The Literary Corner: Introduction to Afro-American Essays with Sarah Fabio and Thomas Schick (side a)


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The Afro American Essay as I see it was not an essay that dealt largely uh with uh the with esoteric subjects or with subjects of individuality uh uh but rather that dealt with subjects that were very very critical to the uh the current status at any point in time, of the Afro American community. Dr. Thomas Schick stating the purpose of essays written by Afro Americans. This is the literary corner by writers of the world a series of analyses and interpretations of black world literature. Dr. Schick is a historian and is our guest analyst from the University of Wisconsin Madison's department of Afro American studies. Today, he and our regular analyst, Professor Sarah Fabio also of the University of Wisconsin Madison's department of Afro American studies will discuss the Afro American essay and now Dr. Thomas Schick.
Thomas Schick: The experience of, uh, of writing in the uh in the English language in the United States uh uh on the part of Afro Americans, comes out of a very uh particular and important uh aspect of that experience uh what I mean by this is that uh although up until the Civil War the overwhelming majority of Afro Americans were slaves there was uh from uh the colonial period time, a small segment of that population that had secured their freedom. Uh Either uh through personal manumission or uh through the State abolition of slavery in the north that occurred after the American Revolutionary War. And so there was that uh population that uh Professor John Hope Franklin called uh the quasi-free Negro, uh meaning uh those individuals who were not technically slaves but were faced with the burden of race uh as uh defined in the United States.

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Thomas Schick: And it was within this community of people that, uh, the uh, the first essays were written and published. Uh, there were essays that were, uh, designed to address the problems of the race.

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Sarah Fabio: Tom, I can, I can think of, uh, one of those like, a narrative of the proceedings of the black people during the late, awful calamity in Philadelphia, and a reputation of some censors thrown upon them in some late publications. This was done in 1794, and this pamphlet was written by Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, organizers of the Free African Society, and he praised the negroes for helping during an epidemic of Yellow Fever. And of course, other people like James Thornton in 1818, Lydia Child, 1833, and Robert Purvis also did this kind of defense pamphlet, right.

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Thomas Schick: Yes, and uh, that particular one is important because, uh, in the, uh, Philadelphia Yellow Fever epidemic, black people served the city in general by helping to, uh, to aid those ill and to remove the bodies of those(--)

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Sarah Fabio: Corpses, righty

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Thomas Schick: (--)the corpses of those who had died. And yet in spite of that service, the general press had given them a very negative, uh, um, publicity during that time, and this pamphlet, which really was an essay, was an attempt to deal with that. There were also others that were, uh, that grew out of ideology, uh, questions within the Afro-American community. Uh, there were those in the society among free Afro-Americans who thought that the solution to problems of, um, of Afro-Americans would be found in immigration outside of the United States.

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Sarah Fabio: Right

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Thomas Schick: So that you find, uh, that there are people who write, uh...

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Thomas Schick: To convince free Afro-Americans they should in fact immigrate, uh, a very important one of course, is, uh, Edward Wilmot Blyden's, uh, essay entitled, uh, "The Call of Providence to the Free Colored People of the United States", and in this essay, uh, he documents and, uh, presents, uh, a very important argument for why Afro-Americans ought to immigrate to West Africa, in particular Liberia. At the same time, there were those in the Afro-American community who denounce the colonization and immigration, and for them, they also took the essay form as a way of, uh, of making their points known. Uh, I think David Walker's appeal in 1829 is an excellent example of that, a very, uh, inflammatory pamphlet that was circulated widely. In fact, it was condemned as seditious material in many states in the South; uh, David Walker defining, uh, a number of things as, uh, as being the cause of the current degradation of the population. One of those causes he considered the scheme of colonization.

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Sarah Fabio: Right, right. Uh, who {{?}} the idea to search for a place?

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Thomas Schick: Uh, that actually is a, um, uh, a compilation of two, uh, reports done by Martin R. Delaney (--)

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Sarah Fabio: Right.
Thomas Schick: (--)and Robert Campbell: both free Afro-Americans who went to West Africa in search of, uh, a suitable place for colonization and, uh, they wrote back very long reports of their experiences in Nigeria. Uh, but unfortunately for the colonizationist, uh, the Civil War broke out and Delaney, among others, rushed back to the US to, uh (--)

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Sarah Fabio: and participate in the Civil War, right.

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Thomas Schick: (--)participate in the Civil War and later in ,uh, Reconstruction Politics.

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Sarah Fabio: Right.

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Brooks B. Robinson: What about some of the later essayist ,uh, that came onto the scene toward the end of the 19th century?

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Thomas Schick: W.E.B Dubios began to write essays, uh, that he published in, uh, journals and national magazines. Essays that have now been compiled together in a book and an anthology of his writings called "The Souls of Black Folks". Uh, (--)

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Sarah Fabio: Which was done late, uh, late 19th century

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Thomas Schick: Yes, uh, uh, probably the most important of those essays is one entitle on Booker T. Washington and others, which was his most succinct, uh criticism. Analysis and criticism of the Booker T. Washington program of accommodation, especially as it applied to education and his, uh uh, admonishment to the Afro American Community not to ignore, uh, the importance of higher education because of course Washington was most interested in industrial education for the masses.

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Sarah Fabio: You I think Tom, uh, before that the same Martin Delaney, who became a physician, scientist, novelist and political writer, is well, is, uh, as we said is a Reconstruction Politician and many other things. He had written "The Condition, Elevation, Immigration, and the Destiny of the Colored People of the United States", politically considered as one essay. And then that [wonder?] man, William Wells Brown, who did the first novel, uh, and and first drama and many other things; he had written a thing called "The Black Man, his antecedents, his genus, his achievement" by 1863 and these also kinda set precedents for the kinds of things that , uh, people would be writing about. Like Alexander Crummel will be writing about, uh, the African; so later on, you know in trying to keep alive memories with the Afro American in his past.

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Brooks B. Robinson: And during the Harlem Renaissance, Professor (--)

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Sarah Fabio: Well I also did "Dusk of Dawn" which he calls

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an essay toward an autobiography of a race concept,

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and because Du Bois lived so long and wrote so well and thorough,

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you know, you have him really dipping into

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forms during the Harlem Renaissance you can't overlook Alain Locke,

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who edited The New Negro,
Brooks B. Robinson: Of course
Sarah Fabio: and his essays were very important

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in terms of aesthetic considerations of new work.

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Probably with Alain you started getting essays on art, you know,

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on literature and literary essays because

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before that time we had very little need to do that kind of essay.

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Brooks B. Robinson: And a direct point to that one or connected with that one is the question of

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whether critiques are essays, how close are critiques to essays?

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Sarah Fabio: Critical analysis.
Brooks B. Robinson: Yes.

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Our literary are a form of literary essays, I think you'd have to say that.

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For instance such things as Saunders Redding

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who will write things like American Negro Literature,

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they became long essays on literature and Jimmy Baldwin

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who in his Nobody Knows My Name would do things like the discovery of what it means to be an American,

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and he, as Tom says, this precedence is set very early

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I mean people are still looking for what does it mean to be American,

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where do we have to go in order to fully realize ourselves,

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you know, can it be within the context of America, must it be within some other context?

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People like Ralph Ellison certainly in his shadow and act

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did a very fine book of essays that commented very widely

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on things from American literature, all kind of literary treatments.

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Richard Wright's Blues, bird watching and jazz.

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I mean he just runs the gamut of possibilities.

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Brooks B. Robinson: And something I- I'd like to [[?]] if you will, to talk a little bit about some more contemporary essayists.

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Sarah Fabio: You certainly can't overlook Malcom X, who does do some essays,

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as does Eldridge Cleaver and a whole group of people

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who are very different or not that different from maybe David Walker and his Appeal.

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Brooks B. Robinson: Yeah, and one thing I'd like to say that is probably one of the more useful contributions

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to the essay as opposed to any other form in Afro-American writing

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is the fact that by being a relatively short piece of work,

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the dissemination of it was a lot wider than could be anticipated for longer novels

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and other forms because many of the essays

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Thomas Schick: (--)me about, first appeared in newspapers, uh, and in magazines. Some of them appeared as editorials, I think, uh,(--)

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Sarah Fabio: Right. Particularly in prices and opportunity during the 20(--)

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Thomas Schick: Yes and opportunity. Uh, those, those, magazines, uh, were very important for, uh, providing for general readers, uh,(--)

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Sarah Fabio: Right.
Thomas Schick: (--)focus on subjects and , uh, one particular I would like to go back to is, of course, the black scholar. For, for so long it has been within the pages of the scholar that, uh, that essays have, uh, addressed political questions and, uh, as well as academic questions, uh uh, in a manner that is in truly in the tradition of the Afro American essay from David Walker. Uh, uh (--)

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Sarah Fabio: Right. And, and of course you have to also remember Negro digest and, and, uh Black word that later became Black word because that was also, uh uh, a magazine that punished essays as well as (--)

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Thomas Schick: And we also must remember that with the Black Arts movement and the inability, very often, to be published by large publishing established publishing houses, that in some sense the pamphlet the, uh, easily distributed, uh, pamphlet has been revitalized (--)

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Sarah Fabio: Right.
Thomas Schick: (--) uh, uh, through a number of different groups and various parts of the country who have, uh, taken it upon themselves to publish their own work.

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Sarah Fabio: Like third work press, comes readily to mind. Uh, but we, we ought to remember those, uh, journals. Uh, like the Negro Journal and file from Atlanta University in College Language Arts, the CLE journal, so that always kept the essay alive.

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Brooks B. Robinson: A discussion on the Afro American essay with Dr. Thomas Schick and Professor Sarah Fabio both of (--)

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This has been the literary corner Black writers of the world, a series of analysis and interpretations of Black world literature.

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Our operator has been Bob Chan and Brooks Robinson.

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The literary corner was made possible through funds from the WHA radio managed in Wisconsin, a service of the University of Wisconsin extension.