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Author: Ashley Craig Lancaster, Itawamba Community College


The term “manhood” is one that has been used in African-American literature since the slave narrative. Richard H. King (2006) argues, “Overall, the slave narrative became an instance of, as well as a source of information about, the move from slavery to freedom and from victimization to agency among African Americans” (p. 134). This struggle for “agency” became a narrative for the black man after emancipation. Black males wanted to be accepted in mainstream, aka white, society and seen as “men” instead of “boys” by their white counterparts. To become “men,” though, in the eyes of whites, African Americans had to overcome the racial stereotypes created by whites, and they also had to overcome gender disparagement perpetuated by slavery. While these African-American males had gained personal freedom, their racial and gender identities remained in bondage.

This narrative of African-American male identity is an overarching theme in an American Literature II survey course. Students need to understand that African-American male identity has been an ongoing discussion since even before emancipation. The discussion students read today concerning the Black Lives Matter movement is just the current part of the narrative that started well before this movement began. This unit seeks to explore how this narrative began so that students can better understand how far or how little the discussion has advanced.

This unit is also meant to help students understand the almost impossible battle that faced African-American males after emancipation. My students generally think that the Emancipation Proclamation solved all of the slaves’ problems; however, that is not at all the case. Black males still faced racial, economic, and educational discrimination that the dominant white society used

to keep blacks stuck in a new form of slavery. As a result, black males found overcoming these obstacles an incredible feat in their journey to gain the “agency” they so desired.

There will be three main texts for this unit: Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington, The Black Man’s Burden by William H. Holtzclaw, and The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois. These three texts identify the contrasting ways in which black male leaders sought to create that “agency” for black males after emancipation. Though each leader was connected and was critiquing each other, each was focused on the same primary goal.

By studying Washington’s narrative, I intend to show how he believed industrial education and self-imposed segregation could further the African-American chance at “agency.” However, I will also highlight how his plan for African Americans was driven by white eugenicists who believed whites to be the superior race over blacks. I want my students to entertain the question of how and why Washington would help perpetuate the views of these eugenicists.

Then, we will study Holtzclaw’s narrative. As a student of Washington, Holtzclaw was taught to follow in the footsteps of his mentor, Washington; however, Holtzclaw devotes a large part of his narrative to the necessity of African Americans gaining financial independence from whites. He seeks to create African-American “agency” through economic freedom that will not leave African Americans at the mercy of the whites who think they are superior to blacks.

Finally, we will study The Souls of Black Folk by Du Bois. Amanda Laugeusen (2000) argues the importance of Du Bois’s different perceptions concerning race and gender:

Du Bois worked within particular discourses about race and manhood but also sought to reshape them and use them to empower his politics. Race was something he used actively and critically, but, if he worked to reshape meanings of race at the time, he was more constrained by his understandings of gender and manhood. Gender needed to remain a stable construct so that the boundaries of the meanings of race could be pushed. In this way, Du Bois drew upon and reinforced prevailing concepts of manhood; but equally used them to subvert meanings of race. Advocating an African American manhood was a powerfully subversive and challenging idea in a white America that saw African-American men as violent and sexually threatening. (p. 15)

As a result, Du Bois advocated a traditional classic education for blacks, and he was also against segregation. He argued that African Americans were just as capable of meeting white standards educationally and socially as whites were. This lack of separation in standards was his version of creating black “agency.”

By studying these three varying perceptions of black manhood, I hope that my students will understand the later discourse about black manhood that occurs during the Harlem Renaissance and in various works by postmodern authors such as August Wilson. This unit is designed to help students understand the concept of race as a created social construct that has kept African Americans from becoming the “men” they want others to see them as, even in present day society. My students cannot fully understand the struggle to overcome racism by African Americans if they do not first understand how racial stereotypes were created. They also cannot fully understand the present-day struggle if they do not see how some of the same questions posed by Washington, Holtzclaw, and Du Bois are still questions that plague that African-American community in the present day.


King, R. H. (2006). Recasting African American history. Slavery & Abolition, 27(1), 133-138.


Laugesen, A. (2000). Empowering African-American Manhood, Empowering African-American

Politics: The Quest of W. E. B. Du Bois, 1890-1920. Limina, 612-24.


Lesson Plan


Primary Texts:          

Up from Slavery                                                         Booker T. Washington

The Black Man’s Burden                                            William Holtzclaw

The Souls of Black Folk                                              W.E.B. Du Bois

Supporting Texts:      

A Dreadful Deceit                                                       Jacqueline Jones

The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935     James D. Anderson

Notes on the State of Virginia                                     Thomas Jefferson


The main goal of this unit is for students to be able to write a research paper about African-American manhood. They must choose from one of the three main texts and connect that text to at least two works we will discuss later in the semester, and they must explain how the original text helps them to understand the later Harlem Renaissance and Postmodern texts that explore the same ideas about African-American manhood. This paper will not be due until the end of the semester, but I will introduce it in this unit so that the students can come up with ideas for their paper topics.

The students will be graded based on the following criteria:

**The essay must be 5-7 pages in length.

**It must trace one trait of African-American “manhood” from the works about education to at least two later works in the Harlem Renaissance and/or postmodern eras.

**The essay must include at least 5 secondary sources from reputable sources.

**The essay must be written in MLA format.


Day 1: 50 minutes

Students should have read the Introduction to Jacqueline Jones’s A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America and the selection from “Query XIV” in Notes on the State of Virginia by Thomas Jefferson.

Learning Objectives:

Students should be able to discuss how race is a social construct. Students should also be able to discuss Jefferson’s view of blacks and how his assessment of blacks helped to create the belief that blacks were less than whites, mentally and physically.

Lesson Plan:

**Ask each student to write on a separate sheet of paper a list of traits associated with the four main races we see in the Lee County area where Itawamba Community College is located: White, Black, Mexican, and Asian.

**Then, ask the students to write at the bottom of each list where they came up with these traits. How do they “know” these traits are associated with each race?

**I do not plan to ask each student what was on his/her list. I do, however, plan to ask the students if they would give that list to a student who was not of their same race. At the bottom of the paper, I want each student to explain why he/she would or would not share the list.

**As they hold onto the sheet, we will then discuss Jones’s Introduction, which discusses why the idea of racial traits is part of our social structure. Do they see if any of what she writes about in their own lives?


**Last, we will discuss the Jefferson selection and how and why he came up with these ideas of racial distinctions. What difference does is make, if any, that Jefferson is the one writing down this narrative about black inferiority? Why would he have written this about blacks?

Day 2: 50 minutes

The students should have already read Chapters 3 and 14 of Up from Slavery and Chapter 2 of The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935.

Learning Objectives:

Students should gain knowledge of why and how industrial education became the popular choice for black education in America. They should also be to identify the key men who led this movement.

Lesson Plan:

**We will discuss Samuel Chapman Armstrong and his vision for African-American education. We will discuss what motivated Armstrong, and we will discuss his view of blacks in relation to whites. This discussion should connect to the previous day’s discussion on race as a social construct and about Jefferson.

**Then, we will discuss how Washington continued this vision in his Atlanta Exposition Address. I will ask how his view of blacks is a reflection of Jefferson’s and Armstrong’s views. Also, we will discuss the impact of Washington’s comparison of the fingers on a hand to segregation.


**I will finish the lesson by asking students their impression of Washington and his choice to follow Armstrong and how they think his choice ties into his educational background and how he struggled to get an education.

Day 3: 50 minutes

The students should have read Chapters 5 and 11 of The Black Man’s Burden and Chapter 5 of A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America.

Learning Objectives:

Students should be able to discuss Holtzclaw’s focus on financial independence and how that freedom relates to manhood and future prosperity for blacks.

Lesson Plan:

**First, we will discuss how many of the students were even aware of Holtzclaw and his legacy in Mississippi.

**I will show them pictures of the current campus and of the spot where students got off the train to hike to campus. What do the pictures tell us about the dedication of these students? How does this dedication relate to Jefferson’s view of blacks?

**We will discuss how financial freedom and financial responsibility were used by Holtzclaw in his narrative. We will discuss how important he saw this freedom to be, especially because blacks needed to be free of white lenders.

**We will finally discuss how important—both negatively and positively—it was that African Americans had to support their own schools financially. Why was there no equal funding? What did this lack of equal funding say to the black community? What does their perseverance say about their dedication to education? How does this help to debunk Jefferson’s view of black inferiority?

Day 4: 50 minutes

The students should have already read Chapters 3 and 6 of The Souls of Black Folk and Chapter 7 of The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935.

Learning Objectives: Students should be able to discuss Du Bois and his focus on the Talented Tenth and on classic education. Students should be able to discuss the specifics of the debate over black education, based on the focuses of Washington, Holtzclaw, and Du Bois.

Lesson Plan:

**We will discuss the historical debate between Washington and Du Bois, and I will ask the students why they think these two men are usually the only ones mentioned in the discussion of African-American education.

**We will then discuss Du Bois’s criticism of Washington’s leadership credentials and his leadership style. Why did Du Bois see Washington as chosen by white leaders? This question links back to the discussion on Day 2.

**I will ask the students what Du Bois’s plan for African-American education is. We will discuss classic education from Du Bois’s perspective and how this type of learning differs from industrial education. We will also link Du Bois’s focus on classic education back to Jefferson’s views of blacks that were discussed on Day 1.


**Finally, we will discuss The Talented Tenth and the challenges and burdens that fell to this group with Du Bois’s plan. Were his expectations of this group too much, or were his expectations necessary for the time period?