A {\it strange\/} speech of an estranged people: Theory and practice of antebellum African-American Freedom Day orations

Detine Lee Bowers, Purdue University


Antebellum African-American leaders created a viable socio-political public address platform in antebellum America that evolved from the celebration of New York state emancipation in 1827 and the protest of American Fourth of July celebrations, to the celebration of emancipation in the British West Indies that began in 1834. These events were the Fifth of the July, protest Fourth of July, and First of August celebrations.^ This work refers to these celebrations as "Freedom Day" and examines the structure, form, and content of selected Freedom Day orations delivered by black leaders from 1827 until the Civil War from an Afrocentric temporal perspective. The purpose of the critique is to sow the seeds for further dialogue about Afrocentric praise oratory (epideictic) by offering theoretical and analytical terms that account for an African cultural world view brought to the discourse. The dialogue begins with the historical and social context of Africans in antebellum America and is followed by an African-centered critical context and an analysis and interpretation of selected Freedom Day oratory of black leaders such as Frederick Douglass, William J. Watkins, Nathaniel Paul, James W. C. Pennington, and William Wilson.^ This study argues that time-binding, as manifest in Eurocentric rationality, dictates linear-progressive organization, form, and content in oratory, while an Afrocentric ontology or interactive event cycle world view constitutes a cyclical-regenerative organization, form, and content of oratory. ^




Major Professor: Charles J. Stewart, Purdue University.

Subject Area

History, Black|Speech Communication

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