E.W. Clay’s Life in Philadelphia Series
During the 1830’s, among the antislavery protest, freeborn blacks of Philadelphia represented the wealthiest and most educated group of African Americans in the country. They established their own schools, churches, and even a social order. Associated to the cultural and social economic status, African American clubwomen of Philadelphia were greatly ridiculed in racially prejudiced cartoons such as E.W. Clay’s popular “Life in Philadelphia” series.
E.W. Clay was inspired to make these series by George and Robert Cruikshank who had published a “Life in London” series. His late 1820s feature series “Life in Philadelphia” fight with who African Americans could be in the social world; a world that relied on race and slavery as powerful signs of inequity. His response was brutally racist: in Philadelphia, those African Americans who took on the frills of urban life were strained and out of place. Clay’s analysis came in the form of fourteen engraved plates, a series that was one part observation, one part artistry, and one part imagination.
Clay’s series presented American spectators a cruel portrayal of black figures that offered an exaggeration in overdressed clothing and proportions, awkward poses, and thus failed to measure up to the demands of freedom and citizenship. In Clay’s cartoons, not only was their style being ridicule but their language as well. In his 1828 “Is Miss Dina at home?” cartoon he mocks the person by declaring that an African American with a business card is simply a laughable concept. Blackness, as illustrated by Clay, provided his free black subjects mistaken aspirants, were always controlled by incomparable distinction.
Clay’s varieties of drawings were inspired by the way some of the African American women had started to carry themselves out. They added a touch of certain things, that perhaps were not permissible by their society, and it made them give the impression trying to be different....
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