As Stefan M. Wheelock notes in his preface to Barbaric Culture and Black Critique, “The hashtag ‘blacklivesmatter’ . . . suggests that liberal idealism has only half-lived up to its promises” (ix). The three books under review represent a dynamic teleology of this compromised liberalism as it gets articulated in textual reflections of African American personhood and pain, starting with the black intellectual contemporaries of the American Revolution, continuing through the robust canon of antebellum literature, and ending with visual representations of the violent South from Jim Crow through Hurricane Katrina.

In his own analysis, Wheelock does a reading of central and lesser-known figures in black intellectual history who provide some of the earliest critiques of American liberalism, with special attention to the shared religious tone of their indictments. He discusses the alarmist apocalyptic appeals in which these writers deployed the...

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