Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century

Kevin K. Gaines, Author
Kevin K. Gaines, Author University of North Carolina Press $24.95 (342p) ISBN 978-0-8078-4543-1
Hardcover - 627 pages - 978-1-4696-0647-7
Hardcover - 342 pages - 978-0-8078-2239-5
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Around the turn of the century, between the dying hopes of Reconstruction and the ardent desires of the civil rights movement was uplift, an ideology whereby African American elites believed they could earn respect--and rights--by adopting bourgeois mores. In his first three chapters, Gaines, a scholar of history and African American studies at Princeton, outlines some of the problems and concerns of uplift ideology, and while much of it is intriguing, his biggest beef often seems to be that uplift was not ahead of its time, being neither feminist enough nor sufficiently concerned with the needs of the lower classes. In the six remaining chapters, Gaines offers illustrations through profiles of African Americans. There's Paul Laurence Dunbar, whose dialect poems appealed to whites by continuing stereotypes; W.E.B. Du Bois, whose The Philadelphia Negro tried to reconcile the ideology of self-help with the realities of racism. There are ``race men and women'' who demean the lower classes, and African American men who ignore the plight of women while suffragists ignore the plight of African Americans. In the early chapters, Gaines sexualizes too much without enough substantiation (``the mammy stereotype... provided whites with a forgiving image of maternal black womanhood that released them from a guilty awareness of black women as victims of rape by white men''). But by the end, readers will be left with a much more subtle understanding of the sad paradox of uplift, of African Americans trying to belong to a society that was defined in part by their exclusion. (Feb.)
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