The Black Middle Ages

Matthew Vernon
UC Davis

In The Black Middle Ages, the author explores the choice African-Americans made to read their own heritage through the narratives and imaginative space of the Middle Ages. Most studies present nineteenth-century American’s fascination with an invented “Anglo-Saxon” heritage as a project of whiteness; this study uncovers the ways in which African-American writers reworked medievalism. In doing so, they radically disrupted myths of racial purity and white superiority derived from interpretations of medieval and neomedieval cultural products. The Black Middle Ages reconstructs a diverse archive composed of neglected documents from historically black colleges and the early writings of African-American intellectuals, as well as a neglected canon of late-twentieth century African-American women writers. This work shows that African-American writers and intellectuals made canny use of medieval works and medievalisms to negotiate the new political and literary landscapes of the post-Civil War period.