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McClish, Glen

Spring, 44:1, pages 46-67

‘‘To Furnish Specimens of Negro Eloquence’’: William J. Simmons’s Men of Mark as a Site of Late-Nineteenth-Century African American Rhetorical Education

Abstract:This study features Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising, William J. Simmons’s 1887 collection of short biographies of 178 prominent African American men, as a significant, yet overlooked site of post-Reconstruction-era African American rhetorical education. Making good on his opening promise ‘‘to furnish specimens of Negro eloquence, that young men might find . . . handy for declamations and apt quotations’’—including speeches, resolutions, narratives, editorials, epistles, poems, sermons, and petitions that serve as models of powerful rhetoric worthy of emulation—Simmons sets forth a practical, inclusive pedagogy of civic engagement based on exemplars for imitation and general guidance, rather than textbook principles, abstractions, or theories. He also provides additional texts and commentary to help readers understand the value of his subjects’ rhetorical practice. Furthermore, Simmons constructs an approach to acquiring rhetorical power emphasizing activist, progressive, primarily secular discourse and constitutive race pride.

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