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The coining of the term intellectuals in 1898 coincided with W.E.B. Du Bois's effort to disseminate values and ideals unbounded by the colour line. Du Bois's ideal of a higher and broader and more varied human culture is at the heart of a cosmopolitan tradition that this text identifies as a missing chapter in American literary and cultural history. This text offers an historical perspective on black intellectuals as a social category, ranging over a century - from Frederick Douglass to Patricia Williams, from Du Bois, Pauline Hopkins, and Charles Chestnutt to Nella Larsen, Zora Neale Hurston, and Alain Locke. These writers challenge two durable assumptions: that high culture is white culture ; and that racial uplift is the sole concern of the black intellectual.
Ross Posnock is Professor of English at New York University.