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Leila Amos Pendleton, b. 1860
A Narrative of the Negro
Washington, D.C.: Press of R.L. Pendleton, 1912.


Born in Washington, D.C. in 1860 to Joseph and Maria Louise Amos, Leila Amos was educated in Washington public, high, and normal schools and subsequently taught in Washington public schools for four years. She married Robert Lewis Pendleton in 1893. A member of numerous clubs and societies, Leila Pendleton founded two organizations in Washington: the Alpha Charity Club and the Social Purity League. Following the publication of A Narrative of the Negro in 1912, she also published "An Alphabet for Negro Children" in 1915, two stories about a character named Sallie Runner in Crisis magazine in the early 1920s, and other works of short fiction. Her stories, like the non-fictional A Narrative of the Negro, stress the intellectual and political accomplishments of individuals of African descent. The date of Pendleton's death is unknown.

A Narrative of the Negro attempts to present a complete, chronological history of African and African-descended peoples, including extensive details about names, dates, and circumstances in black history. In the preface, Pendleton describes the book as a "sort of 'family story' to the colored children of America," and the text is directed to an audience of African-American schoolchildren who have been taught little about the accomplishments of African and African-descended people, whether in remote or recent history (p. 3). Pendleton conducted her research in Washington's Congressional Library, the university libraries of Harvard and Yale, and the Boston Public Library.

After an introduction to the geography, climate, and wildlife of the African continent, Pendleton begins her historical overview with descriptions of early African civilizations, focusing in particular on ancient Egypt and the Ethiopian kingdom of Meroe. She gives a detailed account of the exploration of Africa by Arabic and European peoples and then devotes several chapters to describing the history and culture of various African nations, including several in North Africa. The Narrative recounts the beginnings of African slavery in the Americas and Europe, tracing slavery's changing role in the economic systems of the Caribbean and the Southern and Northern colonies of what would become the United States. Pendleton stresses the presence of slavery in colonial Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut before gradual emancipation began there in the late eighteenth century and additionally tells the children she is writing for, "I want you to know how old and how evil a system slavery was, how in ancient times it covered the then known world, and how none of the races of the earth have escaped its effects" (p. 75). She goes on to say that even after "the coming of Christ . . . it took hundreds of years before [the] Gospel of Love was so understood by Christians every where as to cause them to work with energy and determination for the freeing of all slaves" (p. 75).

As a teacher, Pendleton is particularly attentive to the development of educational opportunities for blacks in the United States. She details the strides made in spite of setbacks such as attacks on teachers and students, the violation of school buildings, and lawsuits meant to shut down schools. She describes racial violence and prejudice in both the South and North and gives particular emphasis to a series of incidents of racial violence in Connecticut in the 1830s that forced the closing of a number of schools for black children. Despite its descriptions of violence and racism, Pendleton's Narrative is ultimately optimistic. It lauds the accomplishments of individuals of African descent from ancient times through the early twentieth century. Pendleton provides a short biography of each figure she considers notable and devotes longer sections of the Narrative to creating heroic portraits of well-known people such as Toussaint L'Ouverture and Fredrick Douglass. She praises the contributions of black soldiers and includes long lists of noted black artists, musicians, writers, and scholars.

In a chapter called "Two Ways of Thinking" that appears near the end of her book, Pendleton evaluates the situation of black Americans in her present moment. She outlines "the two great schools of Negro thought, which, for want of more exact terms, have come to be known as the Conservative and the Radical," explaining that while "[e]ach side is most intensely in earnest and both seek the highest good of the Negro," they differ "in opinion as to how this highest good is to be secured" (p. 189). She follows these remarks with extracts from the writings and speeches of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois. Pendleton closes her narrative with a tribute to black ministers in the United States and an exhortation to African-American children to return to faith.

Works Consulted: Gable, Craig, Ebony Rising: Short Fiction of the Greater Harlem Renaissance Era, Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2004; Mather, Frank Lincoln, Who's Who of the Colored Race: A General Biographical Dictionary of Men and Women of African Descent, vol. 1, Chicago, 1915.

Erin Bartels

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