To Live an Antislavery Life

Erica Ball. To Live an Antislavery Life: Personal Politics and the Antebellum Black Middle Class. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012. 





Dr. Erica Ball

Associate Professor of American Studies and Chair of African American Studies

California State University, Fullerton

 

Degrees

2002, Ph.D., City University of New York, Graduate Center
1993, B.A., Wesleyan University

Research Areas

Slavery and Abolition, Intersectionality, and Race and Popular Culture
Manuscripts in Progress:
Erica L. Ball and Kellie Carter Jackson, eds., Reconsidering Roots: Observations on the 40th Anniversary of a TV Mini-Series that changed the Way We Understood American Slavery (in preparation)

Edited Journals:
Erica L. Ball, Melina Pappademos, and Michelle Stephens, editors, Reconceptualizations of the African Diaspora: Radical History Review 103 (Winter 2009). (Received “Honorable Mention” for Best Special Issue of 2009 from the Council of Editors of Learned Journals)


Erica Ball. To Live an Antislavery Life: Personal Politics and the Antebellum Black Middle Class. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012.

In To Live an Antislavery Life, Ball explores the personal politics printed in literature such as the Freedom’s Journal and the North Star directed toward elite and aspiring African Americans living in the antebellum North. The elite and aspiring African Americans were mostly members of the free black middle class, an anomalous group situated between a hostile white society and an ever-growing black working class. Ball utilizes slave narratives, personal memoirs, black magazines, didactic writings, and fiction published three decades before the Civil War to illustrate how the writings of blacks gave advice for self-improvement and social respectability. She dismisses the notion that antebellum black middle class literature mimicked the white middle class’s system of beliefs and values. Instead, she argues, that the antebellum black middle class had in mind their own ideas about conduct and respectability in which the elite and aspiring African Americans should aspire to. To back up her argument, she examines black discourse through five themes- social conduct, black manhood, youth morality and upbringings, domesticity, and black militant identity. Through her exploration, she finds specific advice on how to build and lead an antislavery life directed towards men, women, and children.

1). the purpose(s) for which each author writes: 
Ø  Ball explores the ways in which elite and aspiring African Americans conceptualized their own political activities and how they became integral to the black middle-class identity.

2). the key question(s) the author asks:
Ø  How did conduct discourse differ for blacks and whites?
Ø  What are the ways in which slave narratives sharpened concerns about slavery’s impact on black male independence and female virtue?
Ø  How did black conduct literature define the role of dependent wives and children?
Ø  What revolutionary themes did the Anglo-African Magazine explore?

3). the author’s key conclusion(s): 
Ø  Slave narratives in dialogue with African American advice literature demonstrate how the themes of antislavery and self-improvement worked in concert, linking the personal with the political. (3). 
Ø  African American writers characterized the men and women who fought and died for freedom as exemplary antislavery figures, models of virtue and sacrifice for northern free blacks. (4).
Ø  The revolutionary identity put forward in the Anglo-African Magazine offered inspiration at a moment of crisis for middle-class and black abolitionist leaders. (130).

4). the evidence from which the author derives those conclusions:
Ø  Ball utilized slave narratives, didactic essays, poems, convention proceedings, humorous stories, sentimental vignettes, stories, and letters.

5). the perspective each author takes on his or her subject:
Ø  She refutes the notion that messages about respectability in black print culture were aimed primarily at lower class African Americans.

6). the concepts or ideas that informs the author’s approach:
Ø  Ball she rejects the limitation of black middle-class politics to the politics of respectability.

7). the author’s assumptions or unexamined beliefs (i.e. what does the author take for granted):
Ø  Ball assumes that the reader knows the size of the elite and aspiring African American class. 
Ø  She also assumes readers know who belonged to this circle.
Ø  She assumes that readers know when the switch from “advice literature” to revolutionary discourse occurred.

8). the larger implications of the author’s line of reasoning: 
Ø  Slave narratives gave insight into the possible troubles free northern blacks could have faced.
Ø  Personal politics was crucial to the legacy of African American politics.

Chapter One: African American advice Literature and Black-Middle Class Self-Fashioning
                                    Purpose
i.                    In this chapter, Ball shows how black conduct writers emphasized self-improvement as crucial to the larger antislavery cause.
Chapter Two: Slave Narratives and the Black Self-Made Man
                  Purpose
i.                    She shows how the narratives of Solomon Northup, Frederick Douglass, and Samuel Ringgold Ward are positive examples of black manhood for African American boys and men. 

Chapter Three:  Antislavery Discourse and the African American Family
                  Purpose
i.                    She highlights the ways in which slavery affected the independence of African American males and the virtue of African American women. The slave narratives served as reminders to the free black community that their safety was not guaranteed.
Chapter Four: Domestic Literature and Antislavery Household
                                    Purpose
i.                    Here she demonstrates the important role of the African American family, which was characterized by activists as the “primary training ground” for the values necessary for African Americans to maintain independence.
Chapter Five: Transnationalism, Revolution, and the Anglo-African Magazine on the Eve of the Civil War
                                    Purpose
i.                    The Anglo-African Magazine helped to redefine black political activity by helping blacks to articulate a radical and militant antislavery life. Blacks did not limit their views to the United States; they praised revolutionaries such as Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines from the Caribbean as well as classical Roman and nineteenth-century European republican movements.


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