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Despite these political differences, black leaders generally countered anti-black stereotypes by emphasizing class differences among blacks, and their essential role as race leaders.

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Against pervasive claims of black immorality and pathology, educated blacks waged a battle over the representation of their people, a strategy with ambiguous implications and results. In other words, this method of opposing racism tacitly echoed dominant ideas of class and gender hierarchy. Their view that social progress for blacks was ideally measured in patriarchal terms of male-headed families and homes produced tensions between educated men and women. Such expectations of female deference to male authority and leadership were challenged by many educated black women, such as Anna Julia Cooper and the anti-lynching activist and journalist, Ida B.

This version of racial uplift ideology as an anti-racist argument employed by educated blacks is best understood as a complex, varied and sometimes flawed response to a situation in which the range Uplift ideology undermined collective social advancement.

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Many black spokespersons sought to resolve this tension between individual and group status by insisting that individual achievements benefited the entire race. However, many African American men and women interpreted the rhetoric of uplift as a call to public service. They enacted ideals of self-help and service to the group in building educational, reformist social gospel churches , civic and fraternal organizations , settlement houses, newspapers, trade unions, and other public institutions whose constructive social impact exceeded the ideological limitations of uplift.

The mass migration of thousands of African Americans from the South to northern cities during World War I provided new conditions and opportunities for social and political progress. The war had closed off immigration to the U. Those immigrants had formed the backbone of the industrial working class in the U. And African American newspapers such as the Chicago Defender , covertly distributed below the Mason-Dixon line, encouraged southern blacks to leave behind poverty and brutality of Jim Crow for freedom, the right to vote, employment, and educational opportunities in Northern cities.

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As early as the s, Ida B. But World War I provided the catalyst for the northward migration for many thousands of African Americans. Black migration wrought profound transformations on African American politics, society, culture and identity. African American leadership became more protest-oriented and ideologically diverse. Organizations such as the National Association for the With the Great Migration the politics of mass protest began to replace uplift as the way toward black social advancement. As thousands of African American migrants to cities competed with whites for scarce resources of jobs and housing, white mobs attacked African Americans, leading to full-blown race riots.

The African American press proudly reported that African Americans exhibited the militancy of the New Negro in fighting back against these mob attacks. Black leaders spoke less of the crucial role of elites as agents of racial uplift and increasingly embraced a politics of mass protest, labor organization, and economic analyses of the plight of African Americans.

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  • In the realm of culture, new urban musical forms as the blues , gospel and jazz voiced the social outlook and aspirations of working class blacks, and increasingly came to define African American popular culture, even as some educated blacks considered these musical styles controversial and not refined enough to represent the race in a respectable manner.

    The persistent importance of image Racial uplift ideology, the belief that educated, elite blacks have a duty and responsibility for the welfare of the majority of African Americans, remains an influential framework among African Americans for understanding the challenges they continue to face.

    The persistence of racial stereotypes and prejudice fuels the perception among many blacks that racist attitudes must be countered by positive images and exemplary behavior by blacks. Moreover, the fragility of African American social progress and conservative attacks on civil rights reforms since the s have contributed to a renewed popularity of self-help ideology and efforts, as seen in the Million Man March of Despite the significant changes produced by the civil rights movement, U.

    Among African Americans the divide in income, social class, and cultural values is arguably increasing. These conditions seem to assure the continued salience of racial uplift ideology, though whether it assumes a liberal or conservative form depends on its larger sociopolitical context. The challenges of presenting the idea of racial uplift to students as a historically contingent, nuanced and internally contested field of discourse may seem formidable at first glance.

    How did it feel to be considered a problem? Many African American leaders were witnessing the fading away of a dominant U. The North, or the Union, had won the Civil War, but supporters of equal rights for blacks were losing the peace, as manifested by the reconciliation of northern and southern sectional factions throughout the late nineteenth century that culminated in Plessy.

    Understanding the relationship of racial uplift ideology, indeed, African American intellectual and social thought, to dominant U. There are several assumptions that students will need to question to understand how compelling racial uplift ideology was for educated blacks.


    First, they would do well to Students will have to understand the nature of the black middle class in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Not only did the black middle-class fall considerably short of the income and range of occupational and professional opportunities available to their white counterpart, blacks also faced unequal access to institutions of higher learning. Black men and women were banned from attending many southern and northern elite private and public universities and professional schools. Moreover, discrimination made many educated black men and women unable to find employment commensurate with their training.

    Many settled for menial employment. In addition to discrimination that prevented members of black middle-class to achieve income parity with middle-class whites, the very notion of middle-class status was viewed by many whites in racial terms. To be middle-class was equated with the status of the white patriarchal family by many whites, for whom the moral credentials of middle-class black men and women were always suspect.

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    • Secondly, it is useful to remind students that ostensibly progressive social movements can exhibit contradictory political tendencies. In other words, it is unrealistic to expect Reform movements can be contradictory. African Americans at the turn of the century struggled against racism, but some, in doing so, expressed anti-labor sentiments and gender hierarchies that reflected the dominant labor and gender politics of that era. Students often express surprise and disappointment upon learning of the contradictory politics of s social movements, such as the retrograde sexist and homophobic tendencies of activists in the civil rights movement and the New Left student movement.

      A corollary point for understanding the sometimes contradictory nature of racial uplift ideology is that it is not particularly helpful to view black elites, like white middle-class women reformers, in stark and simplistic terms of either accommodation or resistance, or as either radical or conservative.

      My scholarship concerns the relationship between literature and social change. I ask questions about identity, justice, and national belonging and I am especially interested in writers associated with American social movements of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

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      Quentin Miller Cambridge UP , in press. Joycelyn Moody Cambridge UP , in press. Michele Elam Cambridge UP, , Robert E. Terrill Cambridge UP, , Catherine's U. Paul, MN, June 18, Skip to main site navigation Skip to main content. Home Academics Faculty Brian Norman. CB Send an email.