Righteous Propagation: African Americans and the Politics of Racial Destiny after Reconstruction

Righteous Propagation: African Americans and the Politics of Racial Destiny after Reconstruction

Righteous Propagation: African Americans and the Politics of Racial Destiny after Reconstruction

Righteous Propagation: African Americans and the Politics of Racial Destiny after Reconstruction

Synopsis

Between 1877 and 1930--years rife with tensions over citizenship, suffrage, immigration, and "the Negro problem"--African American activists promoted an array of strategies for progress and power built around "racial destiny," the idea that black Americans formed a collective whose future existence would be determined by the actions of its members. In Righteous Propagation, Michele Mitchell examines the reproductive implications of racial destiny, demonstrating how it forcefully linked particular visions of gender, conduct, and sexuality to collective well-being.

Mitchell argues that while African Americans did not agree on specific ways to bolster their collective prospects, ideas about racial destiny and progress generally shifted from outward-looking remedies such as emigration to inward-focused debates about intraracial relationships, thereby politicizing the most private aspects of black life and spurring race activists to calcify gender roles, monitor intraracial sexual practices, and promote moral purity. Examining the ideas of well-known elite reformers such as Mary Church Terrell and W. E. B. DuBois, as well as unknown members of the working and aspiring classes, such as James Dubose and Josie Briggs Hall, Mitchell reinterprets black protest and politics and recasts the way we think about black sexuality and progress after Reconstruction.

Excerpt

This race has increased … and is
still on the increase…. Kindness,
sobriety, manfulness, courage,
morality, intelligence, religion, and
duty marks her destiny
.

—George H. Burks, Future (1890)

The Negro race … has survived all
the punishment and unjustness to
which a race could be subjected, and
in its short birth of freedom points
… to a record unequalled by any
other race … under like conditions.
Our destiny is now in our own
hands
.

—Arthur G. Shaw, Age (1915)

An epidemic hit Afro-American communities during the twilight of Reconstruction. It was an affliction with peculiar, distinctive symptoms: those affected generally reported feeling agitated, and a few began acting in a single-minded or even furtive manner. Some women and men started speaking about leaving their spouses; others became determined to part with earthly belongings; still others began to embrace risky behavior. Desperation was often a palpable manifestation among the infected, especially if they were poor. In time, race leaders feared that the phenomenon was symptomatic of a creeping insanity that led individuals and families to sell the very implements with which they eked out their livings. "Liberia fever" did cause people to act in seemingly rash or bizarre ways—but not because the "fever" was a literal disease. Rather, the term was a colloquial reference to an emigration craze pervading the Deep South, Arkan-

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