My dissertation, “‘A House Is Not a Home”: African American Literature and the Problematic Signification of Housing in the Jim Crow Era,” examines home acquisition, maintenance, and decor across biographical, editorial, and fictional writings and identifies housing as a major societal issue shaping the rhetorical strategies of African American literature of the Jim Crow era. Juxtaposing these sources with advertisements, conference proceedings, and other documents, I isolate a racist discourse linking the ideal house to Black citizenship and progress, which I have termed the discourse of Black housing, that has largely been ignored. Using close textual analysis, I identify how the fictions of African American authors—Frances Harper, James Weldon Johnson, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others—signify on the discourse of Black housing. Drawing primarily from cultural studies, discourse analysis, and critical race theory, I argue that these authors anticipate the economic and psychological repercussions of this discourse and intervene with radical problem-solving strategies to undermine it, expose its white supremacist origins and exponential effects, and empower Black audiences regardless of the material condition of their homes. By closely examining discussions of housing in African American literature, “A House Is Not a Home” foregrounds another way African American literature ingeniously offers Black Americans tools for healthy survival.
Current sociological studies show that, even today, Black homeowners remain disproportionately more likely to view homeownership as a marker of success and citizenship even in the face of disastrous financial outcomes. Reading history out of these texts helps to not only rediscover the toxic roots of a discourse still in circulation but also to find empowering strategies of resistance.
Humanities, Language and Literature, English and American
Number of Pages
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
Hamilton, Summer L., ""A House Is Not a Home": African American Literature and the Problematic Signification of Housing in the Jim Crow Era" (2021). English Theses and Dissertations. 9.
Available for download on Wednesday, December 09, 2026