By Associate Professor Elaine B Richardson, Ronald L Jackson II
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Additional resources for African American Rhetoric(s) Interdisciplinary Perspectives
I . . gave them more gospel truth than perhaps some of them have heard for some time” (Still, 1872, pp. 772, 775). Carson (1995), in a compelling essay “The Gender of Sound,” surveys the many ways in which our presumptions about gender affect the way we hear the human voice. She observes that “[e]very sound we make is a bit of autobiography. It has a totally private interior yet its trajectory is public. A piece of inside projected to the outside” (p. 130). She writes of those who control censorship of these projections, but of particular relevance here is the notion of sound as autobiography.
We have here then the influence of race, gender, and oratorical conventions on the way audiences responded to Harper, but we also have the agency of Frances Harper to take into account. As we reconsider Harper, other Black women rhetors, and by extension all women speakers generally—and I think it is important to be specific without being exclusive—we need to consider them as agents in their own performances, agents who were engaging a range of rhetorical practices to reach their audiences. Conclusions I am aware that these quoted reactions to Harper, Douglass, Truth, and other nineteenth-century speakers have all been critiqued out of their contexts, contexts that would be difficult if not impossible to reconstruct with accuracy.
Thus, after hearing Douglass at Finsbury Chapel, the audience wanted to purchase his freedom. As the Reverend Campbell proclaimed, “He that was covered with chains, and that is now being covered with glory, and whom we will send back a gentleman” (Douglass, 1855/1969, p. 420). The Reverend Campbell echoed here Phoebe Hanaford’s sentiment that Harper was “one of the colored women of whom White women may be proud,” quoted above. These delivery-focused remarks were not entirely atypical. Such attributions as “with gestures few and fitting” bring to mind Edwin Black’s essay on the aesthetics of rhetoric.