Black History 365 – The first Black person to… publish a novel (and play)

William Wells Brown

William Wells Brown

In 2016 for my Black History 365 series, I explore the obvious and not so obvious parts of American history that those called Black have taken part in. The things that we (Black people) have done other than be stolen from our homeland and made forced labor in a land foreign to us. I’m going to start this series by looking up the first time someone African-American did something and broke the color barrier in that activity or field. I’ll be starting with Wikipedia and working my way out:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_African-American_firsts

I will be learning a lot of this as I go since I am a product of the standardized Euro/Anglo/Caucasian leaning public school system. I hope you enjoy learning with me. I’ll be going down the list chronologically as it appears in the Wikipedia article.

If you have any other sources or additional information for this topic, please share in the comments. I also welcome any and all comments and discussion. Thanks for reading!

For my eighteenth entry this year:

1853: First novel published by an African American: Clotel; or, The President’s Daughter, by William Wells Brown.

1858:  First published play by an African American: The Escape; or, A Leap for Freedom by William Wells Brown

William Wells Brown (November 6, 1814 – November 6, 1884) was a prominent African-American abolitionist lecturer, novelist, playwright, and historian. Born into slavery in the Southern United States, Brown escaped to the North in 1834, where he worked for abolitionist causes and was a prolific writer. His novel Clotel (1853) is considered the first novel written by an African American; it was published in London, where he was living at the time. Brown was a pioneer in several different literary genres, including travel writing, fiction, and drama. He has a school named after him in Lexington, Kentucky, and was among the first writers inducted to the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.

Lecturing in England when the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law was passed in the US, which required people in the North to aid in the capture of fugitive slaves, Brown stayed for several years to avoid the risk of capture and re-enslavement. After his freedom was purchased by a British couple in 1854, he and his family returned to the US, where he rejoined the abolitionist lecture circuit. A contemporary of Frederick Douglass, Wells Brown was overshadowed by the charismatic orator and the two feuded publicly.

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