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Empire of RuinBlack Classicism and American Imperial Culture$
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John Levi Barnard

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190663599

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190663599.001.0001

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In Plain Sight

In Plain Sight

Slavery and the Architecture of Democracy

Chapter:
(p.59) 2 In Plain Sight
Source:
Empire of Ruin
Author(s):

John Levi Barnard

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780190663599.003.0003

This chapter elaborates three primary elements of “black classicism” that African American writers, editors, and activists would develop in relation to dominant modes of classicism and monumental culture: the appropriation of the classically inflected rhetoric of revolutionary liberty to the cause of radical abolitionism; the critical juxtaposition of the neoclassical architecture of national buildings and monuments with images of the infrastructure of slavery; and the imaginative transformation of these buildings and monuments from icons of democracy and civilization to symbols of imperial hubris and harbingers of ruin. The chapter traces these developments through the pages of black newspapers and abolitionist polemics by radical figures such as David Walker, Henry Highland Garnet, and especially William Wells Brown. Brown draws together all the elements of antebellum black classicism in writings across a number of genres, from memoir and travel narrative to moving panorama, antislavery lecture, and finally his novel Clotel.

Keywords:   slavery, abolitionism, Henry Highland Garnet, David Walker, William Wells Brown, African American newspapers, Washington, DC, monumental culture, architecture, US Capitol

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