Unexpected revolutionaries: troubling nineteenth-century African American feminist and masculinist nationalisms




Cali, Elizabeth J.

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African American men's literary representations of the Haitian Revolution and its Black leaders in the early nineteenth century have a prominent presence in African American circulating print media from 1816-1865. That African American writers would turn to leaders such as the emancipated Toussaint Louverture as sources for their creative literary productions prior to the end of the United States Civil War should come as little surprise. Less certain, however, is the extent to which nineteenth-century African American men's representations of Haiti figured in forming early African American national identities and models for a successful US Black revolution. And, perhaps most uncertain, is how we should interpret early African American women authors' pointed decisions not to create concomitant literary interpretations of Haiti while writing for the same periodicals as their Black male contemporaries. This dissertation unearths a gendered national debate between nineteenth-century African American men's literary identification with the Haitian Revolution and African American women's pointed disidentification with revolutionary Haiti through their figuring of protofeminist nationalisms. To do so, I turn to independent Black print media in which African American women's and men's literatures most closely interact; this includes periodicals such as Freedom's Journal, the Provincial Freeman, the Anglo-African Magazine, and the Christian Recorder, as well as a number of African American authored pamphlets and speeches. My study has two main objectives. First, I intervene in the utilization of a separatist/ integrationist binary as the dominant framework for examining nineteenth-century African American nationalism. Not only does this binary circumscribe the nationalist implications of portrayals of Haiti in early African American men's literature, it further excises African American women's domestic literatures from the oeuvre of early African American nationalist literatures. I suggest that reading these texts in their original Black print contexts offers a perspective of gendered Black national debate significantly more nuanced and dynamic than perceptions available through a separatist/ integrationist dichotomy. Second, I seek to account for the ways that African American women constructed Black protofeminist national identities by tropologically and rhetorically disidentifying with Black men's constructions of Haiti and the Haitian Revolution. I argue that nineteenth-century African American women's troping of domesticity and rhetorical refiguring of the politics of respectable womanhood form heteroglossic and resilient nationalist paradigms for a Black feminist revolution.


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African American Literature, Black Feminism, Black Nationalism, Haiti, Nationalism, Respectable Womanhood