Insurrection in Black: Reading Race and Revolt in the Long Nineteenth Century

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“Insurrection in Black: Reading Race and Revolt in the Long Nineteenth Century” examines depictions of black rebellion in American and African American literature spanning from the 1830s to the early 1900s. From enslaved uprisings and black armies to worker strikes and insurgent plots, black rebellion appeared as a recurring image across the antebellum and postbellum periods. “Insurrection in Black” argues that these images of rebellious violence functioned speculatively, imagining for readers new identities, social movements, and communities. The dissertation explores black rebellion’s cultural work in novels, speeches, newspapers, autobiographies, and polemics by Robert Montgomery Bird, Richard Hildreth, Jabez Delano Hammond, Gerrit Smith, John Brown, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lucy Parsons, Sutton E. Griggs, Thomas Dixon, and Pauline Hopkins. A comparative approach to these texts reveals that, far from representing a stable or straightforward politics, black rebellion in print often served competing ends not necessarily aligned with black freedom struggles. Ultimately, this dissertation does more than reveal the speculative power inhering in depictions of rebellious violence: “Insurrection in Black” brings black militancy to the center of the long nineteenth century’s literary and cultural life.