Harding lecturer shares stories about antebellum period

At the fifth annual Walter Harding Lecture on Sept. 24, Frances Smith Foster addressed "'Freedom's Journal' and its Work; or Facts, Falsehoods and Common Sense."

Foster, the Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and Women's Studies at Emory University, spoke about the development of the Afro-Protestant press during the antebellum era of the U.S., the period before the Civil War.

"'Freedom's Journal' was the first documented African-American newspaper, which helped forge concepts of an international Africa-America," she said.

Her lecture focused on the common misconception that all enslaved blacks during the antebellum period were illiterate.

"The importance of suspicion when learning, especially facts, is a form of patriotism," Foster said. "Don't just choose one voice to listen to, look for the many."

According to Foster, educated black ministers and black people of importance throughout the U.S. created "Freedom's Journal," and contributors even included women and people from different countries such as Haiti and England.

She stated her main goal of the lecture was to be provocative and make people think and question what they had learned. Professor Maria Lima of the English department asked, "Am I the only ignorant person in the room? You are making us look again at these people."

Another issue Foster spoke about was the mythology surrounding famous figures in black history - figures like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas. She warned against idealizing them.

"Although they are considered heroes and she-roes, they had human foibles," she said. "We need to learn more about these people as people. If we are able to do that we can take more away from what they teach us".

Freshman Caitlin Maher said she enjoyed the lecture.

"She was engaging, and I learned a lot," Maher said. "It was interesting to hear about the different voices in literature and I never knew that some slaves knew how to write."

Foster received her doctorate from the California University at San Diego, and she specializes in African-American and American studies. She has edited or written more than a dozen books including "Love and Marriage in Early African America."

The Harding Lecture is given every year in honor of professor Walter Harding, a humanities professor who taught at Geneseo from 1956 to 1982.