Manipulation and Resistance: White Educators and Black Students in Nineteenth-Century American Literature

Natasha Loran Kohl, Fordham University


"Manipulation and Resistance" examines nineteenth-century American literature's preoccupation with narratives of education. It reveals a national concern with the meaning of education and its centrality to political, cultural and racial formations. In particular, the project focuses on the contentious history of the education of African American children and the different ways that racial ideology is disseminated in schools. I identify a narrative of white manipulation and violence that emerges from white and African American authors' who reveal how schools and teachers produce and reinforce conceptions of race. I ultimately center on spaces of resistance, revealing literature as a site for speaking back to traditional narratives about racial identity. My first chapter argues that William Hamilton's "Oration Delivered in the African Zion Church" (1827) is crucial to our understanding of the complex position of black educational advocates in the antebellum North. I show that the "double-voicedness" of Hamilton's work is responsive to the competing demands of accommodating white philanthropists while advocating for black autonomy through education. My second chapter builds on this analysis of accommodation and resistance in the northern free black community by placing Frank Webb's novel, The Garies and their Friends (1857), within the trickster tradition, arguing that through the mischievous antics of the character of young Charlie Ellis, Webb creates a space to advocate for black control over education and reassess the limitations of white philanthropy. Chapter Three examines ambivalence in Harriet Beecher Stowe's portrayal of black education and white philanthropy in the novel Dred (1856), emphasizing her contradictory portrayals of both sympathetic white paternalism and resistant black educators, whose agency drives the action of the text. Moving into the later nineteenth century, Chapter Four examines the memoirs of white missionaries Elizabeth Hyde Bethune (1893) and Maria Waterbury (1891) to reveal how a tradition of white philanthropy encouraged black subordination. I conclude "Manipulation and Resistance" by considering twentieth-century narratives of education and race in William Faulkner, Jean Toomer, Flannery O'Conner, Ralph Ellison, Shirley Anne Williams, and Toni Morrison.

Subject Area

African American Studies|American literature

Recommended Citation

Kohl, Natasha Loran, "Manipulation and Resistance: White Educators and Black Students in Nineteenth-Century American Literature" (2011). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3495866.