In the Shadow of the Gallows: Race, Crime, and American Civic Identity

In the Shadow of the Gallows: Race, Crime, and American Civic Identity

In the Shadow of the Gallows: Race, Crime, and American Civic Identity

In the Shadow of the Gallows: Race, Crime, and American Civic Identity

Synopsis

In the Shadow of the Gallows reveals how a sense of racialized culpability shaped Americans' understandings of personhood prior to the Civil War. Jeanine DeLombard draws from legal, literary, and popular texts to address fundamental questions about race, responsibility, and American civic belonging.

Excerpt

You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see
how a slave was made a man.

—Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick
Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself
(1845)

Writing was an indispensable tool for the public assertion of black humanity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when millions of Africans and their descendants were being bought and sold as objects of property throughout the Atlantic world. Following the slave trade’s inaugural violence, a man was made a slave in early America through the scriptive technologies that enabled the recording, circulation, and preservation of colonial and then state statutes, state and federal constitutions, and judicial decisions, as well as passes, bills of sale, wills, and mortgages. In such a world, writes Henry Louis Gates, Jr., “the recording of an authentic black voice—a voice of deliverance from the deafening discursive silence which an enlightened Europe cited to prove the absence of the African’s humanity—was the millennial instrument of transformation through which … the slave [would] become the ex-slave, brute animal become the human being.” Collectively as well as individually, African Americans challenged both enslavement and racial exclusion through their insistent participation in a rapidly industrializing transnational print culture—most notably, by publishing slave narratives, their eyewitness accounts of bound servitude. Displaying a “command of written English” that decisively distinguished “titled property from fledgling human being,” Frederick Douglass stands as the paragon of the black subject whom Anglo-American culture “demanded to write himself … into the human community.”

This twice-told literary historical tale has helped to institutionalize and popularize African American literature and history in the decades since the Civil Rights, Black Power, and Black Studies movements. But this creation . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.