Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Putting Black Voices in Print

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Putting Black Voices in Print

Article excerpt

Putting Black Voices In Print

How is a culture -- or a nation, for that matter -- created? It is called into being at the aboriginal level. Sound and sign, and song, and word are deployed. And the African American experience -- as Black cultural construction in the United States is now called -- like all other cultures, has an oral tradition at its center.

The vast majority of the Black oral tradition, however, has never found its way into print or been passed down to succeeding generations in written form. A verbatim transcript of Black words that inscribe a piece of Black voice is a rare thing. Lift Every, Voice: African America n Oratory, 1787-1900, edited by Philip S. Foner and Robert James Branham and containing 151 jewels of African American oratory, is such a collection.

Realities of power, profit, politics, production processes, and law enforcement practices have had a tremendous constraining effect on the words -- as well as music and art -- of Blacks in the U.S. getting published, preserved, and heard. This is one aspect of the pressure that historically has been applied against expressions of Black cultural, political and economic nationalism, unity, and struggle. Viewed in this context, the speeches by Blacks in the U.S. before the twentieth century are, by virtue of their existence in the surviving written record of earlier centuries, "great." They are certainly great sources that shed numerous significant insights on American history as it affected Blacks and Whites and all people.

Assembled in this thick but pleasantly crafted volume are precious gems of Black speech across a wide range of vocations. Of course, the speeches of educators, ministers, lawyers, government officials, and members of other professions -- those who lived by their words and were most likely to have the chance to have their words recorded -- appear in this anthology. Familiar historical figures such as Richard Allen, David Walker, Maria Stewart, Henry Highland Garnet, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Henry McNeal Turner, Alexander Crummell, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. DuBois are found here. Other significant -- but almost entirely forgotten -political activists and struggling folk from the grass roots like Lucy Parsons and Frank Ferrell are also included.

The editors have broadly surveyed the pre-twentieth century Black oratorical terrain, scrutinized what they found, and selected the best works in terms of sheer genius, rhetorical power, historical representativeness, or uniqueness. …

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