All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Brian Steele

Advisory Committee Members

Robert Jefferson

Pamela Sterne King

Walter Ward

Document Type

Thesis

Date of Award

2014

Degree Name by School

Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

A complicated thinker, full of paradoxes, Alexander Crummell (1819-1898) engaged deeply with the world around him. He established prominent public relationships with often deified figures such as Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Booker T. Washington; he crossed transatlantic boundaries, impacting the lives of whites and blacks in America, England, and West Africa; and he continually searched for a community where blacks could freely exercise their rights and fulfill the duties of citizenship and self-governance. He championed black nationalism and racial pride, but, at the same time, he imagined and idealized a cohesive cosmopolitan community, a kind of universal human family that transcended both race and geography. He encouraged the expansion of commerce and trade, but he lamented selfish greed and the mindless race for mammon. He consistently called for individual personal responsibility while also demanding the development of a collective identity and the fulfillment of one's communal duties. This contradictory nature of Crummellian thought has often puzzled scholars, and it has often led them to oversimplify his ideas or to misunderstand them or to ignore them entirely. He has, at various times, been called a conservative, a radical, a Federalist, a Hamiltonian elitist, a Christian mystic, a black nationalist, and a cultural imperialist. But attempting to pack him away into these tiny boxes limits our view of Crummell as a public intellectual and as a three-dimensional human being. My hope is to complicate the historiography and contribute to a better understanding of Crummellian thought by suggesting that Crummell's frustrations with the hypocrisies of American slavery and racism, as well as with economic individualism run amok, amounted to a communitarian critique of nineteenth-century American liberalism. Moreover, Crummell's communitarianism embodied a distinctive brand of philosophical idealism, which in turn allowed him to raise universal questions that transcended both space and time: he asked questions about the meaning of justice, truth, beauty, spirituality, and freedom. Ultimately, Crummellian thought embraced the idea that individuals could never achieve their transcendent moral ends alone but only collectively, and that individuals could never be fully human unless they maintained and nurtured those essential communal ties.

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