Nineteenth-century American orators drew on the advice of ancient rhetoricians, yet many co-opted the classics to support racial hierarchies, for example by framing classical erudition as the antithesis to blackness or interpreting Cicero’s remarks regarding ideal bodies through a racialized lens. Faced with such cultural assumptions, how did black women perform rhetorical authority? Focusing on the example of Anna Julia Cooper (1858-1964), Heidi Morse demonstrates how Cooper’s speeches and essays in A Voice From the South (1892) redeploy Ciceronian figures of speech as tools for legitimizing her body—and those of other black women—to her critics.
Heidi Morse is a 2014-15 Du Bois-Mandela-Rodney Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan. She received her PhD. in literature and feminist studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz for her dissertation titled Minding “Our Cicero”: Nineteenth-Century African American Women’s Rhetoric and the Classical Tradition.
Yopie Prins is professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Victorian Sappho (1999) and Ladies’ Greek: Victorian Translations of Tragedy (2015).