Emory Report
February 25, 2008
Volume 60, Number 21

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February 25, 2008
Book explores love, marriage in African American history

By Mary Loftus

A new anthology about love and marriage in African American history edited by professor Frances Smith Foster challenges popular belief that the horrors of slavery are the root cause of family crisis in current African American culture.

“Love and marriage were serious investments in the 18th century, and are so in our own contemporary experiences,” Foster writes in the newly published “Love and Marriage in Early African America.” “I now see how the rhymes and sayings, the folk stories we absorbed, were our heritage being passed down, particular values being enforced or espoused.”

Foster, a senior fellow of Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion, compiled the anthology as part of a CSLR research project that uncovered African American writings spanning the 100 years between the slave era and the Harlem Renaissance. She found the works to be a testament to those who came before, revealing “the strength of African American families and to the many ways in which love lives in them.”

Many of the writings are taken from publications and newspapers written by African Americans for African Americans, dating back to slave times.

“I can’t believe I studied African American literature for years without knowing that in the 18th and 19th centuries we had a viable print culture,” writes Foster, Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and chair of the English department. “Even before Phillis Wheatley’s book of poems appeared in 1773, African Americans were writing and publishing sermons and minutes of meetings, poems, essays and autobiographies.”

The book, which Foster intends as a popular volume that will “work for many kinds of people with many kinds of intents and purposes,” is arranged into five sections to represent the ideals and models for love and marriage that she sees reflected in 19th- and early 20th-century African American print culture.