The Persistence of Racism

Margaret Edwards

The idea for this course grew out of the shock generated by the march in Charlottesville, Virginia, where those opposed to the removal of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s public statue put on a display of racist hatred as virulent as anything in the news during the 1960s-1970s Civil Rights conflicts.

This seminar will feature a careful examination of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.   Perhaps because I was brought up in the South, I read this famous novel for the first time only this year and cannot believe how nuanced and brilliant it is. It is not (as I was once led to believe) just an overwrought melodrama and parade of stereotypes, with Victorian deathbed scenes and a hefty dose of Christian evangelism. Despite the fact such a description rings true, the novel is also very complex.  Its compelling, fast-paced, and hard-to-put-down narrative is laced with every shade of argument both for and against slavery—which are arguments for and against racism—each eloquently presented by the various characters.  It’s a polemic, for sure.  Its Abolitionist stance is absolute.  Yet at its end, Stowe herself seems to flinch at equality between the races.

For its ambivalent conclusion, her novel has been (and continues to be) castigated by Black Studies academia.  But the power of the book rises beyond even its author’s intentions.  A reader can well understand how this novel helped ignite a war.  And equally compelling has been my discovery of a riveting, contemporary memoir—Charles Dew’s The Making of A Racist.  Read in conjunction with Stowe’s classic, Dew’s book should focus and lend depth to class discussions of present-day racism. Professor Dew (who teaches history at Williams College) has agreed to visit Woodstock and speak with this seminar’s members in early October.

The two required texts will be available in paperback at Woodstock’s Yankee Book Shop.

Tuesdays, Sept. 11 – Oct. 16,  10:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.

Norman Williams Public Library

Margaret Edwards spent 30 years as a professor of English at the University of Vermont. Her specialty was Modern & Contemporary American Poetry.  She also taught writing seminars, including one entitled “Expository Writing: the Personal Voice.”  On her retirement in 2001, she moved from Burlington to Barnard, Vermont, where she and her husband now live.   She earned her B.A. from Bryn Mawr College, and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Stanford University.