Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Herman L. Bennett

Subject Categories

African American Studies | History


African American; Black; Childhood; Gender; Sexuality; Women


This dissertation constructs an urban, social and intellectual history of poor and working class African Americans in the interwar period in Washington, D.C. Although the advent of social history shifted scholarly emphasis onto the "ninety-nine percent," many scholars have framed black history as the story of either the educated, uplifted and accomplished elite, or of a culturally depressed monolithic urban mass in need of the alleviation of structural obstacles to advancement. A history of the poor and working class as individuals with both ideas and subjectivity has often been difficult simply because there are limited archival sources.

"Narratives of Interiority" uses data collected and other materials created by social researchers in the Progressive era's burgeoning social science fields to examine the everyday lives, movements, and articulated thoughts of a disaggregated African American poor and working class. While sociological and social welfare materials have been criticized for contributing to the racialization of crime and the pathologization of black urban life, they also offer historians a rich archive from which to cull the complexities of daily existence and inner life that transcend the instrumental renderings of black pathology and the narrow configurations of the black urban migration experience. This archive accentuates inner life, life of the mind, and the quotidian and brings into relief varied interpretations and understandings of political economy, educational possibilities, citizenship, family, appropriate (legal, respectable) comportment, and conceptions of self as articulated by black poor and working class individuals themselves. Furthermore, an historical examination of social science research materials instead of social scientists' and reform workers' interpretations of that material complicates an analysis of early sociology, problematizing ethnographic methodology, but also interrogating the possibilities for voice and visibility that sociological and anthropological research projects offered, and offers, people with little access to politics and visibility writ large.

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