Reflections on the African American Experience, Social History, and the Resurgence of Conservatism in American Society

By Trotter, Joe W. | Journal of Social History, Winter 1996 | Go to article overview

Reflections on the African American Experience, Social History, and the Resurgence of Conservatism in American Society


Trotter, Joe W., Journal of Social History


In his introductory essay to this volume, Peter Stearns suggests that conservatism is likely to prevail for a while and that social history in the United States needs some strategy sessions. Indeed, recent controversies over funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, the Smithsonian Museum's Enola Gay Exhibition, and the National History Standards, issued by the National Center for History in the Schools, indicate growing resistance to efforts to create a more inclusive history of the United States. These are large issues and a great deal is at stake, but this is also a good moment to reflect on past efforts to broaden the scope of U.S. history.

The struggle for a broader U.S. history is deeply rooted in American immigration, ethnic, labor, and women's history, but it is perhaps most apparent in the field of African American history. Even a cursory consideration of the African American experience is instructive, because it highlights the ongoing connection between the struggle for a fuller history and the fight for a more inclusive, just, and democratic society. A brief examination of the African American experience also suggests the need for a more sensitive treatment of the obstacles that its founders faced, the choices that they made, and the histories that they wrote.(1)

Research on the African American experience emerged in the teeth of slavery, the fall of Reconstruction, and the rise of Jim Crow. The earliest writers, the 19th-century pioneers, confronted the expansion and consolidation of human bondage. As the slavery system moved from the tobacco-growing regions of the upper south to the cotton-producing areas of the deep south, the nation moved away from a tenuous commitment to emancipation following the American Revolution to a new commitment to slavery, as a right guaranteed by the constitution and sanctioned by God and nature. Jurists, scholars, and the clergy not only sanctioned the subordination of blacks as slaves, but justified the disfranchisement of all women, the brutal removal of Native Americans from their land, and the military conquest of Mexican territories.

George Bancroft and other early chroniclers of the nation's history explicitly used religious beliefs and moral judgments to guide their narratives. They defined the enslavement of blacks, the disfranchisement of women, and the conquest of Mexicans and Native Americans as the white man's "manifest destiny." As such, early 19th-century historians excused social injustice and crafted a narrow white male nationalist history of the United States. As George Bancroft put it in his multivolume History of the United States, "Go forth, then, language of Milton and Hampden, language of my country, take possession of the North American continent! Gladden waste places with every tone that has been rightly struck on the English lyre, with every English word that has been spoken well for liberty and for man!"(2)

Understandably, the obstacles to writing and making African American history during the antebellum era might well have caused despair. Yet, a small number of black writers - Robert Benjamin Lewis, William Cooper Nell, James C. Pennington, and Martin R. Delaney among others - rose to the occasion and produced seminal works on the black experience. Much like their white counterparts, these scholars wrote narrative rather than analytical works and emphasized the hand of God in human affairs, but unlike their white counterparts they discerned a divine hand that liberated rather than enslaved African peoples. In his Light and Truth: Collected from the Bible and Ancient and Modern History (1836, 1844), R. B. Lewis hoped to advance "correct knowledge" of both "Colored and Indian people," so that "oppressors shall not consider it an indispensable duty to trample upon the weak and defenseless."(3) J. C. Pennington was even more direct, "God is not only the all-glorious author . . …

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

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
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.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
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, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 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.

Cited article

Reflections on the African American Experience, Social History, and the Resurgence of Conservatism in American Society
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

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, 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."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.

    Author Advanced search

    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.