That omission, Hairston contends, is disturbing not least because of its longevity from an early period of overt stereotyping and institutionalized racism right up to thecontemporary and, one would hope, more cosmopolitan and enlightened era. Challengingand correcting that persistent shortsightedness, Hairston examines several prominent blackwriters and scholars deep investment in the classics as individuals, as well as the broadercultural investment in the classics and the values of the ancient world. Beginning with thelate-eighteenth-century verse of Phillis Wheatley, whose classically inspired poemsfunctioned as a kind of Trojan horse to defeat white oppression, Hairston goes on to considerthe oratory of Frederick Douglass, whose rhetoric and ideas of virtue were much influencedby Cicero, and the writings of educator Anna Julia Cooper, whose classical training was akey source of her vibrant feminism. Finally, he offers a fresh examination of W. E. B.DuBois s seminal "The Souls of Black Folk" (1903) and its debt to antiquity, which volumes ofcommentary have largely overlooked.
The first book to appear in a new series, Classicism in American Culture, "The Ebony""Column" passionately demonstrates how the myths, cultures, and ideals of antiquity helpedAfrican Americans reconceptualize their role in a Euro-American world determined to makethem mere economic commodities and emblems of moral and intellectual decay. To figuressuch as Wheatley, Douglass, Cooper, and DuBois, classical literature offered striking moral, intellectual, and philosophical alternatives to a viciously exclusionary vision of humanity, Africanity, the life of the citizen, and the life of the mind.
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