Representing a Problem of Modern Mobility: Travel and Imagination in African American Cultural History, Arts and Letters, ca. 1900-1970 Open Access

Hall, Michael Ra-Shon (2014)

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This dissertation examines the little explored social phenomenon of travel and imagination as evidenced by the critical and creative works of African American artists. It is an interdisciplinary humanities project combining literary analysis, visual analysis and film criticism with cultural history as refracted through material artifacts and demonstrates travel as a paradigmatic complement to Diaspora and migration as frameworks for examining historical legacies of geographical dispersal and traversal. In particular, a chapter surveying the travel narratives and creative works of several African American artists and intellectuals, and charting the broader trajectory of African American mobility via slave, migration and travel narratives, precedes three chapters focused individually on Sterling Brown's poetry, Zora Neale Hurston's early travels and novels Jonah's Gourd Vine and Their Eyes Were Watching God, and the ground breaking 1930s film The Emperor Jones directed by Dudley Murphy and featuring Paul Robeson. A fifth chapter moves beyond individual artists to examine a collective community of travelers through Atlanta native Calvin A. Ramsey's play based on the historic Negro Motorist Green Book, a specialized travel guide produced from 1936-1967. Throughout the dissertation I analyze how African Americans critically represent travel as a problem of modern mobility with racial, ethnic and gendered restrictions and impasses, and argue travel is consistently represented as a problem of modern mobility in the African American imagination in large part due to the modern paradox of freedom and confinement uniquely experienced and expressed by African Americans from the period of enslavement forward with slave narratives representing some of the earliest literary iterations of this modern problematic. Together, the sites I investigate reveal the tremendous social and cultural impact of travel and imagination and reflect a dynamic cultural history of African American travel domestically and internationally. With its focus on how travel has inspired artists and artworks as how artists and works of art imagine and represent travel as a problem of mobility, this dissertation breaks new ground at the intersection of African American and American studies, travel and tourism studies, cultural history and scholarship interested in the impact of mobility on cultural memory and imagination.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter 1: Mobility, Restriction and the Meaning of Freedom: A Selected Survey

of African American Travel Narratives and Creative Works 38

Chapter 2: The Prominence of the Railroad in the African American Imagination:

Mobile Men, Gendered Mobility and the Poetry of Sterling A. Brown 76

Chapter 3: Variations on a Paradoxical Theme: Gendered Mobility, Modern

Travel and Imagination in Hurston's Early Travels and Creative Works 105

Chapter 4: Scenes of Black Masculinity and Wanderlust: Travel, Gendered

Mobility and Film Diaspora in Emperor Jones 142 Chapter 5: Dramatizing the African American Experience of Travel in the Jim Crow South: The Green Book: A Play in Two Acts 159 A Final Word In Lieu of a Formal Conclusion 190

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