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Mobility, Skepticism, and Counter-storytelling in African American Travel Writing: Carl Rowan's South of Freedom

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 July 2020

GARY TOTTEN
Affiliation:
English Department, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Email: gary.totten@unlv.edu.
Corresponding
E-mail address:

Abstract

In South of Freedom (1952), Carl Rowan frames his travels through an investigation of the US South in terms of his doubts about cultural change, his safety, and whites’ and blacks’ willingness to participate in racial reform, among other things. His skepticism about improvements in race relations and his critique of the country's inadequate progress toward such goals inform his examination of various states of freedom and unfreedom existing in the United States. Rowan's narrative and specific descriptions of his and others’ mobility operate as instances of counter-storytelling that incorporate such skepticism and critique. Ultimately, his theorizing of modes of resistance to institutionalized racism through individual action serves as a model for understanding African American travel writing and mobility more generally.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press and British Association for American Studies 2020

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References

1 Delgado, Richard and Stefancic, Jean, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 7Google Scholar.

2 Rowan, Carl T., “New Frontiers in Race Relations: For the Fainthearted Liberty Always Has Been in Jeopardy,” Vital Speeches of the Day, 27, 21 (15 Aug. 1961), 665–68Google Scholar, 668.

3 Bornet, Vaughn D., “Journey into Frustration,” Antioch Review, 13, 1 (Spring 1953), 118–21, 119CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Rowan, 668.

5 Clifford, James, Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 3Google Scholar, original emphasis.

6 Hamera, Judith and Bendixen, Alfred, “Introduction. New Worlds and Old Lands: The Travel Book and the Construction of American Identity,” in Bendixen and Hamera, eds., The Cambridge Companion to American Travel Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 19, 1Google Scholar.

7 Smethurst, Paul, “Introduction,” in Kuehn, Julia and Smethurst, Paul, eds., Travel Writing, Form, and Empire (New York: Routledge, 2009), 118, 3Google Scholar.

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11 Greenblatt, Stephen, “Culture,” in Lentricchia, Frank and McLaughlin, Thomas, eds., Critical Terms for Literary Study, 2nd edn (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995), 225–32, 228, 229Google Scholar.

12 Hurston, Zora Neale's ethnographic practice as described in Tell My Horse (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1938)Google Scholar relies on this dialectic of mobility and stasis. For discussion of this aspect of her text see chapter 5 of Totten, Gary, African American Travel Narratives from Abroad: Mobility and Cultural Work in the Age of Jim Crow (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2015)Google Scholar. For discussion of Rowan's navigation of southern space, see Totten, , “Geographies of Race and Freedom in Carl Rowan's South of Freedom,” in Zacharasiewicz, Waldemar, ed., Riding/Writing across Borders in North American Travelogues and Fiction (Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2011), 169–83Google Scholar.

13 Totten, African American Travel Narratives from Abroad, 10.

14 Virginia Whatley Smith, “African American Travel Literature,” in Bendixen and Hamera, The Cambridge Companion to American Travel Writing, 197–213, 198.

15 Griffin, Farah J. and Fish, Cheryl J., Introduction, in Griffin and Fish, eds., A Stranger in the Village: Two Centuries of African-American Travel Writing (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998), xiii–xvii, xvGoogle Scholar.

16 Totten, African American Travel Narratives from Abroad, 5.

17 Rowan, Carl T., South of Freedom (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997; first published 1952), 13Google Scholar. Further references will be cited parenthetically in the text as SF. Fanon, Frantz, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Markmann, Charles Lam (London: Pluto Press, 1986; first published 1952), 89Google Scholar.

18 Locke, Alain, “Self-Criticism: The Third Dimension in Culture,” Phylon, 11, 4 (1950), 391–94, 393, 394CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

19 Hurston, Zora Neale, “What White Publishers Won't Print” (1950), in Napier, Winston, ed., African American Literary Theory: A Reader (New York: New York University Press, 2000), 5457, 57Google Scholar.

20 Delgado, Richard, “Storytelling for Oppositionists and Others: A Plea for Narrative,” Michigan Law Review, 87, 8 (Aug. 1989), 2411–41, 2412CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

21 Ibid., 2413, 2414.

Ibid

22 Ibid., 2415.

Ibid

23 Ibid., 2436.

Ibid

24 Ibid., 2438, 2439, 2440. Narrative therapy, as theorized by Michael White, David Epston, and others, takes a similar approach to storytelling as resistance. By identifying or externalizing problematic stories of the dominant culture and other truth narratives that have oppressed them, individuals can re-author alternative stories, allowing previously unstoried aspects of their experience to be “performed … expressed [,] and circulated,” and thus challenge oppressive discourses and dominant ideologies. White, Michael and Epston, David, Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends (New York: W. W. Norton, 1990), 30, 17Google Scholar.

Ibid

25 Jessie Redmon Fauset, “Nostalgia,” The Crisis, Aug. 1921, 154–58. For further discussion of Fauset's representation of nostalgia in her essays see Totten, African American Travel Narratives from Abroad, 92–94.

26 Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 89.

27 Gerald, Carolyn F., “The Black Writer and His Role,” Journal of Non-white Concerns, 4, 3 (April 1976), 133–39, 138Google Scholar; Larry Neal, “And Shine Swam On: An Afterword” (1968), in Napier, African American Literary Theory, 69–80, 78.

28 Rowan, Carl T., “Problems of the New Negro Elite,” Ebony, 21, 4 (1 Feb. 1966), 4346, 48, 50, 52–53, 43, 44Google Scholar.

29 Ibid., 44.

Ibid

30 Ibid., 53.

Ibid

31 Gerald, 138.

32 Indeed, the North is fraught in a number of ways for African American writers. For example, Farah Jasmine Griffin reveals the ties between lynching and northern migration for early twentieth-century African American writers, and she argues that racial violence is the major impetus for northern migration in literature from the period. See Griffin, Farah Jasmine, “Who Set You Flowin’?”: The African-American Migration Narrative (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 3, 16CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

33 Delgado and Stefancic, Critical Race Theory, 9.

34 Rowan, Carl, “Who Gets the Negro Vote?”, Look, 20, 23 (13 Nov. 1956), 3739, 37, 39Google Scholar.

35 Rowan, Carl T., “The Negro's Place in the American Dream,” Reader's Digest, 90 (April 1967), 6367, 66Google Scholar.

36 Rowan, Carl T., “Has Paul Robeson Betrayed the Negro?Ebony, 12, 2 (1 Oct. 1957), 3136, 38–42, 41Google Scholar.

37 Neal, “And Shine Swam On: An Afterword,” 74.

38 Rowan, Carl T., “Crisis in Civil Rights Leadership,” Ebony, 22, 1 (1 Nov. 1966), 2730, 32, 34, 36–37, 27, 28, 29Google Scholar. Rowan is quoted in a 1964 U.S. News and World Report article as calling for the “ousting” of “civil rights ‘quacks’” whose penchant for “picketing and demonstrations” leads to “violent destruction and looting” and will insure that “the Negro will lose the public relations battle.” “Carl Rowan's Advice: Oust Civil-Rights ‘Quacks’,” U.S. News and World Report, 57 (Aug. 1964), 14.

39 Carl T. Rowan, “Crisis in Civil Rights Leadership,” 30.

40 Ibid., 36.

Ibid

41 Wells, Ida B., Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells, ed. Duster, Alfreda M. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1970)Google Scholar; Washington, Booker T., The Man Farthest Down: A Record of Observation and Study in Europe (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1912)Google Scholar. For further discussion of Ida B. Wells's and Booker T. Washington's travel writing, see Totten, African American Travel Narratives from Abroad, chapters 1 and 2.

42 Wright, Richard explored such concerns in a global context in travel texts such as Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos (New York: Harper, 1954)Google Scholar; The Color Curtain: A Report of the Bandung Conference (New York: World Publishing Co., 1956); Pagan Spain (New York: Harper and Row, 1957); and White Man, Listen! (New York: Doubleday, 1957). For essays exploring the themes of Wright's travel writing, see Richard Wright's Travel Writings: New Reflections, ed. Virginia Whatley Smith (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001).

43 Rowan, “Crisis in Civil Rights Leadership,” 37.

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