Historiography and African Americans: Benjamin Quarles

Historiography and African Americans: Benjamin Quarles


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Quarles assigned to African-Americans a special place . . . a civilizing mission

and contributionist role in the development of American Democracy. 

His approach was, indeed, subtly teleological, and it bore more than a slight

resemblance to the view of Joseph Washington who sees the historical and

political role of African Americans as “God’s humanizing agents.”



Books by Wilson Jeremiah Moses

Golden Age of Black Nationalism, 1850-1925 (1988)  / The Wings of Ethiopia  (1990)

 Alexander Crummell: A Study of Civilization and Discontent (1992)  / Destiny & Race: Selected Writings, 1840-1898  (1992) 

 Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms: Social and Literary Manipulations of a Religious Myth (1993)

Liberian Dreams: Back-to-Africa Narratives from the 1850s  / Afrotopia: The Roots of African American Popular History (2002)

Creative Conflict in African American Thought (2004)

*   *   *   *   *

Books by By Benjamin Quarles


Frederick Douglass (1948) / The Negro in the Civil War  (1953) /   The Negro in the American Revolution (1961)


Lincoln and the Negro (1962)  /  The Negro in the Making of America (1964)  /  Black Abolitionists (1969)


Allies for Freedom and Blacks on John Brown (1974) / Black Mosaic: Essays in Afro-American History and Historiography (1988)


*   *   *   *   *

Historiography and African Americans

Benjamin Quarles’ The Negro In The Making Of America

By Wilson J. Moses

Professor of History, The Pennsylvania State University


Benjamin Quarles, (1904-1996) was Professor of History at the historically black Morgan State University, from 1953 to 1981. During those years he quietly declined several invitations to positions at front-line research universities.  Modest, steadfast, and unassuming, he embodied the antithesis of careerism, and it is sometimes easy to forget that he was a historian of large concepts.

If we have failed to recognize the metaphysical tide that surges through Quarles’ work, it is because his ideology has become part of our collective consciousness and we take many of his presuppositions for granted.  Quarles’ ideas have become commonplace, mainly due to the success with which he, and others, have championed them.  His work was a persistent statement of two themes that are a constant presence throughout all American history, but have their peculiar manifestations in African American history—contributionism and messianism—two overlapping ideas. 

Contributionism, is concerned with demonstrating that African Americans have made useful contributions to the arts, sciences, and economy of the United States.  Messianism refers to the doctrine that African Americans stand at the center of the American mission and destiny and that the African American presence has defined American democracy in ways that are singularly beneficial to American society and to the world.  Within this context, African Americans hold an exceptional place in an American missionary pageant that is itself historically exceptional.1

Some commentators on black history have expressed the fear that excessive identification with the latter of these themes could undermine the credibility of African American historians.2   Quarles’ career makes that assertion untenable.   It demonstrates, on the contrary, that these two ideas—contributionism and messianism—represent the dominant and most accepted conceptualization of African American history.   There are almost no American thinkers, either on the left or on the right of the political spectrum, who have dared to question them.3  Regardless of ideological stance, just about everyone who writes on policy issues, from Cornell West to Abigail Thernstrom, becomes a teleological progressive on the subject of African American history.4

Quarles self-deprecatingly spoke of himself as “a narrative rather than a conceptual historian.”  This is curious, since Quarles was by no means insensitive to “the grand dynamic” of historical forces.5 Quite the contrary, he viewed history as progressive and teleological.  He endorsed Robert Heilbroner’s view, expressed in The Future as History, that Americans are obliged to maintain an optimistic attitude towards history.  In fact, I believe that Quarles went further than Heilbroner in willingness to assert the possibility of “a valid projection of the future as history.”6   Convinced, however, that any projection of the future must be founded in a solid grasp of the past, he endorsed the progressivist contentions of R. G. Collingwood, “No fact has ever been wholly ascertained, but a fact may be progressively ascertained.”7

I suppose it would be fruitful to introduce the question of whether Quarles’ historiography was truly “progressive,” in the sense that Richard Hofstadter used the term, or merely “whiggish” in the sense defined by  Herbert Butterfield.8  If by progressive, we mean a historiography dominated by an emphasis on class struggle, it was not.   But if we mean that Quarles, like W. E. B. Du Bois, saw incremental additions to social scientific knowledge as the means of advancing the American reform tradition, then Quarles was a progressive historian.9   He accepted the progressive principle that humanity advanced more or less inevitably insofar as people possessed the will to replace superstition with knowledge, and he believed “the New Testament adage about the truth also making one free.”  He asserted that through the processes of historical scholarship, truth might be “progressively ascertained.”10

In That Noble Dream: The “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession.  Peter Novick devotes only a few sentences to Benjamin Quarles, and those are in a footnote.  Novick’s project is to chart the rising and falling expectations of professional historians in their attempts at staking out an epistemological “vital center,” or “transcending relativism,” or “arriving at a permanent equilibrium in a ‘practical objectivity.’”    Within the context of his stated project, which is, after all, “the objectivity question,” Novick focuses on August Meier’s report, based on an interview with Quarles, that historians at the University of Wisconsin during the 1930s questioned the ability of  African Americans “to write ‘objectively’ about their own past.”  One must assume that Novick finds the anecdote interesting, because of his fundamental skepticism concerning the idea of objectivity, rather than because of any particular emphasis on the problems that Quarles encountered in the guild throughout his career.11

Despite the putative attitudes of professors at Wisconsin, William B. Hesseltine, Quarles’ dissertation director allowed Quarles to write on, “Frederick Douglass,” supposedly because the proposed subject, overlapped Hesseltine’s interest in U. S. Grant.   Although there has been at least one other excellent biography of Douglass, since Quarles’ was published in 1948, the work has stood the test to time.  It is true that present-day scholars lust for a more probing treatment of Douglass relationship with Otillia Assing, the Prussian woman, who remembered him generously in her will.  It is understandable, however, that Quarles may have felt compelled to treat the relationship with scrupulous decorum.  The several more studies of Frederick Douglass, must be seen as complementing that of Quarles’ work, rather than superseding it.12

There can be no question that Quarles was dedicated to the goal of meticulous scholarship, and objectivity.  But I think it would be wrong to think of him as a man whose life was shaped by his dissertation, or who like a docile schoolboy devoted the rest of his career to the task of proving to his mentors that he had met the objectivity test—long after they were dead.  It is interesting, by the way, to note that quotation marks set off the word “objectivity,” not only in Novick’s rendition of this story, but also in the source from which he derived it—August Meier’s fine 1980 article on Benjamin Quarles in Civil War History

Novick considers the noble dream of objectivity, unattainable, if sadly so, and Quarles could hardly have been insensitive to the problematic issue of truth in history, that Novick and others before and since have raised.  He was unequivocally committed to writing balanced and objective history, putting it in Rankean terms, a narrative of the past “wie es eigentlich gewesen ist,” or as it actually was,13   While it is clear that Quarles had additional objectives, and that he intended to  assign to African-Americans a role of cosmic importance in the development of American Democracy, he claimed in the preface to the 1987 edition of The Negro in the Making of America, that his goal in writing African American history was, in fact, to reveal the truth, and to set the record straight.  “Whatever field of history is being surveyed, to whatever extent we can restore its lost boundaries and fill in the missing pages, so too we come to a closer approximation of the true living past.”14

Quarles’ history is essentially social history, sensitively written, intelligently conceived, and solidly researched. It is written in support of ideas found in earlier authors, that African Americans did not sit passively waiting for an alleviation of their difficulties, but took a hand in their own deliverance.15    His work provides the reader much painstaking detail and steady additions to the fund of data, but with few astonishments.   This data is not accumulated purely for the aesthetic joys of fleshing out footnotes, however.  

In the spirit of R. G. Collingwood, by his own admission, he believed that the accumulation of data must lead to truth, and truth must lead to progress.  His work thus embodies the progressive ideology, articulated by Comte in the nineteenth century, and conforms to the absolutist teleological definition of historicism that Karl Popper found unacceptable. It is also possible, however, to see Quarles historicism within the relativistic and humane definition that Karl Mannheim, offered, and as an unavoidable aspect of the twentieth century Zeitgeist.16

Quarles assigned to African-Americans a special place in that Zeitgeist, a civilizing mission and contributionist role in the development of American Democracy.  His approach was, indeed, subtly teleological, and it bore more than a slight resemblance to the view of Joseph Washington who sees the historical and political role of African Americans as “God’s humanizing agents.”17 Martin Kilson has voiced strenuous opposition to the “view of the special aura of righteousness accruing to the oppressed and despised black man.”  I think he is correct in this, but Kilson sees the problem as peculiar to black nationalists, while my contention is that the black messianic myth is common to nationalists and integrationists alike.  For I accept Mannheim’s idea that even historians are the products of history.18

While a secular version of messianism is fundamental to Quarles’ work, manifestations of black nationalism receive very little attention.   He celebrates at length the often told legend of “Crispus Attucks,” who died in the Boston Massacre of March 5, 1770.  He is much more selective when reporting the action of four lesser known black Bostonians on April 20th, 1773, who petitioned the legislature asking for their freedom.  What Quarles does not tell us is that the petitioners asked for the right to set aside a portion of the proceeds of their labors to purchase their freedom, and return to Africa.19 On the other hand, Quarles provides a succinct, but poignant discussion of the resettlement of Africans in Sierra Leone in a seminal chapter, of The Negro in the American Revolution, “Evacuation With the British.”    The chapter was typical of Quarles work in terms of its original archival scholarship, but atypical in its focus on a group of African Americans who chose to leave the United States.

In The Black Abolitionists, African repatriation is very sparsely treated.  The roles of Martin Delany, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Augustus Washington and Alexander Crummell, who were highly visible spokesmen for emigration during the late 1850s and early 1860s, are scarcely mentioned.  This is striking, because these figures had begun to draw the attention of historians like Howard Brotz and Harold Isaacs by the early sixties, even before the rise of black nationalism among black college students.20  Crummell and Blyden do not appear in The Negro in the Making of America, and while Henry Highland Garnet is mentioned, it is only as an abolitionist, not as a founder of the African Civilization Society.  Alexander Crummell is mentioned twelve times in The Black Abolitionists, without reference to the sixteen years he spent in Africa between 1853 and 1872.

It is true that the American Colonization Society sent only an infinitesimal fraction of the African American population to Liberia.  But certainly numbers are not the only matter of significance here, as Floyd Miller has demonstrated—not to mention William and Jane Pease, and the numerous other scholars who have found the colonization movement important enough to warrant broader treatment.  Furthermore, as John Hope Franklin has shown, the motivations of whites who supported the American Colonization Society fell into at least three categories.   They were far more varied and nuanced than Quarles was willing to allow.21

In his unsympathetic treatment of the Garvey movement Quarles made observations that were either hyperbolic or untrue, but he expressed one insight that is of great worth.   Unlike many historians of the Garvey movement, Quarles did not accept the canard perpetuated by Edmund David Cronon, that color consciousness and color conflict within the Garvey movement were simply a matter of Garvey’s importing Jamaican prejudices that were alien to the United States.  As Quarles accurately observed, “Garvey well knew that there were color lines within the color line, that many light-skinned Negroes held themselves aloof from those who were black and brown, to whom they felt superior, and he magnified and exploited the natural resentment of dark Negroes.”

This was accurate, and fair enough, but it was not true, as Quarles stated that Garveyism rejected all black intellectuals because “a goodly percentage of them were light skinned.”   As the excellent work of Judith Stein has shown, Garveyism did not reject either light skinned or intellectual Negroes.   The great irony of the Garvey movement as Stein and others have demonstrated beyond question, is that Garveyism was essentially a bourgeois movement that welcomed middle class mulattoes, and other highly literate persons into its leadership ranks.   Garvey’s most passionate opponent was Robert S. Abbott, who was anything but a mulatto.22

Quarles wrote as an American, not as a black national-separatist.  My own biases make me supportive of that agenda. I am not a nationalist, and I would not have Quarles write as a nationalist.  But I do consider black nationalism a phenomenon to be studied as objectively as we would study any other social or intellectual movement, and Quarles was not an objective student of black nationalism.  His offense is mitigated greatly, however, by the purity of his intentions; the exigencies of the years during which he established his career seemed to demand an uncompromising Americanism. 

During late 1930s and early 1940s, when Senator Theodore G. Bilbo attempted to revitalize the deportation movement of the 1800s, he appropriated ammunition wherever he could find it, whether it came from Communist Party documents or from Garveyite propaganda.  Quarles, and others of his generation, were reluctant to put anything into print that might be adapted to the needs of Bilbo and his ideological bedfellows.   The necessity of an uncompromising Americanism seemed even more urgent during the Second World War.23

“The black academician,” wrote Quarles, years after the departure of Senator Bilbo, “holds that his forbears helped to build America, and this being the case no one should sensibly expect him to pack his belongings and leave for other shores.” Quarles agenda was contributionist; it was to demonstrate, not only the Americanism of black Americans, but to show how this Americanism had made them useful and valuable citizens.   The seminal book in this contributionist tradition was, of course, The Gift of Black Folk: The Negroes in the Making of America, by W. E. B. Du Bois.    The similarity between the sub-title of Du Bois’s book and the title of Quarles’ cannot be mere coincidence.24

Like any other historian Quarles could make puzzling statements, such as the assertion that “[Carter] Woodson and his black-oriented contemporaries could hardly have been fully aware of the extent of racism in America, a topic which has only recently been given the type of probing scrutiny found, for example in Winthrop Jordan. . . .”  Was this heavy handed irony?  It is inconceivable to me that Quarles could actually have meant anything so bizarre.25   Another statement, painfully ironic in retrospect, that should have been removed from the 1987 edition of The Negro in the Making of America had to do with the Nixon Presidency.  Quarles quoted Time magazine’s assertion, “The race dilemma will be the President’s toughest problem.”  So much for the ability of historians or journalists to predict the future, and so much for overstatements of the centrality of the African American experience to American history.26

Quarles did, in fact, view history in terms of grand conceptual schemes.   If we fail to recognize this it is only a matter of missing the forest for the trees.  His views are part of the main current of contributionism in African American history, a tradition that was established by W. E. B. Du Bois in The Gift of Black Folk, and popularized by Martin Luther King, who invoked the name of the twentieth century’s most flamboyant theoretical historian, Arnold J. Toynbee.  A figure whom Orlando Patterson dismisses as a monumental failure.

 This is a great hour for the Negro.   The challenge is here.  To become the instruments of a great idea is a privilege that history gives only occasionally.   Arnold Toynbee says in A Study of History that it may be the Negro who will give the new spiritual dynamic to Western civilization that it so desperately needs to survive.27

Quarles never expressed himself with quite this degree of flamboyance, but the underlying ideas that King voiced are always present in the background of Quarles’ writing.   For example, in the preface to the 1969 edition of The Negro in the Making of America he said, “Afro-American history is increasingly viewed as a lesson-bearing component of the current global struggle for human rights.  Thus it would not be wide of the mark to say that the story of the Negro in America has had some effect in enlarging our social awareness, if not also stirring our social conscience.”  

Such statements should lead us to chew more thoughtfully on the assumption that Quarles was harried throughout his career by the need to demonstrate his capacity for “objectivity.”   We may certainly feel free to give greater credence to the idea that Quarles was indeed a “conceptual historian.”


1The bibliography on American messianism and exceptionalism is immense.  For example, see: Ernest L. Tuveson, Redeemer Nation: The Idea of America’s Millennial Role (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968); Winthrop S. Hudson, ed., Nationalism and Religion in America: Concepts of American Identity and Mission (New York: Harper and Row, 1970).  Hans Kohn, American Nationalism: An Interpretive Essay (New York: Collier, 1961); Frederick Merk, Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History (New York: Vintage Books, 1963); Martin Marty, Righteous Empire (New York: Dial Press, 1970); Cushing Strout, The New Heavens and the New Earth (New York: Harper & Row, 1974); Conrad Cherry, ed., God’s New Israel: Religious Interpretations of American Destiny (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971).  H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1937).  

For a probing analysis of “contributionism” in African American history see Orlando Patterson, “Rethinking Black History,” Harvard Educational Review, 41 (August, 1971), pp. 297-315.  For a somewhat sardonic critique of the messianic tradition, see Wilson J. Moses, Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms: Social and Literary Manipulations of a Religious Myth (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1982; 2nd ed., 1992).  For a treatment of progressive themes in African-American thought, especially in relation to George Bancroft, see Leonard I. Sweet, Black Images of America, 1784-1870 (New York, Norton, 1976).

2See Orlando Patterson, “Rethinking Black History,” p. 304.  It is interesting to note that in his discussion of contributionism, Patterson makes no mention of Benjamin Quarles, who was, at the time, the most striking example of African American history in the messianic-contributionist mold.  And yet, ironically, Patterson says that most recent adherents of the contributionist view “either play down the American contributions (which is to say that they do not recognize the achievements of Blacks in American music and art) or, more aggressively, by adopting a “sinking ship” view of America, consider all discussions of contributions to it either irrelevant or insignificant.”  Patterson’s statement is puzzling in light of evidence to the contrary in standard textbooks in print at the time, such as Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the American Revolution (New York: Collier-Macmillan, 1964) John Hope Franklin From Slavery to Freedom (New York: Vintage, 1969),  and Lerone Bennett, Before the Mayflower,  (New York: Penguin, 1964). 

3Robert L. Harris, Jr. called for a departure from the messianic mode in his level-headed and incisive article, “Coming of Age: The Transformation of Afro-American Historiography,” Journal of Negro History (Summer, 1982), pp. 107-121.  Nonetheless, African American historians of all ideological persuasions have continued to write in the messianic mode since publication of Harris’s article.   A dominant theme in the writings of Afrocentrist Molefi Kete Asante is an African contribution to “human transcendence.” He notes that “All the world is addicted to the music of ‘popular dance.’  This is the major African contribution to the directed energies of the world.” See Asante, The Afrocentric Idea (Philadelphia: Temple, 1987), p. 192. 

The Marxist, Abdul Alkalimat foresees and rejoices at the coming of a Marxist  millennium with black people in the vanguard, in Introduction to Afro-American Studies: A People’s College Primer (Chicago: Twenty First Century Books and Publications, 1986), pp. 345-51.  More recently James Oliver Horton writes in this mode as he foresees a day when African Americans will have taken the leadership in throwing off “the historic burden of race and sex and moved all Americans closer to genuine human equality.”  See Horton, Free People of Color: Inside the African American Community (Washington, D.C: The Smithsonian Institution, 1993), p. 120.

4As a “post-MarxistCornell West, is suspicious of teleologies, including Marxist teleology, although he demonstrates some faith in the teleological approach in “The Historicist Turn in Philosophy of Religion” in Keeping Faith: Philosophy and Race in America (New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 132.  Exceedingly cavalier in his use of the term “progressive,” West repeatedly identifies himself with “progressivism.”  See West, Race Matters (Boston: Beacon, 1993), especially chapters 4 and 5.   Abigail Thernstrom and Stephen Thernstsrom, America in Black and White: One Nation Indivisible, argue that the pattern of black progress over the past forty years demonstrates a tide in the improvement of African American status and American race relations that obviates the need for affirmative action. 

Orlando Patterson endorses the Thernstrom teleology in the New York Times, repr. International Herald Tribune Nov 20, 1997, “their [the Thernstrom’s] basic premise is correct.  Relations between the races are getting better.”  William Julius Wilson argued a similar secular teleology twenty years ago in his The Declining Significance of Race (1978, 2nd ed. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1980).  In fairness to Patterson, Thernstrom, and Wilson, while they envision a trend in which racism is on the decline, they do not discount the need for reforms in public policy (especially education) to improve opportunities for the black lower classes.

5Quarles is quoted by August Meier in “Benjamin Quarles and the Historiography of Black America,” Civil War History Vol. XXVI, No. 2. (1980), p. 113. Quarles borrows Heilbroner’s phrase, “grand dynamic” in Quarles “Black History Unbound” from Daedalus, 1974 reprinted in Black Mosaic: Essays in the History and Historiography of Black America (University of Massachusetts Press, 1988), p. 201.

6Ibid., Quarles says, “A valid projection of the future as history, for all its importance, requires a fresh look at the past as history.”

7Robert Heilbroner, in The Future as History (New York: Harper and Row, 1960) rejected the idea of the inevitably of progress, but maintained that the West “must preserve from the ruthless onslaught of history’s forces the integrity of the idea of progress itself.” p. 208.  R. G. Collingwood, Essays in the Philosophy of History. In insisting on the necessity of the West defending and maintaining its idea of progress, Heilbroner foreshadowed a position later taken by conservative historian Robert Nisbet in History of the Idea of Progress (New York: Basic Books, 1970). 

8Richard Hofstadter in The Progressive Historians: Turner, Beard, Parrington (New York: Vintage Books, 1970), p. xii, defines progressive historians as those who “took their cues from the intellectual ferment of the period from 1890 to 1915, from the demands for reform raised by the Populists and Progressives.”  Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History (New York: Norton, 1965). Charles Beard’s progressivism consists not in his flawed, but not entirely wrong-headed, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution, but rather in his Comtean view of progress, in his belief that history has movement, and that “conceivably it might be better to be wrecked on an express train bound to a destination than to moulder in a freight car sidetracked in a well-fenced lumber yard.”  

See Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard, The Rise of American Civilization (New York: Macmillan, 1934), p. xv.  While the Beards are frequently viewed as having set out to attack Bancroft, which, indeed, they do.  The Beard’s historicism was, however, and in its own way, no less teleological, and no less committed to the idea that the expansion of democracy was one of the identifying features of progress and civilization American Spirit, pp. 161-70, 580-582.

9The height of Du Bois’s commitment to Comtean progressivism was during the years when he developed the methodology of the Atlanta University Studies.  He describes his goals in these studies in terms that epitomize scientific progressivism, “I regarded it as axiomatic that the world wanted to learn the truth and if the truth was sought with even approximate accuracy and painstaking devotion, the world would gladly support the effort.”  Du Bois, Dusk of Dawn: An Essay Toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept (New York; Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1940), p. 68.  On Du Bois and “scientism” see Vernon J. Williams, Jr. From a Caste to a Minority (Westport: Greenwood, 1989), pp. 26-29.

10Quarles, “Black History Unbound,” in Black Mosaic, 201; “Black History’s Diversified Clientele,” in Africa and the Afro-American Experience: Eight Essays (Washington: Howard University Press, 1977), reprinted in Black Mosaic, p.  207

11Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 232.

12August Meier, “Benjamin Quarles,” p. 102.  Benjamin Quarles, Frederick Douglass (Washington: Associated Publishers, 1948), p. 338.   James McPherson in the introduction to the reprint of this volume (Atheneum 1968) credits Quarles with exceptionally good treatment of “the two white women (Julia Griffiths and Helen Pitts, who became his second wife) who played important roles in his [Douglass’] life.”   Drawing on the unpublished work of Terry H. Pickett, as well as Pickett’s “The Friendship of Frederick Douglass with the German Ottilie David Assing and Rosa Ludmilla Assing,” Georgia Historical Quarterly, 73 (Spring, 1989), and on Douglass correspondence McFeely has developed the Assing relationship somewhat more spicily in McFeely, Frederick Douglass ((New York: Norton, 1991). 

William Mc Feely’s biography is the most comprehensive study of Frederick Douglass, to date. Also noteworthy is Martin, Waldo E., Jr The Mind of Frederick Douglass.   Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984, which like Quarles’ earlier treatment endows Douglass with “symbolic and inspirational vitality [that] appealed to all Americans,” p. 277. Also see Martin, pp. 281-84.  Henry Louis Gates provides excellent notes to the Library of America edition of Frederick Douglass, Autobiographies (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1994).  Interestingly, Gates is less cautious than Quarles in attributing white paternity to Douglass (Gates, p. 1049). 

Quarles says, “That Douglass’ father was a white man is inferential from such inconclusive evidence as a contrast of the ‘deep black’ complexion of the mother and the brown hue of her son.” p. 2.  David Blight, Frederick Douglass’ Civil War: Keeping Faith in Jubilee is another recent work of scholarship which stresses black American identity in the creation of American national consciousness.  Nathan Huggins’ Slave and Citizen: The Life of Frederick Douglass (Boston: Little Brown, 1980) is a concise biography, without footnotes, but very serviceable for high school and undergraduate teaching.    

13For the influence of Ranke, see Georg G. Iggers “The Image of Ranke in American and German Historical Thought,” History and Theory 2 (1962), pp. 17-40.

14Quarles, The Negro in the Making of America  (New York: Collier-Macmillan, 1964);  Revised edition (Macmillan, 1969); reprinted with a new preface and a new introduction by V. P. Franklin (New York: Touchstone Books, 1996).

15See, for example, Herbert Aptheker, Essays in the History of the American Negro (New York: International Publishers, 1945, 1964). The chapters of this volume were originally published as four pamphlets between 1938 and 1945.  Three of the chapters handled themes that Quarles later developed as more detailed books: The participation of black people in the American Revolution, in the abolitionist movement, and in the Civil War.  Aptheker spoke highly of the work of Quarles in the preface to the 1964 edition.

16Mannheim says “Historicism is the real bearer of our world-view, a principle that, not only with invisible hand the total intellectual-science-work organizes, but also the everyday life permeates.”  See Karl Mannheim, Wissensoziologie: Auswahl aus dem Werk, eingeleitet und herausgegeben von Kurt H. Wolff (Berlin: Hermann Luchterhand Verlag, 1964), p. 246.  The present translation is by Wilson J. Moses.  Karl Popper defined historicism as “the belief in historical destiny,” which is “sheer superstition.”  In his view Mannheim not only described historicism, but participated in it, for which Popper attacked him.   See Karl Popper, The Poverty of Historicism (London: Cos & Wyman, Ltd., 1957), p. 67. 

Bertrand Russell in A History of Western Philosophy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965), p. 364  sees an underlying historicism, derived from Jewish teleological patterns in Marxist and Nazi historicism. It seems clear that the distinction drawn by Comte, between the religious, the metaphysical, and the “positivist” cannot always be neatly perceived.  J. B. Bury raises some objections to Comte in The Idea of Progress, also see Charles and Mary Beard, The American Spirit: The Idea of Civilization in the United States  (1942; repr. New York: Collier Books, 1962).

17Joseph Washington, The Politics of God (Boston: Beacon, 1969), pp. 153-177.

18Martin Kilson’s views are recorded in Black Studies in the University: A Symposium (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1969; repr. New: York, Bantam Books, 1969), pp. 14-15.   Kilson sees the problem as peculiar to black nationalists, but my contention is that the black messianic myth is common to nationalists and integrationists alike.  See Moses,  Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms, p. xiii, 1-16.

19The petitioners, Peter Bestes, Sambo Freeman, Felix Holbrook, and Chester Joie, asked that they be allowed to work one day a week “to earn money to purchase the residue of their time.”  They expressed their unequivocal determination “to leave the province” as soon as their labors “should procure money to transport ourselves to some part of the Coast of Africa, where we propose a settlement.”  The document is reprinted in Herbert Aptheker, A Documentary History of the Negro (New York: Citadel Publishers, 1971), pp. 7-8.  For further discussion see Sidney Kaplan and Emma Nogrady Kaplan, The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989), pp. 6-11, 206.

“Black Crispus Attucks” is memorialized by poet Melvin B. Tolson in “Dark Symphony.” A typical, inspiring textbook presentation is in Carter Woodson and Charles Wesley, The Story of the Negro Retold (Washington, D. C.: Associated Publishers, 1959), p. 50.  Another typically sentimental view of Attucks is presented in Lerone Bennett, Pioneers in Protest (New York: Penguin Books, 1969), pp. 3-9.  Martin Luther King, celebrates Attucks in The Trumpet of Conscience (London:  Hodder and Stoughton, 1968), p. 25.

20Harold Isaacs published, before the rise of campus black nationalism, The New World of Negro Americans (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1963).  Howard Brotz Negro Social and Political Thought, 1850-1925.  (1st ed.,  Basic Books, 1966.  2nd ed.,  New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1992) appeared shortly thereafter.  Between the first edition, (1964)  of The Negro in the Making of America, and the second edition (1969),  Howard Holman Bell, edited Search For a Place:  Black Separatism and Africa, 1860.  Introduction by Howard H. Bell.  (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1969).

21Floyd Miller. The Search for a Black Nationality: Black Colonization and Emigration, 1787-1863.  (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975).  Jane H. Pease & William H. Pease.  They Who Would Be Free: Blacks’ Search for Freedom, 1830-1861.  (New York: Atheneum, 1974).  For motives of white colonizationists see John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom (New York: Vintage,1969), pp. 239-40.

22The Negro in the Making of America, (1969), p. 230. Edmund David Cronon, Black Moses: The Story of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1966), p.38.  Ira Berlin asserts in Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South (New York, 1974), that throughout the Western Hemisphere, a brown skin generally assured free Negroes a social standing well above that of the black slave, although below that of all whites.”

Rhett S. Jones, holds the opinion that North American race relations were “unique,” and that color distinctions among Afro-North-Americans were relatively inconsequential.   See his “Structural Isolation and the Genesis of Black Nationalism in North America,” Colby Library Quarterly (December, 1979) (253).  Judith Stein, notes correctly, “Although Garvey’s rhetoric alternately wooed and castigated black elites, he consistently sought their wealth and talents.” p. 80.  See also p. 84 for participation of black intellectuals in Stein, The World of Marcus Garvey: Race and Class in Modern Society (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986),

23For a recent discussion of black American attitudes to Senator Bilbo, see  Michael W. Fitzgerald, “‘We Have Found a Moses,’”: Theodore Bilbo, Black Nationalism, and the Greater Liberia Bill of 1939” in Journal of Southern History. Vol. LXIII, No. 2, May 1997, pp. 293-320.  For the black loyalty issue during World War II, see Robert A. Hill, ed., The FBI’s RACON: Racial Conditions in the United States (Boston, 1995).  Also see Ernest Allen Jr. “Satokata Takahashi and the Flowering of Black Messianic Nationalism,” Black Scholar, XXXIV (Winter 1994), pp. 23-46; and Allen “Waiting for Tojo: The Pro-Japan Vigil of Black Missourians, 1932-1943,” Gateway Heritage, XV (Fall 1994), 16-33.   For intersection of Bilbo and the Communist Party see Moses, Black Messiahs, pp. 165-70.

24Religious allusions and messianic rhetoric are constant in W. E. B. Du Bois, The Gift of Black Folk: The Negroes in the Making of America, (Boston: The Stratford Company, 1924).  Quarles’s work is far more subtle.   Of particular interest is Du Bois’s statement: “In religion as in democracy, the Negro has been a particular test of white profession.”  p. 338.

25Benjamin Quarles “Black History Unbound” in Black Mosaic , p. 182.   For Woodson’s attitudes on the importance of race and class, see Jacqueline Goggins, Carter G. Woodson: A Life in Black History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993), pp. 146-50 and 186.

26The Negro in the Making of America, (1987), p. 337.   Although, ironically, it was, Frank Wills, a black security guard,  who discovered the Watergate burglary.

27Martin Luther King, Stride Toward Freedom (New York: Harper and Row, 1958), pp. 200-1, and Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History, Abridgment of Vols. 1-4 by D. C. Somervell, (New York: Oxford, 1947), p. 129.

Source: History Teacher, Vol. 32: 1, Nov. 1998

*   *   *   *   *

But the history of the Negro in America is essentially the story of the strivings of nameless millions who have sought adjustment in a new and sometimes hostile world. . . . I have given considerable attention to the task of tracing the interaction of the Negro to the American environment. It can hardly be denied that the course of American history has been vitally affected by his presence. At the same time it must be admitted that the effect of acculturation on the Negro in the United States has been so marked that today he is as fully American as any member of other ethnic groups that make up the American population.—

Preface From Slavery to FreedomThe Man Who Changed History

*   *   *   *   *

From the very beginning of my own involvement in the academy, the goal I sought was to be a scholar with credentials as impeccable as I could achieve. At the same time I was determined to be as active as I could in the fight to eradicate the stain of racism that clouded American intellectual and academic life even as it poisoned other aspects of American society. Both challenges were formidable. While I set out to advance my professional career on the basis of the highest standards of scholarship, I also used that scholarship to expose the hypocrisy underlying so much of American social and race relations. It never ceased being a risky feat of tight-rope walking, but I always believed that if I could . . . improve society it was incumbent on me to make the attempt. Thus, in addition to teaching and writing, I served as an expert witness in cases designed to end segregation in education…and I marched in Montgomery to make common cause with those who sought in other ways to destroy racial hatred and bigotry.—

Epilogue to Mirror to AmericaThe Man Who Changed History

James Loewen on telling the truth about Confederates

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Mirror to America

The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin

By John Hope Franklin

Franklin strove to evade the draft in WWII after being treated shamefully by the draft board when he tried to enlist, and did research for Thurgood Marshall in Brown v. Board of Education. Every aspect of Franklin’s life has been influenced by the institutionalized racism he’s experienced since he was six, when he was forced off a train for sitting in a car reserved for whites. Yet Franklin relates this all in dry, flat prose steeped in minutiae. The larger aspects of his life are glossed over; missing entirely is the emotional response to the ubiquitous racism. Nor does Franklin contextualize his experiences (e.g., in 1945, he refused to move to the back of the bus, but he fails to juxtapose this event with the Rosa Parks incident 10 years later).

This disappointing autobiography fails to depict Franklin as the trailblazing iconoclast he was and is.—Publishers Weekly

*   *   *   *   *

The World of Marcus Garvey

Race and Class in Modern Society

By Judith Stein

Class more than race was the key to Garvey (1887-1940) and his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), argues Stein (History, City Coll., CUNY). Frustrated bourgeois expectations motivated Garvey and shaped the UNIA with the Black Star Line steamship company at its core as a middle-class movement that pushed business enterprise as a solution to black problems while taking on the black elite’s rhetoric of Pan-Africanism and discovering the effectiveness of mass mobilization, she says. Challenging E. David Cronin, Theodore Draper, Robert A. Hill, Tony Martin, Theodore Vincent, et al., Stein offers a provocative but overreaching view and contributes a comparative analysis of black society in the United States, the Caribbean, and West Africa. Recommended for African-American and social-history collections.—Library Journal

*   *   *   *   *

The Trumpet of Conscience

By Martin Luther King

In November and December 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered five lectures for the renowned Massey Lecture Series of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The collection was immediately released as a book under the title Conscience for Change, but after King’s assassination in 1968, it was republished as The Trumpet of Conscience. The collection sums up his lasting creed and is his final testament on racism, poverty, and war.   Each oration in this volume encompasses a distinct theme and speaks prophetically to today’s perils, addressing issues of equality, conscience and war, the mobilization of young people, and nonviolence. Collectively, they reveal some of King’s most introspective reflections and final impressions of the movement while illustrating how he never lost sight of our shared goals for justice.

The book concludes with “A Christmas Sermon on Peace”—a powerful lecture that was broadcast live from Ebenezer Baptist Church on Christmas Eve in 1967. In it King articulates his long-term vision of nonviolence as a path to world peace.—Beacon Press

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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posted 12 February 2011 




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