Racial, Ethnic, and Homophobic Violence: Killing in the Name of Otherness

By Michel Prum; Bénédicte Deschamps et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
From heroic death to comic death
Representations of African-Americans
in Harper’s Weekly from the Civil War
to the early twentieth century

Claire Parfait

In 1857, in the wake of the success of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, the New York publishing house of Harper and Brothers launched a new periodical, Harper’s Weekly. The latter was largely designed, as Frank Luther Mott put it, ‘as a vehicle for the political discussion which Harper’s Monthly eschewed’.1 In addition to a miscellany of news, fiction, essays, book reviews, humour etc., the weekly, which derived no small part of its appeal from its numerous engravings, provided its readers with political editorials. Hardly four years after it first appeared, Harper’s Weekly could boast of a circulation of over 100,000, which made it one of the top contenders in the field of illustrated journalism, together with its closest rival, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.2 Advertised as a ‘family newspaper’, Harper’s Weekly targeted the vast American middle class which was then in the process of being formed. As Mott noted, Harper’s Weekly reads today as ‘a vital illustrated history’ of its times. In addition, the periodical also provides intriguing insights into the evolution of the representation of African-Americans during the Civil War, Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction periods. Harper’s Weekly’s editorials and illustrations highlight the role of the periodical as both a reflector and a shaper of opinions. Beyond documenting the evolution of the magazine’s attitude toward African-Americans, the analysis and contextualisation of representations – more particularly those linked with the death of their objects – throw light on the specific purposes such representations served. Since stereotyping, in its denial of individuality, enacts a form of metaphorical murder, this essay will also allude to the evolution of stereotyping, but only in passing since that particular topic has already been thoroughly examined by a number of scholars.


THE CIVIL WAR BREAKS OUT: FROM CONTENTED
SLAVES TO VICTIMS

Between 1857, when it was launched, and the beginning of the Civil War in April 1861, Harper’s Weekly, like its major rival Frank Leslie’s Illustrated

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