The Sentiment of the Christian Serial Novel: The Curse of Caste; or the Slave Bride and the AME Christian Recorder

By Carter, Tomeiko Ashford | African American Review, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

The Sentiment of the Christian Serial Novel: The Curse of Caste; or the Slave Bride and the AME Christian Recorder


Carter, Tomeiko Ashford, African American Review


By the time the first installment of Julia C. Collins's The Curse of Caste; or The Slave Bride was printed in the Christian Recorder, a 19th-century African American church-affiliated newspaper, Collins had become a household name among its readers, having previously penned at least five essays on Christian deportment for the publication. Collins's opinions about African American moral behavior, intellectual advancements, innovation, and (women's) education had been printed in the paper during the entire year leading up to the February 25, 1865, appearance of Caste and set the stage for many of the thematic and narrative strategies that the author would employ in her serialized novel. In the tradition of works by writers like Frances E. W. Harper, Caste stands as a mouthpiece for its author: it is the culmination of her religious and social beliefs. In it, Collins relies on prevailing literary conventions of spiritual autobiography and sentimentality and uses the forum of the black Christian press to comment on white social responsibility (especially abolitionism), adherence to Christian principles, and the advancement of middle-class and mixed-raced African Americans. Unwittingly, however, the author leaves unanswered many questions regarding the plight of the enslaved black population.

The publication history of the Recorder demonstrates that in 1865 the still young black church was poised on the brink of social change. The Recorder was the authorized periodical of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a Christian denomination begun with organizing efforts by Methodist preacher Richard Allen in 1816. Allen and other blacks had originally attended St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, but after having been denied full participation in ecclesiastical services, they left the church and founded their own area churches, including Allen's original late 18th-century storefront church, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. By 1816, the black Methodists would sue to form a separate, autonomous denomination, resulting in the formation of the AME church proper and the eventual naming of Allen as its bishop. (Allen had been ordained as a Methodist minister in 1799 by Methodist bishop Francis Asbury.) The formal segregation of northern blacks from the Methodist church would have a lasting impact on the institutionalization of African American religion; or, as Carol V. R. George argues, "The dramatic withdrawal of the black Methodists" had an even greater national effect: it "marked the beginning of the independent black church movement" (55).

Given that its humble beginnings were intertwined with the callings of racial strife, the AME church established a long-heralded mission, which sought the social political, educational, and religious liberation of black diasporal people across the world. Besides taking obvious sociopolitical stances (especially against slavery and in favor of the advancement of blacks) and establishing schools, the AME church promoted the general literacy and education of blacks by founding various outlets for literary expression and development. Among those initiatives was its launching of the AME Book Concern, a publishing organ that issued books, pamphlets, song books, and broadsides that generally promoted a black religious agenda. In 1848, Allen purchased from afrocentrist author Martin Delany a newspaper with a black revolutionary sentiment. Called The Mystery by Delany, in 1852 the paper was finally renamed the Christian Recorder. Keeping social activism as a part of its mission, the paper now included information on church and denominational affairs as well as opinion pieces and columns on current political events--especially abolitionism, tracts on educational developments, advertisements for the re-unification of separated loved ones, science reports, and literary works. In regard to its participation in the production of literature, the Recorder fostered the careers of many renowned 19th-century African American authors. …

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