Deromanticizing Black History

Critical Essays and Reappraisals

  • Author(s): Walker, Clarence E.
  • Series:
  • Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 1991-12-20
  • Status: Out of Print


Thirty years ago, a new generation of historians brought a fresh perspective to the study of black people in America. These scholars gave voice to a people who were thought to be silent, without historical agency, and therefore merely ciphers in the history of the United States. This work was a necessary corrective to an earlier mode of analysis that had cast black people as passive victims of a past characterized by social pathology. However, the revolutionary ideas of the 1960s and 1970s have become today’s dogma. In this refreshingly critical approach to the major issues of southern and black American history, Clarence Walker challenges historians to reevaluate and revise the conceptual breakthroughs of their intellectual predecessors.

Walker boldly indicts as “romantic” Blassingame’s slave community, Gutman’s black family, Woodward’s views on race relations, Genovese’s explication of slave religion, Booker T. Washington’s hopes, previous portraits of Marcus Garvey, and the idea that oppression produced a class of people who were inevitably kind to their peers. Undercutting Marxist analysis, Walker persuasively argues that race rather than class is the primary social descriptor for nineteenth-century America.

Both learned and intelligent, original and thoughtful, this book places the American black experience in a broad, comparative perspective. Above all, it calls historians to transcend the celebratory in their explication of our nation’s past.

Clarence E. Walker is professor of history at the University of California, Davis.