Early African American Print Culture

By Lara Langer Cohen; Jordan Alexander Stein | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Early African American Print Culture
and the American West

ERIC GARDNER

A handful of recovery efforts have begun to alert scholars to black textual presences outside of the urban Northeast, but the lively black print culture in the American West has often remained absent from consideration. This essay begins to treat crucial pieces of that print culture—specifically three nineteenth-century black San Francisco newspapers—to introduce scholars to the intrinsic richness of these texts (and their contexts) and to offer a case study that highlights key issues in the study of the black West as a location of early black print culture.

First, though, as absences and supposedly representative presences are deeply instructive, we should consider the factors that led to the black West’s silencing and recognize some caveats necessary for “recovering” print in the black West. Certainly some of the silencing has to do with the forms of publication that dominated the nineteenth-century black West—especially the region’s emphasis on newspapers rather than the bound books. Frances Smith Foster and a handful of other literary historians are struggling to remind the field of just how important the black press was within early black literary culture.1 Partially rooted in literary studies’ powerful, consistent privileging of what Joseph Rezek (Chapter I) refers to as the “heft” of bound books, the separation of periodicals from the literary is directly responsible for part of what the editors of this volume note as a separation between two most vibrant areas for American Studies scholarship, the “inauguration of an African American literary tradition” and “the consolidation of American print culture”

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