More than a century after the Emancipation Proclamation, in a society that still others blackness, we continue to hold to the mythical humanizing power of literacy. In our own time this has been poignantly evinced in the public reception of the current President of the United States, Barack Obama. He has been internationally hailed for his written and oral eloquence, and many Americans expected that Obama’s evident intellectual prowess would reverse prevailing stereotypes of black inferiority. Obama’s rhetorical success is rooted in the longstanding literary practice of invoking the mythical founding fathers to validate text and subject. In this regard, David Walker’s Appeal (1829) represents the emergence of a long tradition of black voices invoking America’s most sacred patriarchs and their rhetoric of Americanness.
Since the law has been crucial in defining and delineating the dimensions of African American experience both in slavery and in freedom, the encounter with the American legal system and its representatives has left a strong imprint on African American cultural and literary memory and expression. The article sketches out a few aspects and features which characterize the reflection of law and race in African American culture and literature.