Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

M.A. in English

First Advisor

Jay Watson

Second Advisor

Kathryn McKee

Third Advisor

Adam Gussow

Abstract

The role of the railroad in the modern American experience—and its role in making that experience modern—cannot be overstated. This thesis proposes to tell one of many possible railroad stories. By focusing on the historical and cultural relevance of a series of bodies in transit, I examine the implementation of railroad segregation law and the response by African-American performers. The thesis begins at the end of the nineteenth century with the Homer Plessy test case and continues across three decades, meeting along the way novelists Charles Chesnutt and James Weldon Johnson and musicians W. C. Handy, Henry "Ragtime Texas" Thomas, and Honeyboy Edwards. I find that by studying the train scenes and train sounds produced by these black men under the constraints of the Jim Crow South, we might come to a better understanding of the role of the railroad in American life, the role of segregation law in southern life, and the role of train experience in the expression of protest escaping from an African-American community caught in its "nadir."

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