Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Marriage In Early African America

Francis Smith Foster

Francis Smith Foster - Chair, English Department and Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and Women’s Studies. She regularly teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in African American literature and culture and in women’s literature and culture. Recent course offerings have been “The Profession of English,” “Family, Marriage and (Sexual) Morality in 19th century America,” “Slavery and the African American Literary Imagination, “Becoming a Woman,” and “African American Prize-winning and Prize-worthy Literature.”

She has edited or written more than a dozen books, including Love and Marriage in Early African America, Written By Herself: Literary Production by African American Women, 1746-1892 and Witnessing Slavery: The Development of the Ante-Bellum Slave Narrative.

She has edited, alone or jointly, works that include The Oxford Companion to African American Literature and The Norton Anthology of African American Literature as well as editions of several African American women’s texts including Minnie’s Sacrifice, Sowing and Reaping, and Trial and Triumph: Three Rediscovered Novels by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs and Behind the Scenes by Elizabeth Keckley.
A new anthology about love and marriage in African American history edited by Emory University English professor Frances Smith Foster challenges popular belief that the horrors of slavery are the root cause of family crisis in current African American culture.

"Love and marriage were serious investments in the 18th century, and are so in our own contemporary experiences," Foster writes in the newly published "Love and Marriage in Early African America." "I now see how the rhymes and sayings, the folk stories we absorbed, were our heritage being passed down, particular values being enforced or espoused."

Foster, a senior fellow of Emory's Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR), compiled the anthology as part of the CSLR research project, "Sex, Marriage and Family & the Religions of the Book." Her research uncovered African American writings spanning the 100 years between the slave era and the Harlem Renaissance, and she found the works to be a testament to those who came before, revealing "the strength of African American families and to the many ways in which love lives in them."

Many of the writings are taken from publications and newspapers written by African Americans for African Americans, dating back to slave times.

"I can't believe I studied African American literature for years without knowing that in the 18th and 19th centuries we had a viable print culture," writes Foster, who is Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and chair of Emory's English department. "Even before Phillis Wheatley's book of poems appeared in 1773, African Americans were writing and publishing sermons and minutes of meetings, poems, essays and autobiographies."

By 1817, when the African Methodist Episcopal Book Concern was chartered, "we had black editors and publishers, printers and marketing agents, journalists and correspondents, and enough people who could read and had money to buy books, newspapers and magazines," says Foster.

This early print culture was often bound up with the Afro-Protestant church, Foster discovered. The earliest known newspaper, Freedom's Journal, was started by a consortium of African Americans who lived in several states and cities, probably half of whom were ministers, she says.
The book, which Foster intends as a popular volume that will "work for many kinds of people with many kinds of intents and purposes," is arranged into five sections to represent the ideals and models for love and marriage that she sees reflected in 19th- and early 20th-century African American print culture.

"Most of the selections I liked best are funny—affirmative, but not pretentious," she says. And by no means do all of the selections idealize love and marriage. In fact, many offer keen insights into how small slights and careless ways can seal a couple's fate.

Foster says the idea for this anthology came about nearly 20 years ago when she was researching for a different, more academic work on the writings of Frances E.W. Harper, with her sister, Cle, near their parents' home in Ohio.

"Cle, who is a retired deputy sheriff and has little patience with fluffy stuff, kept finding these writings [about marriage, courtship and love] in the archives and reading them and saying, 'Hey, this is interesting! You ought to make a book of it,'" Foster recalls.

"Love and Marriage in Early African America" was the result of that journey. "The stories we tell each other shape how we behave toward each other," says Foster. "These writings show that 'children of the sun' can love romantically and deeply. These writings weren't secret, but they weren't written for outsiders either. They were written for people like themselves, by themselves, so were much more candid and honest." ###
Love and Marriage in Early African America brings together a remarkable range of folk sayings, rhymes, songs, poems, letters, lectures, sermons, short stories, memoirs, and autobiographies. Spanning over 100 years, from the slave era to the New Negro Movement,
this extraordinary collection contradicts or nuances established notions that slavery fractured families, devalued sexual morality, distorted gender roles, and set in motion forces that now produce dismal and dangerous domestic situations. A culmination of twenty years of diligent research by noted scholar Frances Smith Foster, this anthology features selections on love and courtship, marriage, marriage rituals, and family. A compelling introduction places the primary texts in their social and literary context. A bibliography offers suggestions for further reading.

Contact: April Bogle, 404-712-8713, abogle@law.emory.edu Contact: Elaine Justice, 404-727-0643 elaine.justice@emory.edu WEB: News@Emory - University Media Relations

No comments:

Post a Comment