Text-- from Susan Kates, Activist Rhetorics and American Higher Education
(Southern Illinois University Press, 2001)
Chapter 3: ELOCUTION AND AFRICAN AMERICAN CULTURE: THE PEDAGOGY OF HALLIE QUINN BROWN
In the parlors, clubs, and churches of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century America, numerous guides to speech making, composition, and letter writing helped popularize rhetorical instruction for audiences outside the formal academy. As a result of these texts, the opportunity for rhetorical study presented itself to a large segment of the population that would not have otherwise received this training. Of the many forms of rhetorical instruction generated for new audiences in turn-of-the-century America, none competed with the popularity of the elocution movement (Johnson, "Popularization" 141). Between 1850 and 1910, public demand for this form of rhetorical instruction increased as its practical merits came to be seen as indispensable in business, community, and private life. As a result of elocutionary study, men, women, and children learned to participate in a wide variety of public-speaking occasions. Though most forms of academic rhetorical instruction had been available only to university men entering distinct fields or professions such as law, politics, or the clergy, in the mid-nineteenth century rhetorical instruction emerged as a useful area of study for the general populace. Numerous elocution texts appeared during this pe-
riod; targeted at nonacademic audiences, these texts helped to democratize rhetorical instruction in the United States.
It would be naive to assume, however, that all forms of elocutionary training disseminated to audiences outside the formal academy were identical in their approach or ideology. In the African American community in the half century after emancipation there is evidence to indicate that many common elocutionary principles evolved in distinctive ways to serve African American students of elocution. This chapter examines the pedagogical materials and elocutionary theory of African American elocutionist Hallie Quinn Brown (1843-1943) against the backdrop of the work of major proponents of elocutionary theory in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century America. I provide a general overview of the elocution movement to better illustrate the manner in which the elocutionary theory of Brown diverged from that of her white contemporaries, men such as Silus S. Curry, Charles Walter Brown, and J. W Shoemaker, whose instructional texts were immensely popular at the turn of the century in America.'
Professor of elocution at Wilberforce University from 1893 to 1923, Brown produced a number of texts over the course of her career as a teacher and elocutionary practitioner Three of the seven books authored by Brown speak specifically to matters of elocution and will be discussed throughout this chapter. They are Bits and Odds: A Choice Selection of Recitations (about 1910); Elocution and Physical Culture (about I910); and "First Lessons in Public Speaking" (an unpublished manuscript, 1920). In addition to books on elocution and noted African American women, Brown wrote and published a number of speeches and educational treatises that address the struggles of African Americans to gain access to education. Her pedagogical materials confront important issues that educators grapple with today, such as how writing and speaking instruction should address the needs of those who have a linguistic heritage that varies significantly from standard American English. She raises questions in her writing about the relationship between schooling and social responsibility, using and transforming mainstream elocution theory to address these issues. Underlying these ends is the larger ideological formation of Brown's pedagogy, which aims at creating an "embodied rhetoric," that is to say a rhetoric located within, and generated for, the African American community. While other popular elocutionary theorists such as S. S. Curry and J. W. Shoemaker (who were white) espoused the body as a central component of elocutionary study, most aspects of their work were in fact disembodied insofar as they generally presupposed universal principles and ideals in their pedagogies.
Brown conceives of rhetoric, on the other hand, as fully embodied in terms of the particularities of linguistic culture, historical moment, and social responsibility. I employ the term embody, both here and in the chapter as a whole, following Donna Haraway. Haraway describes the politics embedded in knowledge--"situated knowledge," she calls it--in which the ideological implications for certain kinds of seemingly "disinterested" knowledge are made articulate. In this chapter I argue that Brown promoted certain features of elocutionary theory that are undeveloped in or notably absent from the work of her white contemporaries. Brown lived in a time when a black woman educator did not have the opportunity of articulating al of the social and political implications of her work for her community-the African American community of turn-of-the-century America. Yet her work embodies pedagogical features that stress the situated nature of the curriculum she promoted to honor the cultural identity of African Americans in the post-Civil War era. The legacy of Brown's work--which includes, I should add, many of the contemporary critics I mention throughout this essay who articulate the goals she strived for--raises questions about how educators will address the issue of language and identity in the future, and how, in a new cultural climate, writing and speaking instruction may be reconceptualized in terms of a politics of difference. Moreover, the rediscovery of the goals and methods of rhetorical instruction for disenfranchised students that Brown pursued provides a model and legacy for our time. As educators search for new ways to serve a multiculcural society, historical accounts of implicitly politicized instructional materials such as Brown's are invaluable to the ongoing reassessment of ideology and schooling and may help us to generate rhetorical curricula that will respond to the needs of an increasingly diverse student population.
Hallie Quinn Brown: Background
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1843, Brown was one of six children raised in a family deeply committed to black activist causes. During her childhood, her parents' home served as a station for the Underground Railroad; as a result, Brown witnessed the escape from slavery of many people helped to freedom through the efforts of her mother and father who, themselves, were former slaves. Brown's father, Thomas Arthur Brown, was freed from slavery in 1834 and came to Pittsburgh to become a steward and express agent on riverboats from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. Her mother, Francis Jane Scroggins Brown, was born in Virginia and later freed by her father, who was an American officer in the war of 1812 (Wesley 14-15).
The African Methodist Episcopal church played a major role in the social and political work of her family; Brown herself was a committed member of this church throughout her life, and her affiliation with it shaped her own activism as an educator and as a champion ofblack civil rights.
After graduating from Wilberforce in 1873, Brown began her teaching career when she left for Yazoo City, Mississippi, to work in a plantation school. Upon her arrival, she was overwhelmed by the need for others like herself to educate the vast illiterate population of the region. In her unpublished autobiography, "As the Mantle Falls," Brown tells of her arrival in Mississippi: "Surrounding me was desolation," she writes. "Poverty and want glared at me" (qtd. in McFarlin 32). Working long hours in the classroom, she managed to have a new school built to replace the one in disrepair and she convinced the community to lengthen the school year from five to eight months, in her words, an "unheard of concession for that country" (30). Traveling to other plantations, Brown gave speeches in small towns about the importance of education in the African American community. In time, though, her work in and out of the classroom eventually took a toll on her health and she was forced to leave the region to regain her strength.
Returning to Wilberforce, Brown became a member of the Stewart Concert Company. Performing across the country, this group raised funds for buildings and scholarships at Wilberforce. Between 1882 and 1884, Brown achieved some reputation as an elocutionist, and the acclaim she secured for her recitations also resulted in speaking engagements, which gave her the opportunity to address more pressing political matters such as lynching and education. A grueling travel schedule and poor accommodations, due to segregation, made her employment with the Stewart Concert Company less glamorous than it might have been. Brown recalls that "We encountered hail, frost, flood, deep snows, bitter cold winds. ... We frequently drove for miles in horse-drawn sleighs from town to town, to fill engagements" (43). The group was very successful, however, in raising money for Wilberforce University and providing Brown the exposure she would need to do political work in the years that followed.
When the troupe disbanded in 1884, Brown worked in Dayton, Ohio, for some time, teaching adult students who had migrated North from plantations in Mississippi. This experience was an important one for Brown, because it helped her to articulate the need for adult education for African Americans; indeed, many of her later educational treatises address the relationship between racism and adult illiteracy. Years later, Brown headed South again, this time in an administrative capacity to work with Booker T. Wash-
ington, when she served as dean of women at Tuskegee Institute from 1892 to 1893. From 1885 to 1887, Brown administered a night school for adults as a dean of Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina. Her campaign to increase educational opportunities for African Americans extended itself through her affiliation with the National Association of Colored Women.(2) Brown helped to form some of the first clubs for African American women in the nation. She assumed the primary position of leadership in the movement when she served as president of the NACW from 1920 to 1924. During her term as president of this organization Brown obtained funding to make the home of Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C. a memorial site, and she established numerous scholarships for black women to attend college throughout the nation.
Brown's activism within the NACW places her in the company of other African American activists such as Fannie Barrier Williams, Anna Julia Cooper, Fannie Jackson Coppin, Mary Church Terrell, Francis Harper, and Ida B. Wells, who were active in the NACW and who used this forum to establish schools and scholarships, to conduce anti-lynching campaigns, and to address the numerous injustices perpetuated against African Americans in turn-of-the-century America.(3) These leaders enlisted the help of club women across the country to help accomplish a wide variety of goals.(4) Williams, Cooper, Coppin, Terrell, Harper, Wells, and Brown have become well known for their public discourse and leadership in the African American community, particularly in the realm of black women's clubs, where their influence helped to shape the racial politics and activism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the United States.(5)
Brown discovered a number of vehicles for her activism in addition to her affiliation with the NACW. Teaching and performing provided important opportunities for her political work. Through them, she reached large audiences (both white and black) as she worked to improve the lives or African Americans in the years after the Civil War. Throughout her career, Brown alternated between teaching and traveling, giving lectures and performances that celebrated African American authors and African American history. Appointed as a professor of elocution at Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio, in 1833, Brown continued to tour occasionally to raise money for the institution. In 1834, she traveled to Europe, lecturing for the British Women's Temperance Association and acting as a representative to the International Congress of Women in 1837, where she gave a command performance for King George and Queen Mary (Fisher 17;78). Returning to teach at Wilberforce in 1906, Brown published additional
books and articles on elocutionary practice and other pieces on African American educational inequality. Brown's overt activism informs her elocutionary theory and practice and will be explored as a central consideration of this chapter; for within her work she enacts a significant transformation of particular components of mainstream elocution pedagogy.
Overview of the Elocutionary Movement
Brown's elocutionary theory and practice exhibit an activism that is most visible against the backdrop of the nineteenth-century elocutionary theory of her white contemporaries. While the nineteenth-century elocution movement in America had its roots in Cicero and Quintilian as well as in the work of eighteenth-century theorists such as Thomas Sheridan and John Walker it saw the emergence of a range of influential elocutionary theorists who wrote popular texts, extending this form of rhetorical instruction to a variety of people who did not have the opportunity to study elocution in a college or university (Johnson, "Popularization" 143).
Whether a student came to elocutionary study in a university setting or through one of the texts generated for "the private learner," he or she would likely encounter a few central tenets that remained consistent across various instructional contexts. One such tenet concerns the relationship among voice, body, mind, and soul. Noted American elocutionary theorists such as S. S. Curry, Alexander Melville Bell, and J. W. Shoemaker developed theories of elocution that grew from the work of Francois Delsarte, whose work is situated very much in the theatrical arts. Delsarte's theory emphasizes that "the voice and the body are one with the mind and the soul" (Johnson, "Popularization" 144). The belief that the mind of the speaker could be inferred from the tones and inflections of the voice, movements of the body, and expressions of the face is a fundamental assumption that was very much at the heart of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century elocutionary practice. The importance of the body in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century elocutionary theory cannot be overstated; indeed, within most elocutionary texts, the movements and gestures of the body are as important to the communicator's message as the words issued from the speaker's mouth. To illustrate just how the emphasis on the body figured within elocutionary pedagogy in this historical moment and the ways in which it manifested itself in attention to the physical presence of public speakers, I quote from a newspaper review of one of Emerson's performances in the nineteenth century. This review describes how attentive reporters were to the body and how they scrutinized every gesture and movement as well as the spoken word to determine the success of the speaker:
In this we, the reporter observes the absence of gestures important to a powerful delivery; however, even the attention devoted to the lack of effective body language communicates a great deal about the reign of elocutionary principles in this historical moment. In an age many years before radio, delivery comprised an essential part of the message, and the audience gave its full attention to a wide range of gestures and movements that formed a crucial element of rhetorical performance.
Another fairly consistent tenet of elocutionary theory addresses the relationship between thought and delivery. Most elocution manuals of the period consider this issue extensively. Numerous theorists emphasized that the practice of elocutionary tenets help the body and the mind work together to make effective expression of the message "natural," a synchronous speech event. One of the most contradictory principles of elocutionary theory concerns the somewhat odd notion that through the methodical study of elocution individuals might discover a "natural" mode of communication. Numerous nineteenth-century theorists, including Shoemaker, emphasize in their texts that elocutionary abilities are natural and thus within the grasp of any speaker of language. This tenet of elocutionary theory is ironic in terms of its failure to explain why, if such skills are "natural," they must be practiced. Shoemaker contends that what is natural is the gift of the faculties, the voice, the body. He writes that, "God ... gives us the plastic material ...we must develop into mature faculties through the formation of conscious habits" (xii). Even Shoemaker's use of the phrase "plastic material" feels "unnatural," however, since it emphasizes the unfixed nature of the elements of speech. Like Shoemaker, other theorists make similar mention of this idea and like him, do little to clarify what they mean by the use of this term. Yet throughout late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century elocution manuals, the emphasis on this aspect of pedagogy--the development of universal natural speech patterns out of amorphous material--is fairly consistent.
Such ideas appear
to claim for elocutionary theory the supposition that what is natural
for one individual is natural for another. We see how the promotion
of universal notions of instruction could spring from such an assumption.
But with such great emphasis on the body and its role in ef-
Bell's insistence that "the elements and vocables" of other varieties of English have their "own standard of correctness" may indicate why the field of elocution was attractive to Brown, for while his portrait of the discipline does not address African American vernacular directly, it gives linguistic integrity to many regional and ethnic forms of the language. On the other hand, Bell emphasizes that no speaker should be "enslaved to the peculiarities of any dialect," that he or she should move between varieties of English with relative ease and comfort. Such a claim for the merits of elocutionary study illustrates that some theorists were willing to acknowledge the legitimacy of other varieties of English even as they championed the standard
English present in many of the selections commonly found in reciter texts they edited. As I emphasize in the later portions of this chapter, it is in the reciter texts where the differences between Brown's pedagogy and that of her contemporaries are most apparent. Brown's work diverges sharply from that of others in its presentation of numerous selections in black English vernacular, selections that allow African Americans to speak for themselves about their own experiences in a language that is essential to the articulation of that reality.
Brown's Activist Pedagogy
Brown addressed the educational needs of African Americans in turn-of-the-century America by resisting certain practices of noted mainstream elocutionary pedagogues, leaving her signature on elocutionary theory and curricula in the texts she directed to the African American community. In Bits and Odds A Choice Selection Of Recitations (1880), Elocution and Physical Culture (about 1910), and "First Lessons in Public Speaking" (an unpublished manuscript--1920), Brown alters traditional elocution pedagogy in three specific ways. First of all, she engenders pride in the language of the black community by including many selections written in African American vernacular English in her reciter text, Bits and Odds. While she also includes pieces found in more traditional books of this nature, the presence of selections written in African American vernacular English represents a recognition, absent from other reciter texts, of the relationship between local communities and elocutionary practice. This kind of inclusion suggests that Brown valued her African American linguistic heritage in ways that white elocutionists did not or could not and that she believed it was important to instill linguistic pride in the African American community.
Second, in her reciter text promoting African American history and literature, Bits and Odds, Brown successfully launches a critique of racism in America, reclaiming important aspects of African American history marginalized within accounts by white historians of U.S. history such as the horrors of slavery, for example, and the black military presence during the Civil War. Many of the pieces she includes are by black authors such as Frances Harper and George H. Baker, and W. R. Dick, names that never appear in reciter texts edited by white authors. By promoting such a range of African American authors as well as pieces that revise American history in terms of African American literary contributions, Brown positions herself ideologically against white editors of reciter texts who simply erase African Americans from American history in the collections of recitations they published.
Finally, Brown emphasizes social responsibility as a social and communal aim of pedagogy by stressing the changes in character likely to occur in individuals as a result of the practice of elocutionary study. While many other theorists of Brown's era advocate elocution for the attainment of taste and a sharper mind, benefits that could be translated into economic gain, Brown champions elocution for the moral transformation she believed it could bring to individuals and to the community through political action. As a result, she emphasizes heightened social consciousness as a benefit of elocutionary study. All of these aims--the inclusion of African American vernacular English, of African American history, and of social responsibility as "texts" within her pedagogical guides situate the individual within larger social formations and in so doing recognize linguistic activity as both an individual and social activity·
Bits and Odds: Brown's Celebration of African American Vernacular English
Motivated by what appears to have been a high regard for the African American linguistic tradition and its various manifestations in the literature of African American writers, Brown's reciter text, Bits and Odds, diverges significantly from the tradition established by other elocutionary theorists. Under the pretense of education and entertainment, she presents her pieces in ways that celebrate the language and modes of expression specific to the African American community; indeed, Brown includes selections in African American English vernacular on subjects particular to African American experience that are notably absent from the texts of others.
Generally, elocution texts produced in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century America fall into one of three categories: (1) instructional manuals offering instruction in breathing, gesture, pronunciation, and other elocutionary principles; (2) reciter texts comprised ofstories, poems, and speeches for practice and performance; and (3) texts combining both instructional materials and selections for oral presentation. Reciter texts, in particular, were popular cultural artifacts of the time. Found in many homes throughout the nation where individuals sought to enhance their rhetorical expertise, these texts anthologized a wide variety of selections that were used for family recitations, a form of entertainment in the home.
Because so many of Brown's selections in Bits and Odds are not the canonized "great works" commonly found in the reciter texts edited by other elocutionists, they offer an important challenge to the elitist curriculum generated by so many of the popular elocutionary theorists who were pre-
dominantly white and male. Particularly interesting is Brown's inclusion of selections written in black English vernacular, selections not generally anthologized by white elocutionary theorists. While many mainstream elocutionary theorists promoted the idea that good speaking abilities might be obtained through the oral performance of great works, the promotion of such an ideal raises questions about canonized selections generally promoted in a spirit of "good taste." As Johnson observes, "a prominent claim of nineteenth-century rhetorical theory was the assumption that critical study of great masterpieces cultivates taste and an appreciation of rhetorical style" (Nineteenth-Century Rhetoric 75-84). But one may ask, as many have in recent challenges to canonized literary works in schools and universities, how are "great masterpieces" determined! Whose linguistic standards and conventions of taste shape the measurements by which works are judged? In sharp contrast to the mainstream elocutionary canon developed by other elocutionary editors, Brown's collection of poems and readings challenge the elitist aspects of such collections by capturing particularities of African American speech. In them, she defines her community-specific elocutionary curriculum and sets herself apart from other editors of similar texts who did not include such selections.
Some might observe a tension, however, between the pedagogical advice Brown offers in her instructional elocution texts regarding punctuation and the actual linguistic manifestations that appear in her collection of recitations. In this excerpt from Elocution and Physical Culture, for example, Brown articulates a point of view that was quite common in other elocutionary texts that promoted standard English pronunciations, a view that appears to oppose the use of African American English vernacular:
The "right way" advocated by Brown in this context appears to be standard English; yet this kind of pedagogical advice in Elocution and Physical Culture is often contradicted by many of the selections Brown includes in Bits and Odds, selections that appear to promote another view of pronunciation entirely. The following is an excerpt- from "Apples" (author unknown), a piece that Brown characterizes as "An Original Negro Lecture" and one of many selections in Bits and Odds written in African American English vernacular.
Most other reciter texts edited by other elocutionists avoid the use of African American vernacular English altogether. Popular reciters such as The Dramatic Recitation Book and The New Century Perfect Speaker are fairly consistent in their maintenance of a canon of works by Shakespeare, Poe, Tennyson, and other authors who wrote from a linguistic tradition defined by the dominant language conventions of a particular historical moment. However, Brown's selection of works--written in African American vernacular English--is puzzling when compared with the advice she offers concerning standard English pronunciations. This particular passage, for example, illustrates the linguistic collision between the reciter book selections and the pedagogical advisement Brown enacts time and time again throughout her work. In this excerpt, Brown creates the difficult balance between the general and particular through a general Christian story articulated in a particular discourse--a story of the dominant culture that becomes a resource for the black community through the use of African American vernacular English.
While whites stereotyped and denigrated African American vernacular English in such forms as the Uncle Remus tales and minstrel shows, Brown celebrates African American language and culture in the context of her reciter manual for many of the same reasons as does Zora Neale Hurston. Critics often took Hurston to task for her textual use of African American English vernacular and argued that it was degrading to blacks. In fact, quite the opposite was true. Mary Helen Washington observes that in a time when many well-educated blacks sought to remove traces of their background, "when a high-class Negro virtue was not 'to act one's color,' Zora not only celebrated the distinctiveness of Black culture, but saw those traditional black folkways as marked improvements over the imaginative wasteland of white society" (Washington 15).6 As a folklorist and fiction writer, Hurston depicted important aspects of African American English throughout her work. In many respects, Brown became a kind of folklorist as well, for like Hurston, she considers the linguistic heritage of African Americans to be a rich re-
source worth preserving, a language capable of articulating African American experiences in a way that no other language can.
Brown's inclusion of selections where African Americans speak for themselves in their own language represents a significant departure from the reciter texts disseminated by mainstream elocutionists. For Brown, as for Hurston, the message and the reality articulated in the message could not be separated from the language used to express it. Henry Louis Gates explains that this is a union that has been observed by black writers throughout history:
The difference that blackness makes, in other words, is the difference of embodiment, the mark that is both there and not there in a language that is both black and white. By combining community-specific discourse with the standard English pronunciation guides she advocates in her elocution manuals, Brown may have been elevating the tradition without sanctioning it for public performances. Paul Laurence Dunbar, for example, wrote poetry and shore stories, both in African American vernacular and in the language of wider usage. This is not an uncommon practice within the history of the African American linguistic tradition, as Gates explains, for the confrontation between African American culture and racism exists historically in the manifestation of inventive linguistic strategies generated in somewhat ambiguous terms for the sake of cultural survival.
African American History in Bits and Odds
Brown's celebration of the linguistic heritage of African Americans, however, is not the only evidence of her dissemination of an embodied rhetoric. Deeply committed to African American history, Brown makes it a central feature of her pedagogy, offering African Americans opportunities to recite revised narrativesabout their cultural location. In this respect, Brown articulates a pedagogy highlighting the ideology of language and history and its implications for elocutionary study. Throughout Bits and Odds, Brown showcases African American history, including pieces that depict important historical events such as the Battle of Port Hudson, where black forces helped to defeat the Confederacy, or slave narratives that define the history
of black oppression in America. The inclusion of such selections indicate Brown's commitment to keeping this history alive for black and white audiences alike. Perhaps Brown realized, too, that many who might have listened to these selections would never be literate enough to read them; therefore, she may have hoped to pass on African American history to a less privileged audience.
By including this poem by George H. Baker in Bits and Odds, Brown ensures that her audience will never forget the important contribution blade soldiers made to the Civil War:
Brown presents, in selections such as this one, images of black Americans that are notably absent from other reciter texts that focus on the Revolutionary War, the contributions of the Founding Fathers and other Caucasian political figures, as well as a wide variety of other topics that promote an unreflective nationalism. Brown's reciter text, however, critiques the ideology present in mainstream reciters in numerous selections that offer another version of American experience.
While numerous reciter texts by mainstream elocutionists often include speeches that take up the abolitionist cause, such speeches are invariably in the voice of whites who speak for blacks and do not contain examples of blacks speaking for themselves. While it is notable that many nineteenth-century reciter texts contain selections about the mistreatment of blacks and the horrors of slavery, these selections are not from an African American point of view. Eerily absent from reciter texts such as The New Century Perfect Speaker, Bell's Standard Elocutionist, and other popular elocution manuals are the voices of African Americans themselves who speak in their own language about the reality of African American experience in ways that revise or challenge other accounts.
The critique of white supremacist culture through literature or other cultural forms has become a crucial aim of twentieth-century multiculturalism. Cornel West calls attention to the damage done by historical narratives that degrade or ignore minorities, tracing a feeling of invisibility and dislocation to narrow cultural representations. He notes how new narratives help to disrupt those that promote oppression and racial disdain:
West articulates a political goal that Brown embodies in her texts but does not express outright. His description of resistance in the modes of "morality" and "community" precisely describes Brown's pedagogical project, for Brown's inclusion of important African American historical events challenges and resists white-supremacist historical narratives that permeated other parts of American culture in turn-of-the-century America. Her efforts are significant indeed, when considered in the present context. More than one hundred years after the publication of Bits and 0dds, African American history is still slowly making its way into cultural texts that have long ignored the cultural heritage of African Americans.
While Brown's challenge to historians and their erasure of African American history occurs within the relatively non threatening site of the reciter manual, the strategic importance of Brown's dissemination of African American history to African Americans should not be overlooked. For Brown's
reciter text addresses the "problematic of invisibility and namelessness" that West describes by allowing African Americans to speak about their experiences in their own voices through the work of African American writers collected in Bits and Odds. Consider the last stanzas of "The Dying Bondsman," for example, a poem by black poet and novelist Frances Harper, that tells the story of a slave ("bondsman") on his deathbed who had been an Afric chieftain:
Although Harper's poem is not written in African American vernacular English, it represents the kind of historical narrative that disrupts an unproblemized nationalism that erases the history of other particular members of a diverse citizenry. The very sentimentality of verse and diction in this piece--multiple modifrers filling the meter and terms like "bondsman" for "slave"--enacts the impulses toward generalization and cliche within the context of a specific communal history--an embodied history--within America. These contradictory impulses, found less self-consciously through-out the work of other elocutionists, inform the most global aspect of Brown's
"Bound by the Strong Law of Obligation": Social Responsibility as a Pedagogical Construct in Bits and Odds
In contrast to other elocutionary theorists, Brown bases her pedagogical choices on a politicized course of study for an African American audience. Her emphasis on the linguistic heritage and cultural history of African Americans fuels her third pedagogical purpose, which is to instill a sense of social responsibility in those who gain elocutionary expertise. By making language and history such Important components of her elocutionary curriculum, Brown foregrounds the relationship between the development of cultural pride and social and political action. While rhetorical instruction in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was well known for its promotion of taste and moral purpose, Brown joined those pedagogues who emphasized the development of a moral consciousness over an aesthetic one. In The Peerless Speaker, for example, Frank H. Fenno explains that "an improved style will suggest better thoughts, and as so much of our happiness if not existence itself depends upon a conveyance of our ideas, cultivation in this direction will certainly make us happier, nobler, and better." Another important elocutionary theorist of the period, S. S. Curry points out elocution's role in the development of taste, adding that it provides a "means for the development of the human being" (qtd, in Johnson, "Popularization" l50).
However, in many popular turn-of-the-century elocutionary treatises, theorists such as J. W. Shoemaker draw attention to moral transformation as the primary benefit of rhetorical study:
It is only the voice that has reached its best, and the eye that beams from the soul, and the hand of grace, and the attittcde of manhood and womanhood, that can convey the immortality which has been breathed upon us. By sin these powers have been enfeebled and deformed and under its burden their deformiry increases. Guarded and regulated by the laws of our creation, they may be rescued and made potential in conveying the very mind of the Creator. (17)
Excerpts such as this one were very common in authors' introductions to elocution manuals, frequently highlighting the moral benefits of elocutionary study. Such benefits, however, are often advertised in the spirit of sanctimonious self-improvement; that is to say, they promote personal gain over community service. Consider this excerpt from the preface of Delsarte Syr-
Orators, you are called to the ministry of speech. You have fixed your choice upon the pulpit, the bar, the tribune or the stage. You will become one day, preacher, advocate, lecturer or actor; in shore, you desire to embrace the orator's career. I applaud your design. You will enter upon the noblest and most glorious of vocations.... While we award praise and glory to great musicians and painters, to great masters of sculpture and architecture, the prize of honor is decreed to great orators. (xxiii)
In drawing attention to oratory as "the most glorious of vocations," the author of this preface situates elocutionary practice in a context of personal gain. In this respect, oratory is promoted as a means to individual glory and fame--the kind afforded to musicians, painters, and sculptors.
Brown, on the
other hand, emphasizes elocutionary study within her texts not for the
sake of individual moral sanctity or personal acclaim, but for the shaping
of a wide social vision and what the NACW often referred to as the "social
uplift" of African Americans. This emphasis extends the tradition
of many popular elocution theorists by broadening the focus from individual
sanctity and self-improvement to a devotion to community. For if "taste"
is always described in elocutionary theory in terms of its possession
by an individual, Brown makes "moral strength" a quality that
manifests itself globally in social action. In this way she transforms
her own elocutionary theory to emphasize the communal possibilities
Emphasizing the connection between elocution and the development of social consciousness, Brown distinguishes herself from other mainstream elocutionary theorists who were more likely to stress the habits of mind that would separate the person schooled in elocution from a less educated citizenry. In her estimation, elocutionary study promised much for the African American community, for Brown argues that those educated in elocutionary principles would be inspired to help those less fortunate. Observing that elocution "gives mental and moral strength, great power, and a wide social influence to all who will cake the time and patience to master it" ("First Lessons" 171), Brown stresses that intellect, void of character and empathy for others, is less valuable than intellect embodied in community concern:
The intellect is highly trained in our schools and institutions of learning, but little or no regard is paid to the systematic training of the higher powers. ... intellect is not the highest gift to man. The business of intellect is simply to know. Above and back of that stands character--the soul that di-
rects and impels both mind and body. Elocution teaches the student that he is to cultivate these higher powers; that he is to quicken his sense of obligation to himself, to his fellow man.... (165)
Brown establishes a relationship between learning how to deliver a message and carrying a message of service to others that is quite remarkable in its repetition throughout her work. Out of her intense belief in the transformative power of elocution and its relationship to "the systematic training of the higher powers," Brown writes of the responsibility educated individuals have to address the needs of the larger community.
Suggesting in her elocution and reciter texts that the study of elocution aligns the mind and the body with a spiritual purpose, Brown consistently urges those who progress intellectually to pass that knowledge on:
When we have mastered these difficulties and made ourselves proficient, we are bound by the strong law of Obligation. Obligation to the man who is down. The vision and the cry from Macedonia are as real and vivid today as they were to the Apostle Paul--They come from those who sit in darkness, not only in foreign field, but at our very door--from the delta, cane-brake, cotton field and rice swamp. ("Not Gifts" 176)
Raised in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Brown's own upbringing and background, it appears, made it difficult for her to forget those in "the delta, canebrake, cotton field and rice swamp." indeed, her activist and religious upbringing later affected the moral sense of the elocutionary theory she was to advocate. Given that her parents' home in Pennsylvania was a central meeting place for ministers, as well as a station for the Underground Railroad, it seems understandable that she would have forged an important relationship between oratorical culture and social activism.
Brown had, throughout her childhood, witnessed an alliance between the oral tradition of the pulpit and political goals. Indeed, within many of her texts, she invokes the religious ethos of a minister stressing the relationship between education and social responsibility:
Be prepared to carry the message. Give up the pleasure of the good time. Sacrifice! Sacrifice elevates, service redeems a people. You will hear from time to time that your First duty is to get money, land and houses--to carve your name on the Scroll of Fame--to get learning so that you may have power to control men and measures. When you are obsessed with this idea--when you are carried on by this worldly ambition--the day you make such a choice, the Soul with you dies! ("First Lessons in Public Speaking," qtd. in McFarlin 176)
Such calls to social consciousness were certainly not present in mainstream elocutionary texts that promoted elocutionary theory by emphasizing the potential economic and social rewards that could be obtained by the individual skilled speaker. Brown, unlike popular theorists such as Curry and Shoemaker, makes no mention of the connection between elocutionary study and economic gain. Instead, she stresses again and again the importance of the social responsibilities of the educated. By infusing her materials with activist intent, Brown prepared not only to educate a certain constituency, but to mobilize that constituency for political action.
In many ways, Brown's views in this regard resonate with those of a more contemporary educator, Paulo Freire, who helped launch a massive literacy campaign in Brazil in the 1960s as he came to understand how traditional education failed to meet the needs of disenfranchised people. Crafting a literacy program for disempowered peasants, Freire and his students implemented a form of activist education that encouraged participants to intervene productively in an oppressive political system.
Freire's work insists that the achievement of literacy for marginalized students should not fuse education and capitalistic individualism; it argues that the primary purpose of education must be social consciousness:
It is essential for the oppressed to realize that when they accept the struggle for humanization they also accept, from that moment, their total responsibility for the struggle. ...The oppressed, who have been shaped by the death-affirming climate of oppression, must find through their struggle the way to life-affirming humanization, which does not lie simply in having more to eat.... (50)
What Freire calls "total responsibility is what I describe as the "global" aspect of Brown's pedagogy. Like Freire, Brown recognized that social change could come only through an educational venture that extended its concerns beyond economic aspirations. As a result, it was imperative that her pedagogy confront the social purpose of elocutionary study and contextualize it in terms of the needs of the larger community. This pedagogical construct was, in many ways, the most remarkable of all of Brown's transformations of the traditional elocutionary theory, for by emphasizing social concerns, Brown politicized her course of study in a manner that no other mainstream elocutionist had before her, and she engaged the "Lifting as We Climb" principle that was so much a part of the black women's club movement at the turn of the century.
Brown's own affiliation with the NACW resulted in the opportunity to give a number of speeches and make many public appearances for the sake
of educational advancement for blacks. She always saw the relationship between schooling and larger political gains as a symbiotic one. On the one hand, Brown recognized that African Americans would not be better off economically until they were better educated; however, she also realized that they would not have better educational opportunities until they made significant political gains. The following is an excerpt from a speech made by Brown during the time she served as a leader in the NACW:
This speech enlists a theme that Brown often emphasized--the effects of racism on inferior educational opportunities. Here and elsewhere in her work, Brown courageously ihvokes terms such as "white supremacy" in her arguments to blatantly describe the abuses blacks endured in post-Civil War America. Drawing attention to the ways the African American "is held aloof by every other group forming a part of this nation" Brown alludes to the argument she made elsewhere in other writings that immigrants from other countries received the invitation to become American citizens in ways that blacks did not. She adds that the African American "is regarded by many as a liability rather than an asset in promoting the value of American life...." To address the hostility toward African Americans that refused them an "American" identity, Brown resigned herself to the battle of preserving African American contributions and images in her performances, speeches and the selections in her reciter text so that blacks would not subscribe to the negative stereotypes of them promoted elsewhere in a country that refused them any distinguished cultural heritage.
Embodied Rhetoric and the Ethics of Community
For those who did not have the opportunity to study rhetoric in a formal academy, Brown's works offered special promise. Not only did her texts
provide a vehicle to obtain a form of education that was often denied to African Americans, but Brown's elocutionary materials exposed an African American audience to the literature that made use of its linguistic heritage and history. Such deviations from standard elocution pedagogy cannot be underestimated or minimized within the scope of the history of rhetorical instruction, for as rhetoric and composition scholars work increasingly to recover a history of writing and speaking instruction that existed outside the formal academy, it appears that numerous transformations of rhetorical instruction for disenfranchised students remain to be recovered.
The emergence of Black Studies, Women's Studies, and Cultural Studies ushers in a new intellectual climate, providing critics the opportunity to view a wide variety of cultural practices in terms of a politics of difference. Cornel West observes that this shifting critical moment is in the process of creating a new intellectual consciousness that seeks "to undermine the prevailing disciplinary divisions of labor in the academy, museum, mass media and gallery networks. . ." (13).This movement is largely responsible for a national reflection on the ideological nature of schooling and curricula, as educators, politicians, and policy makers find themselves immersed in one of the bitterest educational debates in history. While some may assume the debate over pedagogy and politics to be a relatively recent development, Brown's work suggests that sites of learning and education have, throughout history, embodied political implications and that curricula have often been generated within the scope of ideological concerns.
But Brown's work teaches us more about the questions and goals we bring to education in America. What is most striking about her work is the place of ethics that she sees within the embodied work of history and politics. Ethics for Brown defines community, and the language of obligation and responsibility she uses is at the heart of her conception of education. I might even say that the very embodiment of education for Brown, beyond "intelligence," "taste," and "discernment," is precisely the ethics of community. For Brown, linguistic education is social education: It embodies and preserves a history of community action--whether it be black soldiers fighting for their own freedom, as in George Baker's poem that Brown includes in Bits and Odds quoted above, or the barely remembered "Afric" community in Frances Harper's poem. Such a conception of "embodiment," enacted in her study and transformation of elocution and in her own life as an activist educator, offers an important lesson for us as we pursue a stronger understanding of the relationship among racial identity, community, and rhetorical instruction in our own time.
1. For a detailed overview of the mainstream elocutionary movement, see Nan Johnson, "The Popularization of Nineteenth-Century Rhetoric: Elocution and the Private Learner" in Oratorical Culture in Nineteenth-Century America, edited by Gregory Clark and S. Michael Halloran.
2. See Charles Harris Wesley's The History of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs: A Legacy of Service, and Elizabeth Lindsay Davis's Lifting as They
3. Many of these women were present in 1933 at the World's Congress of Representative Women. Brown was one of six black women to address the delegates at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. As Hazel Carby observes, "The struggle of black women to achieve adequate representation had been continually undermined by a pernicious and persistent racism and the World's Congress was no exception" (3-4).
4. Hazel Carby urges us to remember that the women who were most visible members of the NACW were not isolated figures of intellectual genius; they were shaped by and helped to shape a wider movement of Afro-American women. This is not to claim that they were representative of all black women; they and their counterparts formed an educated, intellectual elite, but an elite that tried to develop a cultural and historical perspective that was organic to the wider condition of black womanhood. (1 15)
5. See Shirley Wilson Logan's "We Are Coming: The Persuasive Discourse of Nineteenth-Century Black Women" for a sophisticated analysis of the public persuasive discourse of nineteenth-century black women intellectuals. Logan examines the oratory of Maria Stewart, Frances Harper, Ida Wells, Fannie Barrier Williams, Anna Julia Cooper, and Victoria Earle Matthews as she identifies the important rhetorical strategies they used to make their messages heard in the United States during the nineteenth century. See Jacqueline Jones Royster's "To Call a Thing by Its True Name: The Rhetoric of Ida B. Wells" for an analysis ofWells's writing and oratory.
6. For a critical examination of Hurston's use of african American English vernacular, see Mary Helen Washington's "Zora Neale Hurston: A Woman Half in Shadow," in I Love Myself When I Am Laughing... And Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive, edited by Alice Walker (7-24).