African-American Orators: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

African-American Orators: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

African-American Orators: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

African-American Orators: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

Excerpt

Nobody would be surprised at, nor would anyone probably question, the statement that a volume like the one presented here has been long, very long, overdue. The detailed study of all American oratory has been generally neglected, finally experiencing a significant revival only in the past decade or so. AfricanAmerican oratory, one hardly needs mention, has been even less studied in the American academy, an institution that has traditionally been consumed with the study of the Great (usually Dead) White Male. Such neglect is all the more shameful given the African-American community's history of powerful oratory. From nineteenth-century voices that commanded attention, such as those of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, to twentieth-century voices of authority, such as those of Barbara Jordan and Thurgood Marshall, public speaking has been a central part of the African-American heritage.

While the academic neglect of African-American oratory has not been total, it has been comprehensive. A survey of communication studies national and regional journals is instructive. Prior to 1963, only three articles had been published that examined African-American oratory: "Old Time Negro Preaching: An Interpretive Study" (1945), "Negro Speakers in Congress, 1869-75" (1953), and "Sojourner Truth: God's Appointed Apostle of Reform" (1962). It might seem that 1963 was a year in which the discipline's attention finally blossomed, when four articles more than doubled the previous half-century's output. Accompanying "Frederick Douglass: Abolitionist Orator," however, were three articles spurred by the already eight-year-old civil rights movement (using the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott as a birthing point that few should have missed): "A Stormy Rally in Atlanta," "Does Non-Violence Persuade?" and "The Future of Non-Violence." It is revealing to note that these three articles totaled eight pages in length.

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