Race, Slavery, and Children's Literature: Navigating Childhood Innocence during the Civil War and Civil Rights Eras

Open Access
Rudoy, Beth Michelle
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Gary Scott Cross, Thesis Supervisor
  • Michael James Milligan, Honors Advisor
  • Hester Maureen Blum, Faculty Reader
  • childhood innocence
  • slavery
  • race
  • children
During the 19th century, debates emerged about children’s access to the world in the context of a romantic notion of childhood innocence. The juvenile literature of the period expressed this debate, in particular in the way it addressed the issue of slavery. As an amoral institution, slavery conflicted with the ideal of the innocent white child and denied innocence to the black child. Abolitionist and pro-slavery children’s literature approached this issue in different ways. By the second period of American history revolving around race, the Civil Rights Movement, the emphasis on sheltered innocence began to decline, with a new focus on the child as an activist for social and political change. The new literature of the 1960s approached the child as an agent, exposing children to cultural realities and truths. This thesis explores the shifts in these notions of childhood innocence from the Civil War era to the civil rights era through the lens of juvenile literature about slavery and race.