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Re: [Research] Pioneer Black female writer NOT Bla

The NGS Quarterly had an article on Emma Dunham Hawkins in their March 2006 issue. I posted the following on the main board. What I found interesting was Deborah McDowell's comment (UVA) to the author of the article was "failure to find any record of her (Emma Hawkins) was excused by prejudice and lack of record-keeping about blacks"15
(15. Deborah McDowell, UVA, phone communication to author, 20 March 2003)
Obviously some of these folks haven't been to Afrigeneas, there are at least 100 folks on this board, who would have been able to do what Katherine Flynn did.

April 14, 2006

"Space the final frontier" - James Kirk, Captain of the Enterprise

Contradicting the Starship Captain, I submit "Race remains the final frontier"

In a reversal of the usual "outing" of someone for passing from black to white, the current issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (Volume 94, No. 1 March 2006) has a very interesting article entitled "A Case of Mistaken Racial Identity: Finding Emma Dunham (nee Kelley) Hawkins" by Katherine E. Lynn, Ph.D., C.G., in which she goes in great detail (and 185 footnotes) using basic genealogical research techniques census records, vital records restore Emma (and her descendants who didn't even know there was a issue - thats what happens when you don't subscribe to Jet and Ebony) to her/their "whiteness".

Born on November 11, 1863 in Dennis, Mass, Emma Dunham an author and publisher of two books Megda (1891) and Four Girls at Cottage City (1895), is identified as an AA author and her image (which appeared in the book Megda and according to Flynn is repeatedly cited as evidence that Emma was black) and biography is included in the African American Women Writers of the 19th century website of the New York Public Library's Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture.

The biography which can be accessed at the site and which was last accessed according by Dr. Flynn for her article on March 5, 2006 (footnote no. 7) states that: Emma Dunham Kelly (?--?) is to date a mystery woman. We do not know where she was born or how she spent her girlhood, nor who the Mr. Hawkins was that she married. Needless to say Dr. Flynn then goes on to recreate Emma's life through records.

According to Dr. Flynn "previous unpublished research suggested that Emma was identified as African American solely from the photograph in Megda. Failure to find any record of her was excused by prejudice and lack of record-keeping about blacks." In her footnotes no. 14 & no. 15 she refers to her conversation with Deborah McDowell, of University of VA, and Molly Hite of Cornell University in reference to prejudice and lack of record keeping about blacks for failure to locate any information on Emma. The cover of the Journal shows different an original picture which was provided by family members that Flynn located.

"Emma Kelley is also absent from studies of AA literature through 1948. Her earliest appearance in this context is in the 1955 first edition of the landmark chronolgy, A Century of Fiction by American Negroes 1853-1952: A Descriptive Bibliography by Maxwell Whiteman...although identified as a black author in 1955, Emma's place in the canon was not secure until Megda was accessioned into the Schomberg Collection in 1976. Emma's 2nd novel 4 Girls at Cottage City, was unknown to AA literture studies until its discoverty in 1983 by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and ironically it inspired the compilation of the Schomberg Library of 19th Century Black Women Writers."

Flyn concludes: "this documented biography and genealogy unequivocally proves that Emma......lived as white as did all her ancestors as far back as the early 1700's No known evidence shows that they believed otherwise or that the society in which they moved viewed them as nonwhite. In addition, an ORIGINAL PHOTOGRAPH (my caps) contradicts the ambiguous complextion in the one printed in Megda. (See cover photo)

I found it interesting that this article appeared here in the NGS Journal although the theme of this issue is "Unknown or Just Under Researched", and wonder if it is being discussed or written about amongst the literati


For my local folks the Hampton and Newport News Public Library do subscibe to the NGS Quarterly not sure if it is available yet, you can check it is the March 2006 issue.

Also included is another artlce on doing Genealogical Research in Illinois, and a book review by Tony Burroughs on the book Akee Tree: A Descendant's Search for his Ancestors on the Eskridge Plantations (not sure where this plantation was)

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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