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A Noble Fight

A Noble Fight: African American Freemasonry and the Struggle for Democracy in America

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    A Noble Fight
    Book Description:

    A Noble Fight examines the metaphors and meanings behind the African American appropriation of the culture, ritual, and institution of freemasonry in navigating the contested terrain of American democracy. Combining cultural and political theory with extensive archival research--including the discovery of a rare collection of nineteenth-century records of an African American Freemason Lodge--Corey D. B. Walker provides an innovative perspective on American politics and society during the long transition from slavery to freedom._x000B__x000B_With great care and detail, Walker argues that African American freemasonry provides a critical theoretical lens for understanding the distinctive ways African Americans have constructed a radically democratic political imaginary through racial solidarity and political nationalism, forcing us to reconsider much more circumspectly the complex relationship between voluntary associations and democratic politics._x000B__x000B_Mapping the discursive logics of the language of freemasonry as a metaphoric rendering of American democracy, this study interrogates the concrete forms of an associational culture, revealing how paradoxical aspects of freemasonry such as secrecy and public association inform the production of particular ideas and expressions of democracy in America.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09277-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface: A Note on Freemasonry
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Secret Rites, Public Power
    (pp. 1-22)

    In the course of “divulging the great secret of my life” inThe Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, James Weldon Johnson’s unnamed narrator remarks: “Through my music teaching and my not absolutely irregular attendance at church I became acquainted with the best class of colored people in Jacksonville. This was really my entrance into the race. It was my initiation into what I have termed the Freemasonry of the race. I had formulated a theory of what it was to be colored; now I was getting the practice.” After plunging headlong into the turbulent currents of the working-class Afro-Cuban factory...

  6. 1. The Specter of Democracy
    (pp. 23-44)

    Democracy in America receives one of its most searing indictments as well as one of its strongest affirmations in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.¹ Staged with the backdrop of the Lincoln Memorial and witnessed by thousands of Americans seeking to instantiate the social and political rights of African Americans, King’s speech resolutely articulates the promises and perils of the democratic experience in the United States. King fabricates an extensive rhetorical architecture in order to conceptualize the conflicted and contested political space in the United States while gesturing toward a new model of democratic existence whereby all...

  7. 2. A Cartography of Democracy
    (pp. 45-85)

    “The task of the translator,” writes Walter Benjamin, “consists in finding that intended effect upon the language into which he is translating which produces in it the echo of the original.”¹ Benjamin’s message reminds us that the duty of the translator is not enshrining the language of the original in the language of translation. Such a task, as Benjamin points out here and in other sections of his provocative essay, is untenable. What Benjamin posits is the centrality of dealing with the complexities of the language of translation in order to convey some semblance of meaning found in the language...

  8. 3. Ritual and Revolution
    (pp. 86-127)

    Nineteenth-century African American ideas and articulations of the nation were forged in a cultural and political context powerfully shaped by the internal gaps and contradictions of American democracy. In a situation that featured an enslaved population and a nominally free black population, each occupying the center of an evolving democratic order, European Americans were forced to confront the ambivalent and ambiguous social and political location of African Americans. Defining the place and position of African Americans in the order of things was a critical component in the political, ideological, and cultural construction of the United States. William Paterson effectively demonstrates...

  9. 4. A New Political Ideology
    (pp. 128-174)

    Anxiety permeated the American republic as the collapse of the system of chattel slavery brought about the disturbing reality that with the freedom of the formerly enslaved there would be a new order of things. The nation would enter a critical conjuncture whereby the old ideological justifications that rested on the material circumstances of slavery would be fractured with the freedom of millions of African Americans. No aspect of American democracy would go unchallenged in the face of the massive shift in the political, economic, and social fortunes of the formerly enslaved population.

    Certainly with the freedom of African Americans,...

  10. 5. The Democratic Uses of Ritual and Secrecy
    (pp. 175-218)

    A few weeks before Appomattox, a still-divided nation celebrated the second inauguration of a president whose career in office would be forever linked with the divisive battles of the Civil War. After a hurried morning of signing legislation, a stoic President Lincoln stood guard over a processional celebrating his reelection. A cold and steady rain soaked the crowds assembled to witness a spectacular display, and President Lincoln and other dignitaries looked on as various military, government, and civilian personnel marched in his honor along the muddy streets of Washington City. Among the organizations involved in the processional on that raindrenched...

  11. Epilogue: Race, Ritual, and the Struggle for Democracy in America
    (pp. 219-226)

    Addressing members and friends of Staunton Lodge # 13 in 1886 on the occasion of the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the lodge, prominent Charlottesville native and future Grand Master of the white Virginia Grand Lodge R. T. W. Duke Jr. offered a scathing rebuke of the nascent labor movement:

    Our Order, formed originally exclusively of men who earned their bread by the sweat of their brows, must necessarily view with absorbing interest the beginning and the growth of the labor organizations of to-day. There are some of them worthy of our warmest sympathy, some of our severest reprobation....

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 227-280)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 281-288)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-291)