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Document Type

Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Afro-American Studies

Year Degree Awarded

2015

Month Degree Awarded

September

First Advisor

Steven Tracy

Second Advisor

James Smethurst

Third Advisor

Britt Rusert

Fourth Advisor

Laura Doyle

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Studies | Literature in English, North America | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority | Social History

Abstract

This dissertation explores the contributions of black poets in the United States before the New Negro / Harlem Renaissance Movement. Specifically, it focuses on their role in creating and maintaining a tradition of regional transnationalism in their verses that celebrates their African ancestry. I contend that these poets are best understood as “race patriots”; that is, they at once sought inclusion within the nation-state in the form of full citizenship, yet recognized allegiances beyond the nation-state on account of race through a recognition of shared African ancestry across borders. Their verses point to a shared kinship – be it through common condition, culture, or politics – present within black literary thought, and thus within black communities, long before the New Negro. By extension, I advocate for a reimagining of the significance of nineteenth and eighteenth century poets within African American literature.

The dissertation challenges the accusation that black poetry in the United States was wholly assimilative or parroting, instead positing the strategic mimicry of neoclassicism and romanticism as subversive and in direct conversation (and contention) with racist Enlightenment discourses. The dissertation considers a range of poets of varying repute: George Moses Horton, Phillis Wheatley, James Madison Bell, Joshua McCarter Simpson, George Boyer Vashon, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, James Monroe Whitfield, T. Thomas Fortune, Henrietta Cordelia Ray, George Clinton Rowe, and Paul Laurence Dunbar. The poets considered challenge traditional notions of patriotism and allegiance by championing rights for those of like ancestry within and across national boundaries. In turn, the study is indicative of how a patriotic nationalism can coexist with a Pan-African sensibility through a sustained critique of (global) white hegemony.

The study explores how these poets evince their race patriotism through a variety of means, including Ethiopianism, salvation-liberation ideology, and usage of tribute poems to honor figures, events, and places within the diaspora (e.g. Haiti, Jamaican Emancipation, Joseph Cinqué, Vincent Ogé). Through their content, I argue that the poets engage in a project of historical reclamation and history building that demonstrates their awareness of their distinct identities within and beyond the nation-state.

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