Academic journal article Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers

"Yours, for the Cause": The Christian Recorder Writings of Lizzie Hart

Academic journal article Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers

"Yours, for the Cause": The Christian Recorder Writings of Lizzie Hart

Article excerpt

Lizzie Hart was neither a major presence in the Black press or Black literature nor a central figure in early feminism. (1) She never achieved national prominence and perhaps never aspired to it. Her whole (re)discovered oeuvre--fourteen publications in 1864-1865 in the African Methodist Episcopal Church's flagship newspaper, the Christian Recorder--will probably never be referred to as an important find within the process of recovering early African American literature. Even among nineteenth-century Black women periodical authors like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Jennie Carter, and Ida B. Wells--much less in the wider field of nineteenth-century women involved in journalism and literature--her career seems minor. And yet her Recorder work, reprinted here in its entirety for the first time since its original publication, is notable both in and of itself and as an example of the riches scholars might find if they turn to women who wrote for the early Black press.

What we know of Hart's biography can be summarized briefly. Jane Elizabeth Hart, born in late 1837 to free African American parents Cupid and Judith Hart, grew up along with two brothers and a sister in and around Russellville, a small city in Logan County, Kentucky. (2) Cupid Hart, a carpenter, moved the family to Warren County, Ohio, in the 1850s; though the Harts lived in several locations in the area--Roachester, Morrowtown (sometimes simply listed as Morrow), and Lebanon--they and their descendents remained in Ohio for the next several decades. The Harts prospered there, edged toward the middling classes, and, by 1870, had raised enough capital to purchase their own home.

The family attended the local African Methodist Episcopal Church. They may have been involved in its founding in 1858, and they attended services in the "neat little brick meeting-house" the congregation built in 1861 and the History of Warren County noted some twenty-one years later (Beers 500). They seem to have placed immense value on both faith and literacy: While censuses prior to 1880 list Cupid Hart as illiterate and the 1870 census notes Judith Hart as being able to read but not write, all post-1850 censuses list their children as literate. Lizzie Hart first subscribed to the Christian Recorder in April 1863 via her minister, the young William Hunter, a graduate of Wilberforce University. Hart's $2.25 would have purchased a full year of the four-page weekly. In making that commitment, Hart was following the pattern of a growing number of A. M. E. Church members across the nation: looking to her minister and her church as sources of educational and cultural literacy and as conduits to early Afro-Protestant print culture.

Hart also chose to subscribe at a germinal moment in Black periodical culture. While several Black newspapers entered American public spaces after the initial publication of Freedom's Journal in 1827, few were able to sustain publication, in part due to continuing struggles for funds and support. After working with Bishop Daniel Payne to successfully birth the similarly short lived A. M. E. Church magazine the Repository of Religion and Literature in the late 1850s, Elisha Weaver answered the national church hierarchy's call to resurrect the Christian Recorder, which had been sporadically published in the 1850s and was essentially defunct by 1860. The version of the newspaper he began publishing in 1861 did not miss an issue again for decades--long after Weaver was forced from the editorial chair in 1868--and became one of the longest running and most important early Black periodicals.

Through tireless advocacy--including especially the building of a network of local ministers and contributors like William Hunter and Lizzie Hart--Weaver expanded the paper's circulation to reach not only readers across the North (from Maine to Kansas and even to California) but also those among the newly freed in the South. As could be expected, he published copious theological and church-related tracts--from sermons to devotional poetry to reports of church meetings--but also offered a rich range of political and social commentary, national news, children's stories, more secular poetry, occasional fiction, and multi-generic letters from across the country. …

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