Welcome to the Department of English at Rutgers University

01   TTH4   CAC  17680   JONES   MU-212

The Literature of Black New York from Slavery to the Great Migration

This course uses African and African American cultural and literary productions to trace histories of black life in and around New York City from the time of slavery through the turn of the twentieth century. We will study a vast array of cultural practices and literary forms to examine the rise of chattel slavery and its gradual demise in the region; the limits of emancipation; African Americans’ role in making New York City the nation’s literary capital; the development of black Brooklyn in the wake of the Civil War; and why the city became the ultimate destination for millions of African Americans fleeing the Jim Crow south. These texts include the literary and oratorical work of slave poet Jupiter Hammon; the speeches and (auto)biographical narratives of Sojourner Truth; celebratory orations on the abolition of the international trade; articles, editorials, and letters in Freedom’s Journal, the first African American newspaper; the dramatic work of William Brown’s African Theatre, the first black theatre company in the U.S.; the experimental essays and pseudonymous correspondence published in Frederick Douglass’ Paper; families histories of post-Civil War black Brooklyn; and two novels: Paul Laurence Dunbar’s The Sport of the Gods (1902) and James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912). Throughout the semester, we will take a number of trips to New York City to work in the archives of black New York, explore what remains from our periods of study, and walk in the footsteps of those whom we are studying. 


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Statue of "Willie the Silent"