A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America

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A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America. By Stephen G. Hall. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009. xv + 334 pp.

"American history," James Baldwin said in 1963, "is longer, larger land] more various than anything anyone has ever said about it." So too is the history of African American historical writing, as Stephen G. Hall expertly demonstrates in his recently published monograph, A Faithful Account of the Race. Drawing from pamphlets, black newspapers, emancipation narratives, collective biographies and race textbooks, A Faithful Account charts "the origins, meanings, methods, evolution and maturation of African American historical writing from the period of the early republic to its professionalization in the twentieth century" (3-4).

Whereas most studies of black history locate the field's origins in 1915 with the advent of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, Hall maintains that the formation of Carter G. Woodson's Association did not mark the beginning of African American history but rather "represented the culmination of a century-long effort to legitimize the study of the African American experience" (216). This rich tradition of black historical writing, Hall shows, stretches from Jacob Oson's A Search for Truth (1817) and David Walker's Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World (1829) to Anna Julia Cooper's A Voice from the South (1892) and John Cromwell's The Negro in American History (1914).

Arguably the greatest strength of Faithful Account is Hall's consistent and illuminating efforts to connect African American historical texts to larger "ideological and intellectual constructs" from the Bible, classicism and Romanticism during the first half of the nineteenth century to realism, scientism and objectivity by century's end (4). That African American writers were invariably dedicated to vindicating the race, Hall emphasizes, should not obscure their sophisticated deployment of the intellectual theories, methodologies and concepts from the time in which they lived. In the early Republic, for example, writers such as Oson. Walker and Maria Stewart invoked both Biblical and classical authority to establish "a historical genealogy whose beginnings transcended the narrow confines of the hold of slave ships in the Middle Passage" (47). …