Political Science

American Dark Age: Racial Feudalism and the Rise of Black Liberalism

How medieval-inspired racial feudalism reigned in early America and was challenged by Black liberal thinkers

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Published:
Sep 24, 2024
2024
Illus:
21 b/w illus. 1 table.
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Though the United States has been heralded as a beacon of democracy, many nineteenth-century Americans viewed their nation through the prism of the Old World. What they saw was a racially stratified country that reflected not the ideals of a modern republic but rather the remnants of feudalism. American Dark Age reveals how defenders of racial hierarchy embraced America’s resemblance to medieval Europe and tells the stories of the abolitionists who exposed it as a glaring blemish on the national conscience.

Against those seeking to maintain what Frederick Douglass called an “aristocracy of the skin,” Keidrick Roy shows how a group of Black thinkers, including Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Hosea Easton, and Harriet Jacobs, challenged the medievalism in their midst—and transformed the nation’s founding liberal tradition. He demonstrates how they drew on spiritual insight, Enlightenment thought, and a homegrown political philosophy that gave expression to their experiences at the bottom of the American social order. Roy sheds new light on how Black abolitionist writers and activists worked to eradicate the pernicious ideology of racial feudalism from American liberalism and renew the country’s commitment to values such as individual liberty, social progress, and egalitarianism.

American Dark Age reveals how the antebellum Black liberal tradition holds vital lessons for us today as hate groups continue to align themselves with fantasies of a medieval past and openly call for a return of all-powerful monarchs, aristocrats, and nobles who rule by virtue of their race.