Backed by a prestigious national fellowship, a Saginaw Valley State University educator hopes to inspire a new appreciation for a 19th century African-American activist whose influence touched many aspects of American culture during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras.
Eric Gardner, an SVSU professor of English, recently was awarded a highly-competitive National Endowment for the Humanities research fellowship for the second time. The opportunity this time will allow him to complete research needed for a planned book about the life of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, an activist, orator and writer.
"Harper's career -- especially the critical period between 1861 and 1877 -- remains surprisingly understudied, even though her efforts shaped African-American literature, abolitionism, suffrage and civil rights struggles, the temperance movement, the black press, and American lyceum culture," Gardner said.
He said the book ideally will expand conversations on a broad range of subjects such as American literature and history, African-American literature, women's literature and history, civil rights, print culture and public speech.
"Harper was amazing," he said. "In an era dominated by discrimination against both African-Americans and women, she fashioned a public career as a black woman writer and activist that lasted for decades."