The strange disappearance of Sterling A. Brown: literature, social science and the representation of Black Americans, 1930-1945

Beecher, Ruth Ann (2015) The strange disappearance of Sterling A. Brown: literature, social science and the representation of Black Americans, 1930-1945. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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This thesis examines the strange career of Sterling Brown, a poet, literary critic and civil rights activist who was highly acclaimed between 1930 and 1945. In this period, he chose to sideline his creative writing and involved himself instead in social research. He turned to folklore, the Federal Writers’ Project, the Carnegie Myrdal Study of the Negro in America, and to reportage of the wartime South. This thesis is distinctive in examining these endeavours and provides new perspectives on Brown’s efforts to transform the national discourse about black Americans. Increased migration of black southerners to northern cities after World War I led to a dialogue about race relations, black identity, and the future of the South that intensified during the Great Depression and the Second World War. Brown was central to debates during the New Negro Renaissance, within the Popular Front, and in investigations of black life sponsored by the New Deal government and philanthropic foundations. This thesis argues that the projects in which Brown involved himself in these years expose a tangled interracial debate on whose opinion would dominate in the representation of black character, identity, and culture. Brown and his black contemporaries in the social sciences influenced the building and dissemination of knowledge about African Americans within a challenging context. Their shared efforts to change the national dialogue about the ‘race problem’ have been under examined. Prevented by segregation and discrimination from gaining access to a wide audience, their desire to surmount these barriers helps to explain why Brown made this strange career choice. This thesis demonstrates that where he differed from his intellectual allies was in his conviction that black culture was a dynamic force that was as important as the ‘harder’ components of politics, class or economics. Brown’s prescient insights made him a founding figure in the fields of American cultural history and black studies.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: Date of PhD award confirmed as 2015 by registry
Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
School/Department: School of Social Sciences, History & Philosophy > History, Classics & Archaeology
Depositing User: ORBIT Editor
Date Deposited: 29 Sep 2015 15:40
Last Modified: 02 Dec 2016 12:47

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