Annie Louise Burton

(b. 1860)

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(b. 1858?–), autobiographer.

Slave narratives are usually recognized and treated as an antebellum genre. Yet a significant group of exslaves who were children at the close of the Civil War also published their autobiographies. Annie Burton is one of the few such authors who, instead of dictating her story to someone else, wrote her own narrative. For some readers, Burton's Memories of Childhood's Slavery Days (1909) may seem to be a disjointed and nostalgic tale of what she calls the “Great Sunny South.” She breaks the narrative into eight sections: two autobiographical sketches, “a vision,” a piece she authored for her graduating essay, a radically progressive essay by the black minister Dr. P. Thomas Stanford entitled “The Race Question in America”, her own short “historical composition”, and her “favorite poems” and “favorite hymns”. The first section is a wistful sketch of her childhood in Clayton, Alabama, which then transforms into a chronicle of her economic life as an adult. She calls the second, in which she describes her mother, who ran away before the war and then came back to claim her children, a sequel; both are primarily accounts of travel, work, worth, and compensation.

Burton's pining memories of plantation days seem to align her prose with Thomas Nelson Page's revisionist “happy darky” novels, while her representation of her later economic ventures invokes the revisionist re-historicizing of white violence offered by Booker T. Washington. Yet Burton uses nostalgia as a cover and then disrupts the expectations her readers might have. While she seems to echo both the postbellum revision of slavery and Washington's vision of “industrial education” and economics, by including Stanford's piece, she challenges Washington's paradigmatic postbellum narrative Up from Slavery (1901). Like Harriet E. Wilson, for example, Annie Burton evokes the idealized plantation mansion in order to critique her place in the hierarchy it symbolizes.

William L. Andrews, “The Representation of Slavery and the Rise of Afro-American Literary Realism (1865–1920),” in Slavery and the Literary Imagination, eds. Deborah McDowell and Arnold Rampersad, 1989, pp. 62–80.Yoland Pierce, “Her Refusal to be Recast€: Annie Burton's Narrative of Resistance,” Southern Literary Journal 36 (Spring 2004): 1-12.

P. Gabrielle Foreman

Subjects: Literature.

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