The brief wondrous life of the Anglo-African magazine: Or, antebellum African American editorial practice and its afterlives

Ivy Wilson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

8 Scopus citations

Abstract

On December 6, 1856, the Provincial Freeman and Weekly Advertiser ran James Monroe Whitfield's "Prospectus of the Afric-American Quarterly" advertising a future periodical that he hoped would "enter the arena of public literature, to exhibit the intellectual capacities of the negro race, and vindicate them before the world."2 In the wake of his attendance at the National Emigration Convention of the Colored People of North America in 1854 and 1856, Whitfield circulated an advertisement announcing that the convention delegates had authorized the publication of a "Quarterly Periodical devoted to the general interest of the colored people."3 Enumerating the various domains in which the interests of African Americans had been compromised such as the "wicked legislation," "the American government," and the "Word of God," Whitfield maintained that "any class of community that fails to wield" the potent power of the press will "always bedepreciated and undervalued in the public imagination."4 Conceptualized as a "preeminent Literary work, for circulation both at home and abroad," the Afric-American Quarterly Repository was intended to contain between 160 and 200 octavo pages and be embellished with fine steel engravings of "distinguished negro[es]."5 Featuring both U.S. and Haitian authors, it would have articles written in English and French. Whitfield himself would act as senior editor, joined by eight corresponding editors-among them Martin R. Delany, James Theodore Holly, William C. Monroe, Mary Ann Shadd (Cary), and Mary E. Bibb. But Whitfield's wished-for journal was a nonstarter, and the fate of the journal reveals the dilemmas and difficulties of publishing-including printing, editing, and subscriptions-that made black periodicals such a tenuous venture in the nineteenth century. Although he was an important figure in the debates regarding emigrationism, Whitfield's principal engagement with the world of pubshing consisted of his experience as a poet, in venues such as Frederick Douglass's newspapers and with James S. Leavitt, a small Unitarian outfit that brought out his only volume of poetry in 1853. If Whitfield's call for a dual-language periodical seemed grandly ambitious for someone with little apparent editorial experience, then the aspirations of Thomas Hamilton to start a magazine might seem to have a greater chance of succeeding. Hamilton, who had spent the greater part of his professional life in publishing, had similar wishes to start a magazine that specifically focused on the historical condition and artistic contributions of U.S. blacks. While recent work by Todd Vogel has reexamined the black press, and Elizabeth McHenry has analyzed black reading communities, the historical and theoretical meanings of African American editorial practices have remained relatively understudied.6 By focusing on the specific periodical type of the magazine I use Hamilton's Anglo-African Magazine to stage an analysis of the genealogies of African American editorial practices. In the first part of the essay, I take up Hamilton's history editing and publishing contemporary writers. In the second part, I focus on three figures centrally associated with the Anglo-African Magazine-Delany, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and James McCune Smith-to unveil some of the lines of critical inquiry that have undergirded the textual scholarship of recent editorial endeavors specifically involved with reprinting projects. In what follows, I examine the publishing initiatives of Hamilton less to formulate a theory of African American editorial practices per se than to interrogate what some of the contemporary practices related to the "archival turn" might mean to current theories of African American studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPublishing Blackness
Subtitle of host publicationTextual Constructions of Race Since 1850
PublisherUniversity of Michigan Press
Pages18-38
Number of pages21
Volume9780472028924
ISBN (Electronic)9780472028924
ISBN (Print)9780472118632
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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