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Africanizing the Territory: The History, Memory and Contemporary Imagination of Black Frontier Settlements in the Oklahoma Territory

This dissertation articulates the ways in which black (e)migration to the territorial frontier challenges the master frontier narratives as well as African American migration narratives, and to capture how black frontier settlers and settlements are represented in three contemporary novels. I explore through the lens of cultural geography the racialized landscapes of the real and symbolic American South and the real, symbolic and imaginary black territorial frontier. Borrowing perspectives from cultural and critical race studies, I aim to show the theoretical and practical significance of contemporary literary representations of an almost forgotten historical past. Chapter I traces the sites of history, memory and imagination in migration and frontier narratives of enslaved and newly freed black people in the Oklahoma Territory. Chapter II addresses an oppositional narrative of masculinity in frontier narratives depicted in Standing at the Scratch Line by Guy Johnson. Chapter III examines how the black frontier landscape can be created and recreated across three generations who endure racial threats, violence and the razing of Greenwood during the Tulsa Riot of 1921 in Magic City by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Chapter IV scrutinizes the construction of black frontier subjects and exclusive black communities in Paradise by Toni Morrison. My dissertation seeks to add to and expand the literary studies of migration and frontier narratives, taking into account two popular novels alongside a more academically recognized novel. The selected novels mobilize very different resources, but collectively offer insights into black frontier identities and settlements as sites of a past, present and future African American collective consciousness.
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