Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century
Amidst the violent racism prevalent at the turn of the twentieth century, African American cultural elites, struggling to articulate a positive black identity, developed a middle-class ideology of racial uplift. Insisting that they were truly representative of the race's potential, black elites espoused an ethos of self-help and service to the black masses and distinguished themselves from the black majority as agents of civilization; hence the phrase 'uplifting the race.'
A central assumption of racial uplift ideology was that African Americans' material and moral progress would diminish white racism. But Kevin Gaines argues that, in its emphasis on class distinctions and patriarchal authority, racial uplift ideology was tied to pejorative notions of racial pathology and thus was limited as a force against white prejudice.
Drawing on the work of W. E. B. Du Bois, Anna Julia Cooper, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Hubert H. Harrison, and others, Gaines focuses on the intersections between race and gender in both racial uplift ideology and black nationalist thought, showing that the meaning of uplift was intensely contested even among those who shared its aims. Ultimately, elite conceptions of the ideology retreated from more democratic visions of uplift as social advancement, leaving a legacy that narrows our conceptions of rights, citizenship, and social justice.
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African Americans Alice Dunbar-Nelson antiblack aspirations Atlanta autobiography Barber black Americans black and white black community black elites black intellectuals black intelligentsia black leaders black leadership black middle-class black nationalism black nationalist black soldiers black women black writers Bois’s Booker bourgeois century church citizenship civil rights claims color Cooper Corrothers Corrothers's Crummell cultural dialect domestic dominant Dunbar Dunbar-Nelson economic educated blacks elite blacks Ferris Ferris's Garvey gender Harrison Ibid ideals industrial interracial James Weldon Johnson Jim Crow journalist labor literary lynching male marriage masses migration militant minstrel minstrelsy miscegenation moral NAACP patriarchal Paul Laurence Dunbar Philadelphia Negro political popular poverty protection race progress race's racial uplift ideology racism rape reform represented rhetoric segregation self-help sexual slavery social equality society sought South southern blacks status stereotypes struggle tion Tuskegee urban blacks violence Voice W. E. B. Du Bois Washington white supremacy white women woman workers writings