In The Empire Abroad and the Empire at Home, John
Cullen Gruesser establishes that African American writers at the
turn of the twentieth century responded extensively and
idiosyncratically to overseas expansion and its implications for
domestic race relations. He contends that the work of these writers
significantly informs not only African American literary studies
but also U.S. political history.
Focusing on authors who explicitly connect the empire abroad and
the empire at home ( James Weldon Johnson, Sutton Griggs, Pauline
E. Hopkins, W.E.B. Du Bois, and others), Gruesser examines U.S.
black participation in, support for, and resistance to expansion.
Race consistently trumped empire for African American writers, who
adopted positions based on the effects they believed expansion
would have on blacks at home. Given the complexity of the debates
over empire and rapidity with which events in the Caribbean and the
Pacific changed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries, it should come as no surprise that these authors often
did not maintain fixed positions on imperialism. Their stances
depended on several factors, including the foreign location, the
presence or absence of African American soldiers within a
particular text, the stage of the author's career, and a given
text's relationship to specific generic and literary
No matter what their disposition was toward imperialism, the fact
of U.S. expansion allowed and in many cases compelled black writers
to grapple with empire. They often used texts about expansion to
address the situation facing blacks at home during a period in
which their citizenship rights, and their very existence, were
increasingly in jeopardy.
Subjects: Language & Literature
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