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A Scholar's Conscience

A Scholar's Conscience: Selected Writings of J. Saunders Redding, 1942-1977

Edited with an Introduction by FAITH BERRY
Copyright Date: 1992
Edition: 1
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    A Scholar's Conscience
    Book Description:

    J. Saunders Redding (1906−1988) was often and justifiably called "the dean of African American scholars." As professor and man of letters, he wrote about African American literature and culture in vivid and scholarly prose. And of all the writers of his generation, he best represented, and came closest to explaining, the hopes and conflicts of American democracy in a multiracial society. Yet his perceptions and writings were never limited to race, nationality, academia, or one literary genre.

    In this first published anthology drawn from Redding's books, essays, and speeches, Faith Berry has compiled representative selections from every period and genre in which Redding wrote: autobiography, fiction, biography, history, journalism, travelogue, and literary criticism. The collection offers a wide range of his thought and criticism from numerous publications, as well as a comprehensive bibliography of his works.

    Redding is essential reading for all those who argue for or against the intellectual credo he espoused: that African American writing and culture be studied in the context of American life and culture, not in insolation.

    This useful and balanced edition of Redding's writing should serve to introduce him to a new audience certain to find his texts worthy of attention and discussion. Readers concerned with literary and social history, higher education, race relations, American and ethnic studies, foreign affairs, cultural exchange -- or indeed the humanities in general -- will find this work an important resource. Contemporary African American scholars will value the book as a lasting reference. And anyone unfamiliar with Redding's work will discover and appreciate the breadth of his contributions to scholarship and literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4912-7
    Subjects: Sociology, History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-14)
    Faith Berry

    If black America can be said to have its modern Renaissance man, J. Saunders Redding clearly deserved that distinction. Though he wrote no drama or poetry, his work as novelist, essayist, biographer, historian, and critic was filled with both. One might say of him, as Dryden said of Shakespeare, that “when he describes anything, you more than see it, you feel it too.” A Shakespearean scholar himself, Redding was, however, best known as one of the first great scholars of Afro-American literature.

    He resisted the term “black scholar,” in the conviction that humanists should not be defined by a color...

    (pp. 15-57)

    I did not set out to be a writer. I doubt that anyone sets out to be what he eventually becomes—a lawyer, politician, priest, or pimp; a good person or a bad; cruel or compassionate; strong or weak. We become what we are by a complex of conditioned instincts first, then by circumstance and chance, and then—but always last, and only sometimes—by taking thought. Circumscribed by natural inheritance, one has almost no choice as to thekindof person he will be, free will notwithstanding, and really damned little choice as towhathe will be. Fitting...

    (pp. 58-62)

    From the early spring of 1929 until the autumn of 1931, Shelton Howden attended the University in New York. His contracts there were extremely limited. One or two of his white fellow students tried at first to be friendly, but Howden, abashed and suspicious, instinctively retreated. He sat in lectures and slipped almost furtively about the halls of the University, wearing a strained look of acute self-consciousness that was at once a confession and an apology.

    Yet he was glad that he was the only Negro in his classes. The fact stimulated his pride in a strange, inexplicable way. It...

    (pp. 63-97)

    Slaveholders had reason for packing pistols to bed, as any trader might have told them. Alexander Falconbridge, the surgeon on a slaver, could have pointed out that few of the Negroes brooked “the loss of their liberty” and that they were “ever on the watch to take advantage of the least negligence in their oppressors.” Insurrections were “frequently the consequences,”¹ and they were seldom put down without much bloodshed.

    Almost from the beginning there was bloodshed. In Gloucester County, Virginia, in 1663, Negro slaves joined with white indentured servants in a conspiracy to rebel, but the plot was discovered. The...

    (pp. 98-111)

    She was called Isabella at first, and the language spoken in her family was Dutch. But to speak of her “family” is an irony, for ten of her brothers and sisters had been sold away, and only her father, Baumfree, her mother, Bett, and her brother, Peter, remained. The parents had no surname. “Baumfree” was a moniker for tall-as-a-tree, and the father refused to have another. Though in later years the name would have fitted Isabella, in her youth it would not stick. She was variously called Bell, Bella, and Lil Bett. She belonged successively to the Hardenberghs, the Nealys,...

    (pp. 112-121)

    The eviction of more than one hundred thousand people of Japanese ancestry from their homes in California, Oregon, and Washington was a great wrong. It was a great wrong because the action, taken in 1942, was clearly based on race prejudice and other low consideration, among which was jealousy of the skill shown by the yellow people in farming and fishing.

    It was a great wrong because it was discrimination of the rankest kind, and it had little to justify it.

    The wrong would not have been lessened had other peoples of enemy-alien ancestry been set up in relocation centers,...

    (pp. 122-139)

    … Accepting the State Department assignments was to be a test of my freedom. I was told, “Your job will be to help interpret American life to the people of India.” Very well, I was prepared to give such knowledge and intelligence as I have, but in the manner of the clinician, disinterested, detached, as one in no way involved, as one with no concern in writing prescriptions or in treating disease.

    “I will tell the truth,” I said. And that was the extent of my commitment. What would the telling of the clinical truth do to America? No matter...

    (pp. 140-218)

    The careful checking of a bibliography of Negro literature reveals four general facts, each of which seems significant.

    Prior to 1865, of every ten books known to be of Negro authorship, only three carry the imprints of commercial houses. The other seven of every ten were printed privately (and generally at the expense of some antislavery group) and offered for sale at anti-slavery meetings or other gatherings of folk who might be interested.

    Between 1865 and 1905 several works, such as those by Douglass, Chesnutt, and Dunbar, were issued by regular commercial publishers, but in this same period, of some...

  12. Selected Bibliography of J. SAUNDERS REDDING
    (pp. 219-229)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 230-238)