Aristocrats of Color: The Black Elite, 1880-1920 / Edition 1

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Every American city had a small, self-aware, and active black elite, who felt it was their duty to set the standard for the less fortunate members of their race and to lead their communities by example. Rank within this black upper class rested on such issues as the status of one's forebears as either house servants or field hands, the darkness of one's skin, and the level of one's manners and education. Professor Gatewood's study examines this class of African Americans by looking at the genealogies and occupations of specific families and individuals throughout the United States and their roles in their various communities. The resulting narrative is a full and illuminating account of a most influential segment of the African-American population. It explores fully the distinctive background, prestige, attitudes, behavior, power, and culture of this class. The Black Community Studies series from the University of Arkansas Press, edited by Professor Gatewood, continues to examine many of the same themes first explored in this important study.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A compelling story of proud and talented people. Gatewood's narrative is sensitive and objective, and it is always good reading." —David Edwin Harrell, Jr., University of Alabama
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Members of America's ``colored aristocracy'' or ``Black Four Hundred'' viewed themselves as superior to other blacks in culture, sophistication, wealth and achievement. Flourishing in such cities as New Orleans, Washington, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia particularly during the 40 years following the end of Reconstruction, these mostly light-skinned black Americans were sometimes accused of being snobbish, color-conscious and self-serving. Yet, as University of Arkansas historian Gatewood points out, this group had figured prominently in the abolitionist movement and supported reform crusades. Their ultimate failure, according to Gatewood, lay in their misperception that they could win for the black masses an acceptance and toleration which they believed that they themselves were coming to enjoy. This fascinating, engaging study breaks new ground in analyzing class divisions and the precarious position of an elite perched between black and white worlds. Photos. (Dec.)
Library Journal
Class has been a powerful force within Afro-American society, at times dividing blacks almost as sharply as race separated them from whites, Gatewood shows. Focusing on ``old families'' who saw themselves as superior in culture, sophistication, and achievement, his four-part study explores social gradations among blacks in each of the nation's regions and particularly in Washington, D.C. His pert prose and eye for pretensions and peccadilloes make for lively reading of who was who, where they came from and went, and how they thought and acted. He casts much debated issues of class, color, and race in a clear historical framework that challenges stereotypes of a black racial monolith and tests taboos of color consciousness and miscegenation. Every collection on American and Afro-American social history or thought should have this important book. Highly recommended.-- Thomas J. Davis, Univ. at Buffalo, N.Y.
In the years following reconstruction, up until 1920, there developed in the United States a small yet self-aware and active aristocracy. detailed account of the most influential segment of the Afro-American community, illuminating distinctions in background, prestige, attitudes, behavior, power, and culture. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781557285935
  • Publisher: University of Arkansas Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 1,120,439
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Willard B. Gatewood is Alumni Distinguished Professor of History emeritus at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and the author or co-author of eleven other books, including Black Americans and the White Man's Burden 1898–1903 (1975, University of Illinois Press).

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