Childhood, the Body, and Race Performance: Early 20th-Century Etiquette Books for Black Children

By Smith, Katharine Capshaw | African American Review, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Childhood, the Body, and Race Performance: Early 20th-Century Etiquette Books for Black Children


Smith, Katharine Capshaw, African American Review


When the activist, educator, and clubwoman Mary Church Terrell discussed The Modern Woman in a 1916 lecture in Charleston, her decorous physical persona impressed her audience as much as did her ideas about the role of women to racial service. (1) A young audience member wrote rapturously of the event in her memoir, "Oh, my, when I saw her walk onto that podium in her pink evening dress and long white gloves, with her beautifully done hair, she was that Modern Woman" (Fields 189). No matter whether Terrell was lecturing on civil rights, women's suffrage, or the club movement, a concurrent performance of "uplift" was taking place as audience members scrutinized Terrell's physical features and clothing for implicit directions on how to dress and behave. In fact, flyers and posters advertising Terrell's lectures often included a full-body image, one that focused on her opulent dress, elegant hairstyle, and confident demeanor. (2) One of the most prominent members of the black elite, Terrell in public performance embodied the achievement of middle-class uplift (though she herself was born into an affluent family) through a form of dress and deportment that her audience could emulate.

Although Terrell had for decades been offering her public persona as a model of proper decorum, from 1916 to 1920 members of the black elite became especially interested in codifying the rules of proper middle-class behavior in conduct books; addressed to children and young adults, texts were offered by writers who were either associated with public performance or who held some iconographic position within the community of the black elite. In the same year as Terrell's Charleston speech, the well-known vocalist Madame E. Azalia Hackley published The Colored Girl Beautiful, a text that originally took shape from "talks given to girls in colored boarding schools" (1). (3) Silas X. Floyd, a prominent preacher and newspaper editor from Augusta, Georgia, issued in 1920 a new edition of his text on children's etiquette; formerly titled Floyd's Flowers, or Duty and Beauty for Colored Children (1905), Floyd's revised text, Short Stories for Colored People Both Old and Young, appeared in a volume with Edward S. Green's National Capital Code of Etiquette. (1920), the leading etiquette guide of the day for adult readers. (4) Also in 1920, physician and journalist Monroe A. Majors issued First Steps and Nursery Rhymes, a text that combined light verse with conduct directions. (5) I am interested in the late 1910s as a site for the codification of behavior for black child readers, particularly as this moment reflects a shift in the elite's attitudes toward the masses. Why did conduct material for children take hold at this moment? How does conduct material mediate between the interests of the older generation of the black elite and the emergence of the Harlem Renaissance? What is the role of childhood to an innovative vision of black identity, and how does conduct material help to shape the character of this new black childhood?

In addressing these questions, the essay focuses on the moments in the conduct material that construct behavior as performance of racial character, and the places where texts offer specific scripted guidelines for action and speech that aim to constitute physically a new black identity. Reading the texts through lens of performance allows us to consider how they contend with the supposedly malleable body of the child. If Terrell's persona stages the culmination of the elite values of "uplift," the conduct material offers concrete instructions in how to discipline the child's body so that its display will speak concretely of the progress of the race. By transforming the child's body, the conduct material reveals complicated and contradictory visions of black change, some retreating from any suggestion of cultural distinctiveness by embracing the physical artifacts of whiteness, and others pointing forward towards the New Negro Renaissance by insisting on the beauty and promise of black child bodies. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Childhood, the Body, and Race Performance: Early 20th-Century Etiquette Books for Black Children
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.