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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

16. The Search For Identity

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Toni Morrison - Selected Archive Items

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[2254] Abbie Rowe, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (1963),
courtesy of the National Park Service, Historic Places of the Civil Rights Movement.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, many groups, including African Americans seeking greater equality and civil rights, used marches and nonviolent protests to make their voices heard. The sight of thousands of protesters marching in front of the White House was powerful and made causes like that of these marchers hard to ignore. This non-violent approach contrasts with the radicalism of Black Arts movement writers and the Black Panthers.

[3042] Anonymous, Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. [A Young Woman at the March with a Banner] (1963),
courtesy of the Still Pictures Branch, National Archives and Records Administration.
The civil rights marches in Washington, D.C., and throughout the South during the late 1950s and 1960s made the cause of equality for African Americans visible to the nation. Beyond the right to vote and equal education, African Americans demanded access to good jobs, homes, and other basic opportunities and constitutional rights. "I have come to believe over and over again," poet Audre Lorde said, "that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood."

[3266] National Park Service, John F. Kennedy's Address to the Nation on Civil Rights (1963),
courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.
On June 11, 1963, President Kennedy addressed the United States following the use of National Guard troops to enforce the ruling of a federal court allowing two African American students to attend the University of Alabama. "I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents," Kennedy said. "This nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened."

[3603] Harriet Jacobs, Frontispiece from Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself (1861),
courtesy of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was the first female-authored slave narrative published in the United States. Focusing on the specific plight of enslaved African American women, Jacobs's autobiography uses the discourse of sentimentality to appeal to a white female readership. In the late twentieth century, Toni Morrison's Beloved, in many ways influenced by slave narratives, describes the brutality of slavery and looks to ways the nation might attempt to heal from the wounds of its past.

[6187] Anonymous, Congress to Unite Women, May 1, 2, 3, '70: Intermediate School, 333 W. 17 St., N.Y.C. (1970),
courtesy of the Library of Congress.
From the same year that Toni Morrison and Alice Walker published their first novels, this poster calls women to one of the many conferences organized to formulate plans of action against oppression. In her article "Playing in the Dark," Morrison writes: "My work requires me to think about how free I can be as an African-American woman writer in my genderized, sexualized, and wholly radicalized world. [F]or me, imagining is not merely looking or looking at; nor is it taking oneself intact into the other. It is, for the purpose of the work, becoming."

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