African American Autobiography and the Quest for Freedom

African American Autobiography and the Quest for Freedom

African American Autobiography and the Quest for Freedom

African American Autobiography and the Quest for Freedom

Synopsis

Through an analysis of classic slave narratives in comparison with texts such as the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, this study presents a new paradigm for the social character of the African American autobiography. Since the rise of Black Studies in the late 1960s, leading critics have constructed black lives and letters as antitheses to the ways and writings of mainstream culture. That position fosters the notion that black autobiography differs radically from heroic white American tales. But this volume argues that the African American autobiography is a continuation of the epic tradition, and that African Americans have shared and shaped the American experience.

Excerpt

My great-grandfather was born a slave. He arrived on a farm located near Allegheny Springs, Virginia. the date was April 9, 1865. That very same day, Robert E. Lee surrendered his sword to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. the ceremony concluding the Civil War meant that my ancestor was destined to know more than slavery. By early summer, Union troops set him legally free to pursue his own happiness.

Named Charlie Williams, his father is unknown. He was raised by a devoted mother, Blanche, and a faithful stepfather, Roland, who worshiped learning and labored to see that their son attended school and acquired knowledge. Legend has it that he “thirsted for a complete education.” During his youth, he studied hard. Eventually, he won entry into the Wayland Seminary in Washington, D.C., and graduated from the academy with honors.

In the familiar eyes of family and friends, my great-grandfather developed into a “giant.” As well as marrying Mary Allen and raising twelve children with her, Charlie grew into an esteemed teacher. in a career that lasted over thirty years, he instructed a few generations of youths, looking to improve their lot. Most of the time, he worked in worn and paltry places. Still, he suffered neither despair nor weariness. He just kept on striving to make things better. On one occasion, he mustered . . .

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