White Supremacy in Children's Literature: Characterizations of African Americans, 1830-1900

By Donnarae MacCann | Go to book overview

Introduction

Cultural and social historians have a useful tool in the record created by children’s books. The simple, transparent images contrived for the young are often an unselfconscious distillation of a national consensus or a national debate. They reveal, for example, the degree to which postbellum society retained features of the slavery era; they illustrate how the white supremacy myth infected the mainstream collective consciousness in both epochs. And that myth was perceptible in literature for the young whether the narrative was essentially an antislavery or proslavery tract. The extraordinary predictive power of children’s books is evident in this nineteenth-century drama. Given the ambivalent and/or biased messages directed toward the young, there was little reason to expect a de facto egalitarianism in the postbellum years. This book tells the story of this paradox. The defeated slavocracy was in many respects a cultural winner.

Literary, political, biographical, and institutional history are combined in these pages as a way to reveal the scope of the white supremacist ideology. The antislavery cause accelerated the momentum toward war, but then vanished in the regressive milieu of peace—in the romanticized plantation stories, ambivalent protest novels, and prejudiced adventure fiction. Legal emancipation was neutralized in public consciousness by racist tale-telling. And the other institutions that impinged upon children’s lives—schools, churches, libraries, the press—joined in promoting the notion of race hierarchies. Black identity was presented as of less value than European American identity. Blacks were expected to accept a restricted status and role in the American civil community. European American chil-

-xiii-

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White Supremacy in Children's Literature: Characterizations of African Americans, 1830-1900
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • A Note on Usage xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • Notes xxxii
  • Part One - The Antebellum Years 1
  • Chapter One - Ambivalent Abolitionism 3
  • Chapter Two - Sociopolitical and Artistic Dimensions of Abolitionist Tales 25
  • Chapter Three - Personal and Institutional Dimensions 47
  • Part Two - The Postbellum Years 81
  • Chapter Four - Children’s Fiction 83
  • Notes 118
  • Chapter Five - The Social/Political Context 123
  • Chapter Six - Literary Lives 155
  • Notes 182
  • Chapter Seven - Postwar Institutions 185
  • Chapter Eight - Literary Methods and Conventions 211
  • Chapter Nine - Conclusion 233
  • Bibliography 243
  • Index 261
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