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Representing the RaceA New Political History of African American Literature$
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Gene Andrew Jarrett

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780814743386

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814743386.001.0001

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The Politics of Early African American Literature

The Politics of Early African American Literature

(p.21) 1 The Politics of Early African American Literature
Representing the Race

Gene Andrew Jarrett

NYU Press

This chapter looks at the debate between Thomas Jefferson and David Walker—an African American author—over whether New World African intellectual culture should be an entrance examination to the early American polity. It provides a reading of Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia and its 1829 critique, David Walker's Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America. In Notes, Jefferson's dismissal of the ability of blacks to reason and imagine, and then to produce exceptional literature, was so reprehensible that subsequent generations of black writers sought to refute it. Indeed, Walker attempts to debunk Jefferson's prescription of reason and imagination for political citizenship by taking advantage of his membership in an educated black elite whose broad grasp of Western history and whose access to the resources of print culture enhanced its authority in the public sphere.

Keywords:   Thomas Jefferson, David Walker, African intellectual culture, American polity, black writers, political citizenship

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