13. January 24 – January 31

This week, I’ve been working on my first chapter and introduction as I prepare for my next major draft deadline. I’m primarily working from an introduction draft I began over the break and a roughly 8 page background section I wrote during the drafting process of my second content chapter that I eventually removed before submission to the department.

The first major task for my introduction is my historiography section: although I began to address existing literature in both my prospectus and my early drafts of the introduction, it is difficult to decide which works are worth discussing, and at what length. I’ve spent a good deal of time this week beginning to comb through the footnotes of my most relevant secondary sources- Thompson, Dorsey, Godshalk, Smith, etc. – to see where my major source materials have been utilized and to make what arguments. I’m trying to figure out how I can use different sources/use the same sources differently in order to add value. Of course, my argument and thematic focus is distinct from these works – but I want to be in conversation with the existing literature and position my own research as original. Right now, I’ve been keeping track of the source overlap in an Excel spreadsheet.

The second challenge is the description of my own thesis as a whole, outlining the chapter topics and laying out the arguments of each. For the chapter I’ve already written, this is fairly straightforward – but my first and last chapters are a bit fuzzier and therefore difficult to describe. I’m also wary of jumping to narrative conclusions before I can build up my argument from the source bases themselves. I think I will leave this section for last – although I know that my  thesis will generally argue that that the history of African American women progressives in Atlanta can be told through the lens of the temperance  movement, I don’t want to overly constrain my arguments on a chapter-level.

That said, I’ve simultaneously begun my first chapter, My writing process has begun with a solid outline and a “to do” list for additional research and specific paragraphs directed by topic sentences. I want to use my first chapter to argue that black Atlanta in the 1880s saw the perfect storm of influences to create a uniquely powerful prohibitionist movement amongst African American progressive women. In particular, I want to call attention to the way the strong moral code and tradition of public involvement collided with the expansive and sometimes empowering definitions of womanhood. At the same time, I’ll point to a rising interest in racial uplift strategies in light of racial disparities in physical safety, wealth and education linked with the power of New South rhetoric, which ultimately manifested in a female-driven and race-oriented ‘dry’ strategies. This will allow me to address the 1885 and 1887 referendums, although I won’t be able to give them the detailed treatment they deserve. I can distinguish my research from Thompson’s, however, by framing the local option elections as a set up for the maturation of the movement in the 1890s – whereas he concludes that Black Atlanta’s “historic cultural orientation and factors external to their community converged to lead them to reject prohibition” (248), I will be extending the narrative into the largely ignored 1890s, therefore reclaiming the defeat as a brief, disappointing interlude before a bolstered national movement and eventual state-wide prohibition.

Another way that I can distinguish my chapter from that of other historians will be my use of sources attained during my Atlanta trip. While Thompson relies heavily on the white press – in particular, the Atlanta Constitution crowds his footnotes – I want to work from some of the prominent black voices of the period. I’m especially interested in exploring The Southern Recorder, which was founded in 1888 by Bishop Henry McNeal Turner – the first black chaplain in the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War and the first Southern bishop in the AME Church. Thompson cites the paper sporadically, but I want to go further in depth to understand the cultural landscape of black progressive Atlanta. In many ways, Turner gave voice to Atlanta during the turn of the century: not only did he found the Southern Recorder, but also served as founder and editor of the Voice of Missions in 1892 and the Voice of the People in 1901. The front page of The Southern Recorder indicates that it was a paper “devoted to temperance, religion, justice, industry, economy, education and African civilization.” Unsurprisingly, there is a great deal of discussion of Atlanta-specific prohibition battles – sometimes reprinted from other white and black presses, from other ministers and religious figures, or from Turner himself. I’ve begun to look through my images from the trip and identified just a few interesting tidbits that provide a late 1880s view of the temperance issue, transcribed here.