociology, History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction: Picturing Freedom
    (pp. 1-12)

    Blanche Jarvis may not have known she was pregnant on that autumn day in 1895, when, at seven minutes past five in the morning, she felt the world begin to move beneath her feet. The ground rumbled and heaved, splitting open the earth and propelling geysers of sand and water into the air. Terrified, “people ran out into the streets in their night dress” and huddled in the predawn darkness.¹ Buildings pulled from their moorings, chimneys crumbled, and windows shattered.²

    A fault line buried beneath New Madrid, Missouri, had catapulted the Mississippi Valley into chaos. From its epicenter, the earthquake...

  4. 1 Exhibitions of Faith and Fellowship
    (pp. 13-41)

    On January 2, 1897, black residents of Kansas City, Missouri, gathered at the Second Baptist Church for an evening of entertainment. The edifice, located on Tenth and Charlotte streets, was only partially completed; the second floor was unfinished, and the roof just recently erected. As they entered the building, attendees likely crossed a sawdust-strewn floor or felt a draft of wintry air seeping in from the upper slats of the ceiling. But such trivialities could be easily overlooked, for it was the first Sunday of the new year, and the promised entertainment was unlike anything the church had seen before.¹...

  5. 2 Cinema and the God-Given Right to Play
    (pp. 42-63)

    On a winter day in 1893, a young black woman from Tyler, Texas, knocked on the door of one of the most prominent white families in town. She was in search of work and wanted to inquire about a position. A few guests were dining at the house that day, including a correspondent for theDallas Morning News. While the young woman waited outside, the guests discussed the “discomforts, vexations and an[n]oyances” to which white southern women were “subjected every day in the year by her wretched [Negro] domestics.”

    “Happy are those house keepers who can manage to dispense with...

  6. 3 Colored Theaters in the Jim Crow City
    (pp. 64-93)

    Growing up, Tish Hubbard may have looked past the fields of her father’s farm in Sangamon County, Illinois, and wondered where her future would take her. Born into an educated, property-owning family, she could entertain a broader horizon of possibilities than most black women of her generation. The popular young socialite might have married a minister or a wealthy shopkeep er; she could have become a colored women’s club leader in nearby Indianapolis, or a schoolteacher in Chicago. But Tish ventured down another path. In 1907, she married Eddie D. Lee, a well-known vaudevillian, and entered the fast-paced world of...

  7. 4 Monuments of Progress
    (pp. 94-115)

    Elijah John Fisher’s health was failing him, but he was determined not to let it alter his plans for the day. Tenacity had served him well in life. It had won him the hand of his wife, Florida, whom he trekked forty-five miles to see every month of their courtship, arriving with feet so blistered they had to be greased with mutton suet. It enabled him to walk again at the age of twenty-one after he lost his left leg under the wheel of a speeding train whose conductor refused to slow down because Fisher was black. And it was...

  8. 5 The Fight over Fight Pictures
    (pp. 116-138)

    On July 4, 1910, a resounding left hook catapulted the race question to the center of public debates over the moving pictures. In the most anticipated match of the sport’s history, black pugilist John Arthur “Jack” Johnson knocked the “Great White Hope,” Jim Jeffries, nearly unconscious. A dozen motion picture cameras stationed at the arena in Reno, Nevada, captured the action: Johnson’s playful banter, a furious crowd, and Jeffries limp against the ropes.¹ “Before the sun had set over the western hills,” a black reporter from Wilmington, North Carolina, marveled, the announcement “flashed in every little town in the United...

  9. 6 Mobilizing an Envisioned Community
    (pp. 139-170)

    In the spring of 1915, as students prepared for their summer holidays and farmers finished sowing their fields with alfalfa, announcements forThe Niggerbegan appearing in newspapers across Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The notice in theCoe College Cosmosran alongside advertisements for graduation jewelry and straw hats. In theDaily Republican, the Palace Theatre described the picture as “one of the most talked about dramas of the year.”¹ The film was slated to begin a four-day run downtown starting on Wednesday, May 5. Almost immediately, the women of the Cedar Rapids Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church began up...

  10. 7 Race Films and the Transnational Frontier
    (pp. 171-198)

    In 1904, twenty-year-old Oscar Devereaux, a young black Pullman porter and enthusiastic supporter of Booker T. Washington, happened upon a poem by the frontier settler John James Ingalls. The poem resonated with Devereaux. Opportunity knocks “once at every gate,” Ingalls’s poem promised, but those who “doubt[ed] or hesitate[d]” were “condemned to failure.” With this, Devereaux readily agreed. In fact, his persistent declarations of these beliefs had earned him a rather disagreeable reputation among his peers, who rolled their eyes at his fulminations against the colored race’s “lack of ambition.”

    “There [are] not enough competent colored people to grasp the many...

  11. Conclusion: Picturing the Future
    (pp. 199-204)

    In the winter of 1939, as the economy struggled out of the Great Depression and the threat of another Great War loomed large on the horizon, the “spotlight of the world” turned momentarily to Atlanta, Georgia.¹ WhenGone with the Winddebuted in the city that December, nearly 300,000 people gathered to witness the parades and festivities.² Loew’s Grand Theatre, the site of the premiere, was decorated with Grecian columns and the white façade of an antebellum plantation.³ Brilliant pillars of light illuminated the building and swept across the night sky. It was “the biggest event to happen in the...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 207-276)
  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 277-280)
  14. Index
    (pp. 281-294)