Aristocrats of Color


The Black Elite, 1880–1920
Willard B. Gatewood
978-1-55728-593-5 (paper)
May 2000


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Every American city had a small, self-aware, and active black elite, who felt it was their duty to set the standard for the less fortunate members of their race and to lead their communities by example. Rank within this black upper class rested on such issues as the status of one’s forebears as either house servants or field hands, the darkness of one’s skin, and the level of one’s manners and education.

Professor Gatewood’s study examines this class of African Americans by looking at the genealogies and occupations of specific families and individuals throughout the United States and their roles in their various communities. The resulting narrative is a full and illuminating account of a most influential segment of the African-American population. It explores fully the distinctive background, prestige, attitudes, behavior, power, and culture of this class. The Black Community Studies series from the University of Arkansas Press, edited by Professor Gatewood, continues to examine many of the same themes first explored in this important study.

Willard B. Gatewood is Alumni Distinguished Professor of History emeritus at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and the author or co-author of eleven other books, including Black Americans and the White Man’s Burden 1898–1903.

“A compelling story of proud and talented people. Gatewood’s narrative is sensitive and objective, and it is always good reading.”
—David Edwin Harrell, Jr., University of Alabama

The Black Community Studies Series was edited by Dr. Willard Gatewood.