Recovering Five Generations Hence: The Life and Writing of Lillian Jones Horace

By Ramsey, Sonya | The Journal of Southern History, November 2014 | Go to article overview

Recovering Five Generations Hence: The Life and Writing of Lillian Jones Horace


Ramsey, Sonya, The Journal of Southern History


Recovering Five Generations Hence: The Life and Writing of Lillian Jones Horace. Edited by Karen Kossie-Chernyshev. (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2013. Pp. x, 269. Paper, $29.95, ISBN 978-1 60344-977-9; cloth, $48.50, ISBN 978-1-60344-976-2.)

In 2003 Texas Southern University history professor Karen Kossie-Chernyshev discovered the records of Lillian Jones Horace, a prominent African American teacher, novelist, and publisher, in an archival collection in the central branch of the public library in Fort Worth, Texas. Historians often dream of discovering an unknown or untouched primary source, and now readers can reap the benefit of this rare find in Recovering Five Generations Hence: The Life and Writings of Lillian Jones Horace. This text contains Horace's novel Five Generations Hence, complete with helpful historical endnotes by the editor and a collection of eight scholarly essays that discuss Horace's life experiences and her writings. By helping Horace's writings gain public attention, Kossie-Chemyshev's work contributes to the disciplines of history and literature by recovering the intellectual legacy of one of the first black women in Texas to write a novel and the first African American female publisher in the state.

Published in 1916, Five Generations Hence opens with the central character, Grace Noble, a melancholy rural unmarried Texas teacher in her late twenties, lamenting about her life and the dismal social conditions of her fellow African Americans. Noble, the granddaughter of a slave, overcame great adversity to become a teacher. She represented the quintessential ideal of the African American educator, who promoted educational attainment as a key to social advancement.

While Five Generations Hence begins as a classic racial uplift novel with Grace as an ardent proponent of the politics of respectability, it offers a surprising twist that complicates this assessment. After much soul searching, Grace finds her life's purpose when she decides to write a manuscript that encourages blacks to emigrate gradually from the United States to an unnamed African country. In the course of promoting her emigration vision, the protagonist espouses prevalent internalized racist views reminiscent of Booker T. Washington's arguments, such as "the Negro as a race is yet a child." when she argues that emigration to Africa would enable blacks to learn the "great lesson of self-reliance as a race" (p. 50). While the theme of African emigration is not new in literary texts, it is novel that the idea is conveyed by a black female character. Through Grace's views and the character of Grace's best friend, Violet Gray, an African missionary, Horace engenders black nationalist beliefs by promoting the importance of women's perspectives on missionary work and emigration. Although Grace Noble's book sparks controversy among anti-emigrationists, the character becomes a successful novelist. In another surprising turn in Five Generations Hence, Grace, who has failed to find a romantic partner during the majority of the novel, eventually marries the man of her dreams and has children after years of contentment as a financially independent novelist. …

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