Living Our Stories, Telling Our Truths: Autobiography and the Making of the African-American Intellectual Tradition

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9780195103731: Living Our Stories, Telling Our Truths: Autobiography and the Making of the African-American Intellectual Tradition

From the publication of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave in 1845 to Lorene Cary's Black Ice and Brent Staples's Parallel Time: Growing Up in Black and White in the 1990s, the autobiography has been the most important literary genre in the African-American intellectual tradition. Whether used to clarify the nature of the relationship between ideology and personal experience or simply because "oftentimes personal truth was stranger than fiction," the autobiography fulfilled the need to define the individual "black self" to a society that denied the existence of black reality. In Living Our Stories, Telling Our Truths, V.P. Franklin provides the first comprehensive examination of African-American intellectual history in over twenty-five years, presenting original interpretations of the lives and thought of twelve major black American writers and political leaders who played a central role in this powerful literary genre.
Focusing on the autobiographical works of such prominent figures as Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Malcolm X, Gwendolyn Brooks, and James Baldwin, as well as lesser known but equally crucial figures including Alexander Crummell, who declared black Americans a "chosen people" of the Lord, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the most famous black American woman at the turn of the century, Franklin shows that the need to tell the truth to authority, to document the original cultural contributions of rural and urban blacks, and to defend the interests of the black working class has always been a principal preoccupation of African-American intellectuals. The particular areas of the "race problem" that these individuals chose to focus on, however, were as varied as the times in which they wrote: from James Weldon Johnson's commitment to documenting the significant artistic and cultural contributions of African-Americans and James Baldwin's view that African-Americans were destined "to redeem the soul of America" to Malcolm X's rejection of integrationist doctrines and Harry Haywood's determination that the leadership of the Communist Party recognize the revolutionary potential of the black working class. And through it all, the objectives are strikingly similar--self-determination, "race vindication," and the struggle for freedom have all been at the core of the collective experience of African Americans in the United States. Given the negative evaluations of black culture and community coming from the larger white-dominated society, African-American intellectuals used their autobiographies to tell the truth about the nature of the black experience in this society and throughout the world.
Providing personal accounts of what freedom meant and how it could be achieved, the autobiography allowed African-American intellectuals to use their personal experience as a mirror to reflect the larger social and political context for black America. A major contribution to American history, Living Our Stories, Telling Our Truths acknowledges this rich tradition and makes it clear that these works provide a vital intellectual legacy for African-Americans as they enter the twenty-first century.

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About the Author:


V.P. Franklin is Professor of History at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He co-editor of New Perspectives on Black Educational History and author of The Education of Black Philadelphia and Black Self-Determination.

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Franklin, V. P.
Published by Oxford University Press (1996)
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