In this essay, Duane argues that reading two disparate texts together—the largely unknown school records chronicling the work of antebellum black children and a text by the most prominent African American author in the canon—allows a powerful model to emerge for reading the mediated voices of children, slaves, and other marginalized people. Duane recovers and analyzes the records of the New York African Free School in the 1810s and 1820s, an archive that features the work of the first generation of black children to inherit freedom in New York City. She argues that the scripted performances of the NYAFS students offer insight into a set of overlapping cultural metaphors that structured black-white relations throughout the nineteenth century and beyond. The interaction between black students and white teachers anticipates the treatment that many early black abolitionists received from white abolitionists—of which the famous clash between Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison is the most prominent example. By untangling the assumptions that underlie these performances, Duane suggests that we can better understand and analyze other interactions scripted by the overarching and intertwined beliefs that African Americans were children, and that children's subjectivities could be shaped according to the will of their educators.
Anna Mae Duane; “Like a Motherless Child”: Racial Education at the New York African Free School and in My Bondage and My Freedom. American Literature 1 September 2010; 82 (3): 461–488. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2010-021
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