Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Black Newspaper and the Chosen Nation

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Black Newspaper and the Chosen Nation

Article excerpt

The Black Newspaper and the Chosen Nation. By Benjamin Fagan. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2016. Pp. xiv, 186. $44.95, ISBN 978-0-8203 4940-4.)

In The Black Newspaper and the Chosen Nation, literary scholar Benjamin Fagan takes a new approach to the study of the antebellum black press. Fagan argues that in addition to fostering a sense of community among black readers, antebellum black newspapers crafted and disseminated a rhetoric of "black chosenness" (p. 3). He contends that this notion of chosenness--the belief that black Americans were a "chosen people" destined to "lead the world to universal emancipation"--remained a recurring theme in black newspapers between the 1820s and the 1860s (p. 3). He argues that during this period black editors framed their points of view on issues such as the political efficacy of respectable behavior, the imminence of divine retribution, and the meaning of citizenship in terms of what they considered black America's divine purpose. In the process, Fagan demonstrates that the rhetoric of black chosenness remained a feature of free black political discourse from the 1820s through the Civil War.

Fagan argues that black chosenness was a dynamic concept, one that shifted and evolved in response to the political developments of the period. With this in mind, he devotes each chapter to a close reading of a specific newspaper, focusing on the distinctive ways that Freedom's Journal, the Colored American, the North Star, the Provincial Freeman, and the Weekly Anglo-African instructed their readers. For example, he argues that the editors of Freedom's Journal linked chosenness with respectability and sought to usher in emancipation by teaching black readers how to behave. The Colored American, meanwhile, conceptualized black chosenness in terms of millennialism, at times characterizing black Americans as agents of necessary reform and prophesying "millennial visions of an American apocalypse" (p. 46). In the pages of Frederick Douglass's North Star, black readers were instructed to see themselves as the chosen members of "a global army of liberation," stretching from Europe to the Americas (p. …

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