In the 1820’s, few Americans could imagine a viable future for black children. Even abolitionists saw just two options for African American youth: permanent subjection or exile. Educated for Freedom tells the story of James McCune Smith and Henry Highland Garnet, two black children who came of age and into freedom as their country struggled to grow from a slave nation into a free country. Smith and Garnet met one another as schoolboys at the Mulberry Street New York African Free School, an educational experiment created by founding fathers still flush with optimism about freedom’s power to transform the country. Smith’s and Garnet’s achievements were near-miraculous in a nation that refused to acknowledge black talent or potential. The sons of enslaved mothers, these schoolboy friends would go on to travel the world, meet Revolutionary War heroes, publish in medical journals, address Congress, and speak before crowds of cheering thousands. The lessons they took from their days at the New York African Free School shed light on how antebellum Americans viewed black children as symbols of America’s possible future. The story of their lives, their work, and their friendship testifies to the imagination and activism of the free black community that shaped the national journey towards freedom.
“In their introduction to this superb volume, Katharine Capshaw and Anna Mae Duane describe realizing that the logic behind the central question of their title has actually helped make early African American children’s literature itself difficult to find. After all, that question— Who writes for black children?— presumes that black child readers were readily identifiable before 1900 as both children and readers, “two subject positions that were reserved for the white and the middle class” (x). The more fruitful question, Capshaw and Duane came to understand in the process of assembling the volume, focuses on black children as agents rather than objects: What did black children read? The fascinating and often surprising answers to this question shape this innovative collection, which includes materials of immense critical and practical use for scholars, archivists, and instructors alike. The volume argues powerfully for an expanded and inclusive conception of early African American children’s literature, one that unsettles a number of prevailing assumptions about authorship as well as audience. New cases are made for considering prominent early black writers as authors for children; new sites for the circulation and production of black children’s reading are brought into view; and new parameters for defining what counts as early black children’s Book Reviews 235 literature (and authorship) are proposed. Indeed, anyone interested in the intersections between early African American literary studies and children’s literature studies— the “two largely separate fields” that Who Writes for Black Children? brings into fresh contact— will learn much from this book.” –William Gleason, Princeton University. Legacy, 2018.
Roundtable discussion with the contributors can be found here.
“Child Slavery Before and After Emancipation: An Argument for Child-Centered Slavery Studies calls for evolved definitions of concepts that scholars frequently take for granted. Edited by University of Connecticut professor Anna Mae Duane and comprised of contributions from literary scholars, historians, activists, and philosophers, the book demands that its readers acknowledge an unsavory reality: “children have often provided both the conceptual underpinning for justifying slavery and much of the labor within slavery’s machinations” (4). Despite the historical entanglement of the concepts of childhood and slavery—both are dependent on notions of their subjects as helpless, unable to consent, deprived of rights—many scholars of slavery leave children out of their analyses. This book argues that centering children in analyses of slavery is key to deconstructing the beliefs underlying historical and contemporary justifications for human bondage and to helping enslaved children today.”–Anasa Hicks, Florida State University. —Journal of the History of Children and Youth, 2018.
“Duane demonstrates the myriad ways in which early Americans conceptualized their own place within the British system and their relationships with others, including American Indians and enslaved Africans, through the lens of childhood. She analyzes a very wide-ranging selection of texts and draws on cognitive theory to enhance our understanding of the evolving place of children and of childhood as a concept in early American experiences and aspirations.”—Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Silver Professor of History, New York University
“An easy rhetorical trick for soliciting sympathy or raising anxiety, the trope of the suffering child is so familiar we hardly notice its presence. Duane probes the uses of this familiar figure with astute, nuanced rigor. Her work makes clear the stakes of representing childhood as dependent and vulnerable, for actual children and their families, but even more for the process of national formation, and for the treatment of other ‘infantilized’ groups. Duane, convincingly shows us how the figure of the suffering child structures discussion of so many of the most pressing topics in early America, from witchcraft, Indian captivity, African slavery, and colonial status, to the very idea of republican citizenship. Her account of the suffering child thus proves profoundly illuminating about the nature of power and subjugation, and even more generally, about the kind of work that metaphors can do.”
—Karen Sánchez-Eppler, author of Dependent States: The Child’s Part in Nineteenth-Century American Culture
“A nuanced and sophisticated account of the early American cultural landscape and the ways children engaged with cultural anxieties and concerns. The project offers many useful insights into early American writing.”—Caroline Levander, author of Cradle of Liberty: Race, the Child, and National Belonging from Thomas Jefferson to W. E. B. Du Bois
“Duane’s work offers a valuable road map for scholars seeking routes out of the theoretical blind alleys that potentially stifle inquiry into the history of children.”—Journal of American History
“Through illuminating, close readings of both little-known and canonical literary texts as historical evidence, Suffering Childhood in Early America investigates the evolving relationship between the realities and representations of childhood from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. In this pioneering and perceptive study, Duane identifies the cultural labor performed by positive and negative representations of children in social and political arguments about witchcraft, infanticide, motherhood, the American Revolution, and slavery. Particularly compelling are her analyses of the ways authors of African descent reveal the effect childhood continues to have in adulthood.”—Vincent Carretta, author of Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man
“This important collection of essays seeks to define the emerging discipline of childhood studies, to explain what it has to contribute and how that understanding provides an analytic tool to help us approach many fields. These essays challenge the binary manner in which modern society divides adults from children and propose much more subtle approaches for reconsidering the spectrum of human capability. As they rightly argue, paying attention to children has the potential to make us reconsider many other categories of ability and our entire conception of dependency. It forces us to reframe our ability to understand the past as well as our present. Arguing persuasively that the enlightenment bifurcation dividing childhood from adulthood hides as much as it reveals, they suggest many approaches for overcoming it and make powerful arguments for why we must try.”
—Holly Brewer, Burke Professor of American History, University of Maryland