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Nation Within a Nation

Overview

John Ernest offers a comprehensive survey of the broad-ranging and influential African American organizations and networks formed in the North in the late eighteenth century through the end of the Civil War. He examines fraternal organizations, churches, conventions, mutual aid benefit and literary societies, educational organizations, newspapers, and magazines. Ernest argues these organizations demonstrate how African Americans self-definition was not solely determined by slavery as they tried to create ...
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A Nation Within a Nation

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Overview

John Ernest offers a comprehensive survey of the broad-ranging and influential African American organizations and networks formed in the North in the late eighteenth century through the end of the Civil War. He examines fraternal organizations, churches, conventions, mutual aid benefit and literary societies, educational organizations, newspapers, and magazines. Ernest argues these organizations demonstrate how African Americans self-definition was not solely determined by slavery as they tried to create organizations in the hope of creating a community.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
For most of the 19th century, African-American people—their culture, potential, and possibilities—were largely defined by non African-Americans. Despite efforts, at times dangerous and even illegal, to define themselves as a community, cultural cues were being written by whites and the African-American community had no way of distinguishing itself or dispelling persistent stereotypes. Writing in a straight-forward style, Ernest (Chaotic Justice), Distinguished Professor of American Literature at Western Virginia University, parses a great deal of historical material about African-American organizing around the Civil War, when the community sought to define itself with fraternal organizations, churches, mutual aid societies, educational groups, and newspapers. Ernest presents a meticulous history that shows the depth of community organization efforts, both in the North and the South, long before emancipation, which will likely surprise readers whose ideas about community organizing were formed during the last election, when Barack Obama made the phrase part of the American vernacular. Ernest is exhaustive in his detail, for better and worse: he often gets bogged down in minutia and withholds his thesis until the end, which will frustrate the casual reader but reward his core audience. (Mar.)
Booklist
African Americans before the Civil War developed communities and within them an incredible array of organizations and associations aimed at racial and social uplift. Ernest comprehensively surveys these community formations, many founded by freedmen motivated by a need for self-preservation and self-determination in a nation that denied them freedom and full citizenship. Communities of interest developed around the issues of abolition, education, and religion as well as a need to address the negative images of blacks promulgated by white society. African Americans created churches, mutual benefit societies, fraternal organizations, national and local conventions, schools, literary and educational societies, and the black press to institutionally support their ambitions for full citizenship. Some of the community-organizing efforts were interracial, with whites, well-intending and not, often lending some support. The communities and their organizations fed off each other, with church affiliations leading to fraternal affiliations and promotion of education. The aims and traditions established by some of these pre–Civil War communities and organizations endure to this day, notably within the powerful AME and AME Zion churches.
CHOICE
Ernest (American literature, West Virginia Univ.) considers communities created by African Americans who were not enslaved and who could claim at least a nominal portion of freedom available in the US in the 18th century. These African Americans worked hard to create 'positive' communities in the face of the racist laws and restrictions of the oppressive US society in which they lived. These communities—cultural institutions, organizations, and so on—were marked by shared cultural practices, community affiliations, and a blending of heritage and experience—all of which derived from establishing a collective identity. The most common and important of these communities was (and remains) the African American church, but Ernest also documents various societies and mutual self-help organizations, including national freemasonry, Odd Fellows, fraternities and sororities, convention movements, women's movements, the African American press, and educational organizations. Including a postscript and notes on sources, this book does not offer anything that cannot be found in other resources; however, those interested in an overview of the genesis and growth of African American organizations will find this book helpful.
The Journal of American History
There are valuable insights to be gained from framing African American identity as a contingent rather than fixed...and A Nation within a Nation delivers on much of that promise....The book wonderfully communicates the richness of black institutional life and the often-breathtaking scope of its ambitions.
William L. Andrews
Thorough, lucid, and learned, A Nation Within a Nation reveals the processes by which nineteenth-century African Americans fashioned religious, social, cultural, and educational institutions to create community. This consistently informative book further buttresses Ernest's well-deserved prominence among leading intellectual and cultural historians of nineteenth-century black America.
Robert S. Levine
John Ernest's elegant A Nation within a Nation offers the best short introduction to African American community formation during the pre-Civil War period. Ranging through religious, educational, political, literary, and social reform organizations, Ernest shows how African Americans conceptualized and practiced—indeed 'performed'—black group identity in response to whites' antiblack racism. An essential study that illuminates the historical origins of the community-building work of Barack Obama and other twentieth- and twenty-first-century African American leaders.
Journal of American History
There are valuable insights to be gained from framing African American identity as a contingent rather than fixed...and A Nation within a Nation delivers on much of that promise....The book wonderfully communicates the richness of black institutional life and the often-breathtaking scope of its ambitions.
The Journal of African American History
Grappling with the issue of how African American communities were formed and how they framed their political and social identity is at the heart of John Ernest's monograph A Nation Within a Nation. . . . By reframing the context in which historians evaluate black leaders and organizations, A Nation Within a Nation successfully navigates these familiar waters to produce a dynamic reinterpretation of the definition of 'community' within African American culture. ... John Ernest's A Nation Within a Nation should appeal to scholars and students interested in understanding and explaining the importance of those who worked to create institutions and organizations in African American communities.
Library Journal
Ernest focuses on the decades from the late 18th century up to the Civil War in the North. He examines the powers of African American organizations and networks, showing the context beyond slavery through which blacks found self-definition.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566638074
  • Publisher: Dee, Ivan R. Publisher
  • Publication date: 4/16/2011
  • Series: American Ways Series
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

John Ernest is Eberly Family Distinguished Professor of American Literature at West Virginia University. In addition to several editions of nineteenth-century African American texts, he has published three books, Resistance and Reformation in Nineteenth-Century African-American Literature: Brown, Wilson, Jacobs, Delany, Douglass, and Harper, Liberation Historiography: African American Writers and the Challenge of History, 1794–1861, and Chaotic Justice: Rethinking African American Literary History.
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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Cities on the Hill: Organizing Communities
Chapter 2: Mutual Interest, Mutual Benefit, Mutual Relief
Chapter 3: "Plain and Simple Gospel"
Chapter 4: "The United Wisdom of the World"
Chapter 5: "The Collected Wisdom of Our People"
Chapter 6: "Chains of Ignorance"
Chapter 7: "Our Warfare Lies in the Field of Thought"
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