ENGL 637 African American Literature

ENGL 637 African American Literature

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ENGL 637 African American Literature

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ENGL 637 African American Literature

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Course Code: ENGL637
University: Liberty University

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The report has been focused towards the greater understanding of African American literature and its significance concerning both the American society and the world. The report have been focused towards the systematic understanding of the subject matter. The contribution of African American literature towards the struggles of African Americans over the years have been essentially discussed and analyzed through the study. The history of the community has also been traced through the various phases of literatures. The early African American literatures have been analyzed moving on to the slave narratives of the mid-19th century.
The Harlem renaissance has been analyzed and the literary contributions and effects of the literature on the civil rights movements have been essentially focused. The study has focused towards understanding the deeper significance of African American literature on American society and culture. Subsequently, its value towards the development of several cultural aspects of the African American community has also been effectively discussed.
The literary value has also been judged according to the effect it had towards the development of other cultural aspects such as dance and music. In essence, a wholesome extensive research of the various aspects related to the development and progress of African American literature has been done through the study. The Study has taken into consideration qualitative information while effectively assessing, analyzing and evaluating the subject matter.
Essential literary works have been consulted in bringing forward the report. Extensive focus have been provided towards gathering large number of sources.


The report focuses on African American literature and the various implications of the same on the past and contemporary society. Majority of the African American community were forced to live lives of slavery for the greater part of the history of the United States. This includes the pre as well as post-independence stage of the United States of America. Hence, African American literature is significantly influenced by the slavery era oppression of the community. Moving forward the literatures became significantly influenced by the struggles of the black community to gain political representation, social acceptance and equal rights with their white countrymen. However, there is also significant presence of religious, cultural, feminism, humanism and other motives. The literatures have also been heavily influenced by the African heritage of the migrants. Hence, the theme of longing for home also form essential aspects pertaining to these types of literature. The literatures have significant religious influence with sermons, gospels and spiritual inclinations. African American Christian literature is a significant part of the literary heritage created by the African American writers. According to many literary critics the literatures have helped the community to portray their struggles and significantly influence the civil rights movements that have taken place historically. The study will analyze the essential effects of the various literary works.
Problem Statement
The African American community has faced oppression, persecution, segregation and racism throughout the history of the United States. Some of these issues still persist in the present day. The factors that have affected the lives of black Americans have greatly influenced their culture and literature. The community had to fight for gaining civil rights even in the late 20th century after slavery was abolished towards the mid-19th Century. However, the presence of African American literature predates the independence of the United States. The first recorded African American writer was a slave woman named Lucy Terry. She wrote a ballad on an Indian attack that took place in Massachusetts. She was also reportedly tried as she was accused of forgery assuming the lack of knowledge of Africans to produce literature. Hence, even concerning the literary history of African American writers there have been a lot of prejudice and unfair treatment. The study is focused towards further analyzing the problem of African American literatures and the various factors that have influenced it over time.
Research questions
The research questions are aimed towards understanding all the essential implications of African American literature.

What are the essential factors that have historically influenced African literature?
What are the effects of past and present African American literature on the American society and the historic black rights movements?
What are the implications of African American literature on the world literary scene?

Research aim and objectives
The aim of the research is to find out the essential implications of African American literature on the literary heritage of the United States and the world.
The objectives are:

To analyze the essential factors that have influenced African American literature
To evaluate the effects of the historical and contemporary literature on the black American civil rights movements
To find out the greater impact of African American literature on the literary heritage of the world

Significance of the Study
The study is aimed towards providing a comprehensive analysis of African American literatures that have greatly portrayed the lives of African Americans historically and even in contemporary society. The study is aimed towards understanding the stories that have been described by black Americans in their own words over the years. It will help towards providing a detailed analysis of the issues that have affect the community over the years considering the narratives provided by the members of the same community. The study through the evaluation of various African American literatures can provide essential insights into the history of black Americans. This can be used as a good reference to future researches on the same or related topics.
Thesis Statement
The thesis statement of the study is that the African American Literatures have given voices to the historically oppressed community to voice their opinions much before the civil rights movement and hence contributing greatly to the black rights movements of the past and contemporary society.
Theoretical Background
In theory, African American literature has been considered by many to be protest literature. The community has historically voiced its concerns through contributing essentially to a wide array of literary works that have been written by Black Americans. Many of the writers have had firsthand experiences of the persecution, oppression, segregation and slavery that the community was subject to for a long part of the American history. Hence, theoretically the literatures have been a voice of protest for the oppressed community. The two greatest influences over African American literature in the US have been the Abolitionist movement and the later Civil Rights movement (Gates Jr, 2016). Both of these movements were important historical events concerning the black community of the United States. The early black literature concerning the period from the late 18th to the mid-19th century is dominated by protest literature. Much of the black literatures of this time largely went unnoticed till they were published much later. The literatures were sometimes gruesome narratives of the stories of black slaves in the slavery and pre-civil war era of American history. The later literatures, mostly written and published in the 20th Century are concerned more with the civil rights movement of the blacks against racial segregation. It becomes very important to understand the historic struggles of the blacks and the profound effect of religion, spirituality and culture over the progress of the community through various eras of American history. Theoretically the literatures are concerned with the development of the community from being considered slaves to being free and moving on to be socially marginalized even in the 20th century. There was a growth of creative writing among the black writers at the beginning of the 20th century (Jay, 2018). However, the great depression of the 1930s led to the black literary critics asking for more literatures concerning the actual social issues that were being faced by the community.
The urban realism branch of literature concerns with the depiction of everyday harsh realities of urban life. This became an important genre that was used by the African Americans to portray a separate branch of urban realism that focused on the urban lives of blacks that mostly faced racial prejudice and segregation. Hence, there was a transformation of the black race from the early period to the modern period that is significant. The marginalization of the community over the different phases of American society has become a dominant theme of the African American literatures (Harris, 2015). This is due to the fact that dominant literary works of different times describe the historic situations that were prevalent at the time. A peak time of African American literature was during the civil war when slave narratives became a dominant form of literature depicting the tension and controversial standpoints of the north and south with regards to slavery laws. The northern literature of the times often depicted the cruel oppression of the African Americans at the time. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Stowe of 1852 is such an essential work of this time. The southern writers often provided their own versions of literatures in support of slavery. The stories often depicted the worse working lives of free laborers in the north. Slave narratives hence became the point of great political debates at this point in time.
The dominant theories in regards to the slave literatures is that they depicted both the political turmoil of the time along with the perils of the black community (Gates Jr, 2016). The stories were sometimes spiritual in nature, sometimes they consisted of stories of progress and literature for inspiring abolitionist struggles. The essence of the narratives became significant in the political struggles of the period and subsequently to the later black rights movements that took place mainly in the 20th century. Racial segregation was one of the principal factors contributing to a large number of African American literatures written in this period (Harris, 2015). However, a large number of blacks turned to religion to seek refuge from the problem and build the community at the same time that provided a marked religious influence on the literatures of this period.
Research philosophy
A research philosophy of positivism has been used for the study. The study is focused towards systematically understanding the essential implications of African American literature. Positivism utilizes large scale analytical frameworks for the complete evaluation of a subject matter. Hence, it becomes possible to employ tools that can help the thorough analysis of the research topic. Positivism has been used as a large number of aspects and factors related to the African American literature can be significantly analyzed through the same. Positivism has also been utilized in order to provide a systematic structure to the study. This can help in the systematic analysis of the major aspects related to the literatures. The focus has been more on gathering essential qualitative data in order to help in the research process (Mackey & Gass, 2015). The implications are gathered through positive structured research. The research structure has been used in order to gather the most important implications of the subject matter.
Research approach
A deductive approach has been used in the study. Thus, the study has focused towards the analysis of the general ideas and validating their significance. In the deductive approach a relevant theory or general assumption is tested against the available information (Mackey & Gass, 2015). This is done in order to help validate the assumed notions. The thesis statement that has been formed has been analyzed with regards to the relevant literatures. This has helped to form relevant ideas concerning the value of the subject matter. African American literatures will be assessed on the basis of their literary value in the literary heritage of the United States. The deductive approach has also helped to determine the value of the literatures with regards to the times in which they were being written (Lewis, 2015). This has provided significant insights into the value of the research and its major implications. The research questions have been structured in order to evaluate the essential aspects of African American literature.
Research design
The study has focused on gathering effective and relevant qualitative data in regards to the subject. The research design that has been used is exploratory research. Exploratory research helps in the effective analysis of various aspects concerned with the subject matter. This kind of research aims towards finding the various factors related to the subject matter of the research (Smith, 2015). This helps in the essential understanding of the research topic. Rather than taking quantitative measurements, the research has focused towards the effective analysis of the main topic of the research and the various essential elements that are related to it. The research design has helped in forming essential implications concerning the subject.
Data Collection
The study has relied on the collection of secondary data. The topic of the research and the essential aspects connected with the analysis of the subject have made it necessary to gather qualitative data. Thus, secondary sources have been consulted for the entire study. The sources consulted are journals, books, articles and other essential texts in regards to the subject. The main focus has been towards understanding the greater implications of the subject. Hence, the study of related literature has been made necessary for the effective evaluation of the subject. The secondary data have been gathered from the most relevant sources. The books or journals consulted have been written by credible authors (Choy, 2014). Moreover, the extensive research of the topic has been done through the consultation of many historical works related to the subject. Both new and old literatures have been reviewed.
Ethical consideration
The study has been done without taking any unfair means to complete the research. No forms of data manipulation has been done in the representation of the data. All the data that have been provided have been presented considering the most reliable and relevant sources. Since, the study takes into consideration literary sources, the authentic evaluation of the various previous researches have been done. All the consulted literatures have been effectively validated before being used for the study. Essential consideration has been given towards providing the true representations of the data gathered through various sources (Choy, 2014).
Literature Review
Development of African-American literature
African American literature essentially developed as the first blacks brought to the United States as slaves began to learn the English language and writing. This created an opportunity for them to write about the various aspects that concerned their lives at that time. However, much of the early African American literature were discovered much later than the actual period in which they were written or composed. The severe racial subjugation of the community in the 18th and 19th Centuries limited the number of early literary works produced by the black community of the United States. According to Kaplan (2017) much of the recognition of African American literature occurred during the Harlem renaissance in the 1920s. The previous literary works by various American literary critics tend to sometimes look into the literatures produced by blacks only from a historical perspective. These stories are also a very distinct portrayal of the evolution of black lives and cultural perspectives towards developing better conceptions about self-identity. However, the historical context of African American Literature is also significantly large. The Heroic Slave was one of the greatest historic literary works of the 19th century.
Phillis Wheatley, the 18th century African American writer started the tradition of African American literature (Gates Jr, Smith & Benston, 2014). This was at a time when the slave narratives of the mid nineteenth century had not dominated the literature composed by African Americans. As opined by Harris (2016) women always had a special place in African American literature and were always portrayed as strong figures in the various literary works. They were dominant as writers and the image of the black woman was vividly used in the various literatures that were composed in the 19th century. This gained further momentum throughout the 20th century. According to Ruland & Bradbury (2016) American literature has always been influenced by African American writers. They further opine that the development of African American literature was one of the most important events in the history of literature in the United States. Well into the 19th century, the literatures composed by blacks after they escaped to their freedom in the north began to make essential impact on the literary scene of America. Slave narratives were one of the biggest contributions of African American literature and significantly affected the slavery oriented political debate at that time. The Civil war was a high point concerning the early African American literature. This was the time when the literatures actually began to be recognized within the American literary community. However, the 19th century was still not a good time for the literature as many of the works composed by blacks could not get published due to the lack of access of the blacks to reliable publishers (Gates Jr, Smith & Benston, 2014). This sometimes was due to racial discrimination and subjugation more than anything else. However, the prospects for the growth of African American literature grew to in the early 20th century. Figures like Frederick Douglas stood out from the rest and became one of the revolutionary figures of Black American literature (Pratt, 2015). The Harlem renaissance of the 1920s was a significant development concerning African American literature. Figures like poet Langston Hughes led the literary change that was based on depicting the lives of the predominantly black residents of Harlem.
African-American literature and Black rights movements
It is a known fact that the African American Literatures can be classified as protest literature. Hence, from the times of the slave narratives till the times of the civil rights movements, this type of literatures have depicted the lives and struggles of the blacks. Moreover, these texts have also served as literary motivations for the struggles that the community has endured. The slave narratives of the mid-19th century were important literatures of the first phase of literatures that were produced (Gates Jr, 2014). The autobiography of Frederick Douglas and Harriet Jacobs’s, Incidents in the life of a slave girl in 1961 are the most important literary works considering the slave narratives. The writings depict the struggles of the black community at this time. The community was caught in the crossfire between slavery and abolitionism. According to Ruland & Bradbury (2016) the slave narratives however served more as political writings rather can contributing towards any movement of the blacks. However, these literatures were important towards the prospects of abolitionist views. Since, the civil war was the major factor that affected the black community at the time, the slave narratives served as essential tools for promoting abolitionist views (Foster & Smith, 1994). Moreover, the spiritual texts of these times served to keep the African Americans motivated in the midst of all the turmoil.
However, much stronger literature that served essential purpose before or during the civil rights movements were written by black writers. The post slavery era black literatures looked forwards towards depicting the problems of the community that were beyond slavery. Among the most important writers of the post-slavery period is Du Bois (1868-1963). His essays were much important tools for the depiction of black lives (Bloom, 2004). Booker T. Washington (1856 to 1915) with his works focused towards ending the racial prejudices that were prevalent in the United States. Another similar writer was Josephine Brown, who wrote about slavery and bondage (King, 2016). During the Harlem renaissance of the 1920s, writers such as Langston Hughes were prominent in providing effective literate that motivated subsequent black movements (Bloom, 2004). Moving forwards the most important phase of the modern African American literature was reached. This was the civil rights era where the blacks garnered a sense of greater independence due to their improving financial positions. Cities like Chicago became important centers for black culture. James Baldwin started the literary rejuvenation of African American literature (Pratt, 2015). His works provided early inspirations for black rights movements by instilling a feeling of nationalism and sexual liberty. Later on writers such as Ralph Ellison with works such as the Invisible Man in 1952 provide essential insights into the lives of black citizens and the need for the establishment of their rights (Cohen, 2016). The rise of the female writers in the time of the Civil Rights movement provided greater mileage to the movement itself. Poets like Lorraine Hansberry and Amiri Baraka became important figures with their poetry (King, 2016). However, the most important aspect of literature during this period were the literatures composed by the leaders themselves like Martin Luther King Jr. He wrote an important literary work of this period known as “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. The Civil Rights period was a phase of the biggest black awakening in history of the world.
Greater cultural significance of the literatures
In essence, African American literature reached beyond the literary scenes of the United States. They were much talked about literary works in Europe. This was true in case of both historic works and literary works of the recent past (Gates Jr, 2014). The slave narratives continue to be important reference documents for the international human rights organizations. The narratives are often cited across various human rights conferences across the world. An important literary work with regards to African American Literature that has been used as a reference material for many civil rights campaigns across the world is Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. It is largely a speech document written by the most prominent leader of the Civil Rights movement. The work has been regarded as one of the best works directly related to the Civil Rights movements (Gates Jr, 2016). It has been used as a significant motivation for subsequent black rights movements and demonstrations. It still has significance in the present day rights movements that take place across the US and the world.
However, literatures concerning the civil rights movement should not be considered as the first of its kind to majorly influence world literature. The Harlem renaissance of the 1920’s had set the tone for the international recognition of literature written by the members of the black community (Gates Jr, 2016). The renaissance redefined the world perspectives in regards to the African American cultural aspects. Moreover, the integration of the black and white urban American culture attracted the attention of the world towards the possible formation of a non-segregated American society. It was more important in the context of the black citizenship recognition of the world as it set the tone for the civil rights movements that took place in the 1950s and 60s (Harris, 2016). The base for the world recognition of African American literature was created through the literary works of the Harlem renaissance. The slavery era narratives provided an important socio-economic, cultural and political perspective in regards to the position of the African Americans at that time in the United States (Olney, 1984). The 20th century literatures attracted the attention of the world towards the segregation between the blacks and the whites concerning the American society. Both phases of literary works have significantly contributed towards spreading awareness about racial subjugation and human rights issues. The movements of the African American rights groups at various times in history actually coincided with other major movements across the world against racial prejudice. Many of the modern human rights ideas and multicultural outlooks were formed due to the protest literatures written across the world (Manning, 2016). Much of these literatures were contributed by the African American community. Historically the issues faced by the community have been the most talk about social issues in the world.  Moreover, the art forms such as Jazz and hip hop formed as a part of the greater effect of these types of literature. They later went on to form marked global influence and essentially portrayed the American culture to the rest of the world.
Discussion of Thesis Development
It can definitely be said after evaluating the various literatures concerning the development and progress of African American literature that historically these type of literatures have provided a voice to the community. The community that had to fight many battles in order to establish their full rights in the United States did require a source of inspiration and an effective channel to voice their issues. African American literatures served to help this requirements as it was literature that was by the blacks depicting their hardships through firsthand experience. The various aspects of African American literature point towards its origins as protest literatures. The study has considered the statement that the early African American literatures are the basic literatures that led to the growth of greater black American movements of the 20th century (Dolinar, 2012). In this light it is important to consider that although the slave narratives cover a substantial part of the early African American literatures, the significance of other literatures like the spiritual texts and tales of redemption cannot be assumed to be having any lesser impact. The various writers, literary phases and movements have been discussed above. It was also found that the 20th century was a phase of rapid development of African American Literature and culture. However, it cannot be denied that the early development of African American literature resulted in the subsequent rise of African American writers and socio-cultural movements in the United States.
The slave narratives provided a context for the pursuit of freedom. Hence, the community learnt that it would have to portray its struggles to the world and inspire the community for change. The spiritual literatures provided the much needed religious backing to the community. In essence the spiritual writings resulted in the community developing a deeper spiritual sense. This helped the community to hold their ground post the slavery era. The new lives of the blacks were tough and required a strong sense of community. This was much greatly influenced by the spiritual literatures of the time. Hence, the literatures of the early period of the African American Literature made way for the later African American literatures to flourish. It has to be remembered that the growth of literature concerning the African American community coincided with the cultural, socio-political, economic and spiritual development of the community. The end of the slavery era created new problems for the community. Despite the fact that there were no slavery in this period, the pre-existing racial prejudices remained. This continued for a long time and was a predominant aspect of the American society till the mid-20th Century, civil rights movements (Dolinar, 2012). Survival in these situations depended on how the community could unite towards tackling their social challenges. The literatures of the previous era both motivated and inspired the community towards developing a sense of protest. A thought of bringing about change was instilled within the community that later gave rise to the Harlem renaissance that in turn greatly contributed towards the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 60s. Literatures also contributed towards the development of literary cultures within the community and an inclinations towards the arts and humanities was formed.
According to Green (2000) the salves narratives have got particular recognition for a number of essential reasons. They were first hand documents of the oppressions that the slaves had to face during the era. Moreover, slave narratives essentially provided perspectives about the slavery era that were not provided by any other literatures that portrayed the problems of slavery in that age. They were in particular very important as they depicted the everyday problems that were faced by the slaves in their own words (Gates, 2016). There was little left for the imagination as the portrayal of the persecution that were faced by the blacks were done in the context of hard hitting reality. Normally the views of the white populations in regards to black literatures have been much influenced by certain essential demands of the white populations from the stories concerning the blacks (Bland Jr, 2016). There was the prevalence of an entertainment demand from the African American arts. However, the slave narratives provide uneasy storylines with nothing but the direct portrayal of reality. Thus, the literatures remained essential part of the American literary heritage. It is thus very important to consider the essential role of slave narratives when assessing their value in regards to the development of subsequent black literature. The literatures that were composed by black writers post the slave narratives had borrowed a lot from the narratives. This not only meant the style of writing but also the philosophical vigor with which the narratives were written. It is important to also consider the contribution of the spiritual writings towards providing a sense of religious liberty among the community. Essentially African American literatures have contributed greatly towards the intellectual growth of the community. Thus, the assumption that the literatures have helped towards the growth of later literatures and strengthened the position of the community in the country can be greatly considered to be true. The influences were not confined to literature as subsequent genres of art like music, dance and pop culture were also influenced by the earlier works of African American writers. It is also important to know that a lot of the works of African American authors did not get printed at the time in which they were composed. This was due to the fact that prejudices existed among the publishers in regards to the works composed by African American writers. This was also a primary reason behind many of the writings not being published. Only a few writers got their works published and even fewer got recognition for their writings. Thus, the later writers had to work hard not only towards depicting the aspects of black culture, society and lives but also towards getting their works recognized. The influence of the early African American literatures on the past and present black society is great considering the ways in which literatures composed by black writers over the ages have influenced black lives, movements and civil liberty.
The extensive study of the various aspects related to African American literatures have contributed towards gathering better knowledge about the historical and contemporary significance of these works. The development of African American literature point towards the historic progress of the black community from being brought to the mainland largely as slaves to the creation of their own unique identity in the country. The emergence of black writers even at the times of great persecution of the black community is in itself a remarkable literary achievement. Black writers in the United States have always carried the enthusiasm for protesting against the various issues faced by the community through their writings. The study has helped to understand that the literatures of the early period of African American writers have contributed towards the growth and development of African American literatures in the later periods. The historic voice of the community against oppression faced in the American society have been well documented through both the early and modern period of the literatures. Hence, in essence the writings of the African Americans have helped to empower the community throughout the ages. This is especially true for the later generation of literatures that helped to effectively depict the problems of segregation of blacks and whites in the American society. However, the contribution of black writers to other forms of literatures, mainly spiritual cannot be altogether dismissed as these were also part of the essential literary traditions of the blacks in the United States. In conclusion, it can definitely be stated that African American literature has been responsible for inspiring and motivating change in the American society and provided a significantly influenced the other human rights movements that have taken place across the world. In essence, literatures composed by the blacks in the United States have been protest literatures, however, it also led to the essential growth of other cultural art forms that enriched the cultural aspects of America.
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