Any new text by Horton, scholars say, is a welcome discovery. “We’re unlikely to find much more from him, given his enslaved status,” said Faith Barrett, an associate professor of English at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, who has written about Horton. “It’s really a wonderful find.”

“Individual Influence” is interesting not just for Horton’s lofty, abstract words about the primacy of divine influence, but for the context in which they were preserved: in a scrapbook of material relating to a prominent scholar who was forced out of the university after publicly opposing slavery.

Horton’s essay says nothing overtly about slavery, or about that case. But “it’s very suggestive about the role he played on campus,” Mr. Senchyne said.

Mr. Senchyne came across the manuscript in 2015, when he was looking through the papers of Henry Harrisse, a notable 19th-century lawyer and bibliographer who taught at U.N.C. in the mid-1850s.

While paging through a scrapbook Harrisse had made of material from that period, Mr. Senchyne was intrigued to find a text in different handwriting, bearing the title “Individual Influence.” And he was downright startled when he saw the signature at the bottom: “George M Horton, of colour, Born in North Hampton county North Carolina, 60 years old.”

“It was really a surreal moment,” he recalled. “I thought, ‘Wow, what is this?’”

Casual readers of the essay may find themselves wondering the same thing. Written in 1855 or 1856, the piece has flowery and convoluted language and archaic spelling, and the sentiments about the relationship between earthly and heavenly power are difficult to untangle.

“All influence opposit to divine perverts human nature into brutality from infancy into distant years,” Horton writes, “while spiritual influence elevates man into an angelic sphere.” (The library has since digitized the document and posted it online.)

Why the essay was written, and how Harrisse acquired it, is unclear. But the other documents in the scrapbook suggest it may have had some relationship — whether symbolic, or actual — to complex politics on campus.

First, there are letters and other material relating to problems that Harrisse, a French-Jewish immigrant who arrived in Chapel Hill in 1853, was having with his students, mostly the sons of wealthy planters, who he said threw acorns at the blackboard when he turned his back, and further harassed him by tying up a goat in his classroom and even his bedroom.

“He wanted the administration to discipline them, but they wouldn’t,” Mr. Senchyne said.

Harrisse also collected newspaper articles relating to the far more prominent troubles of another professor, Benjamin Hedrick, who caused a furor in 1856 when he publicly announced his support for John C. Frémont, the antislavery Republican candidate for president. The ensuing “black Republican” controversy, as it was known, became national news, and many in North Carolina called for Hedrick’s firing, on the grounds that he was poisoning student minds by overtly opposing slavery.

Harrisse, who, like Hedrick, was forced out of the university, “is clearly up to something with the placement of these texts,” Mr. Senchyne said.

“Harrisse has too little influence, and can’t control his classroom,” he said. “Hedrick is thought to have too much, and is feared by people in power. And then, in the middle of all that, you have Horton’s essay on individual influence.”

That essay’s skepticism about earthly influence may reflect hard lessons he had learned about the limits of his own. By the time he published his second book of poetry, in 1845, the political climate in North Carolina had tightened, and his verses no longer contained overt protest against slavery.

The university’s president, David Swain, had encouraged his literary efforts, but when Horton gave him a letter to deliver to the abolitionist Horace Greeley in the 1850s, it was buried. Horton also appealed to Swain to buy him, to ease his travels back and forth from campus, to no avail.

Horton gained freedom in the last weeks of the Civil War, when the 9th Michigan Cavalry arrived in Chapel Hill. He went north with the unit, whose commander helped him publish a third book of poetry, “Naked Genius,” in late 1865.

Horton lived for a time in Philadelphia, exploring the ambiguities of freedom in poems like “Forbidden to Ride on the Street Cars,” published in the Christian Recorder in 1866. While a University of North Carolina professor claimed to have seen him in Philadelphia in the 1880s, some scholars believe he may have emigrated to Liberia in the 1860s.

Horton was remembered fondly by generations of U.N.C. alumni. “George has no doubt forgotten me,” one man wrote to his son in 1859. “I should like to see him very much.”

But the white patrons who bought and celebrated Horton’s verse did not always take his desire for freedom seriously. “George never really cared for more liberty than he had, but he was fond of playing to the grandstand,” Collier Cobb, a professor of geology, wrote in the first scholarly essay on his work, published an article in the university’s magazine in 1909.

Mr. Senchyne said that the new manuscript, for all its opacity, only underlines the way Horton constantly tried to write his way to some semblance of freedom, even when it was legally denied him.

“Here is a person who was in the middle of complex daily negotiations over his freedom, his power, his ability to make money,” he said. “That just knocks me back on my heels every time I look at it.”

Continue reading the main story

Paula Krüger, Imke K. Meyer


In "Constructing Grounded Theory", Kathy CHARMAZ guides the reader through the research process. Starting with a look back at the history of grounded theory, she explains how to gather rich data, code it, write memos, and compose the first draft. Through various examples from her own research CHARMAZ provides the reader not only with a theoretical description of how to construct a grounded theory but also with a way of seeing how new questions emerge from the data and new theory is built from it. She highlights central concepts, definitions, and useful questions, and offers the reader flexible guidelines to design and conduct a research project. Because of this, the book will be very useful for novices as well as for experts and (PhD-) students in the late stages of their theses; it is a must-have for everyone who works with/on (constructivist) grounded theory.
URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0701256


grounded theory methodology; qualitative analysis; interview; coding; constructivism; theory

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Copyright (c) 2007 Paula Krüger, Imke K. Meyer

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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