A Gendered History Of African Colonization In The Antebellum United States

9569 words - 38 pages

IntroductionFor some time, histories of gender and antislavery have concentrated primarily upon the relationship between white women's abolitionist activism and the origins of feminism and the woman's rights movement By no means has that narrative been completed. 2 Still, recent scholarly initiatives have encouraged historians to pursue histories that view gender as a whole, recognizing men and masculinity, as well as how gender has signified power relationships throughout human history, as indispensable subjects for historical inquiry. 3 Historians, therefore, need to pursue a more comprehensive understanding of the ways in which gender shaped and influenced Northern reformers' responses to slavery and the ideological debates regarding race and the place of African Americans in American society. This framework not only must reveal the gendered histories of the whole abolitionist movement (men and women, black and white, feminist and non-feminist), but also must encompass the perspective of abolitionists' greatest rivals for Northern whites' sympathies--the colonizationists--as well as those Northern free blacks who favored emigration while expressing their hostility to white colonization societies This essay moves toward that objective by engendering the history surrounding the African colonization reform movement.The central premise here is that manhood and colonization were inseparable elements of a comprehensive gender system sustaining movements calculated to resolve the dilemmas of slavery, race, and the place of free African Americans confronted by antebellum Northerners. This article explicates the gender dimension of colonization reform by posing several interrelated arguments.DiscussionFirst, colonization reform assumed a masculine character from its inception, and framed its solution to the slavery problem in political terms. Its spokesmen adopted a gendered discourse that simultaneously depicted colonizing as a masculine endeavor while questioning the masculinity of the African American men who actually performed that colonizing. These developments elicit the question of why sizeable numbers of white women were peculiarly absent among colonizationists. At the same time, the sexualized gender imagery of Africa invoked by this colonization discourse reinforced a convergent set of fears among Northern whites about "amalgamation" that generated a climate in which race riots flourished in Northern cities during the antebellum years. Equally important, in the face of this gendered racial discourse, African Americans in the North asserted their own interpretations of the meanings of manhood and womanhood as they defended their place in American society and reconciled their discordant views over whether blacks should emigrate away from the United States. Their divergent perspectives on colonization and emigration demonstrate that free blacks, as much as white reformers, actively produced the comprehensive gendered discourse that surrounded...

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