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Winter 2020, 51.1, pages: 27-41

An Archival Framework for Affirming Black Women’s Bisexual Rhetorics in the Primus Collections


Bisexual discourse is underexamined as such within rhetoric. So too are the historical practices of African American lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer+ (LGBTQ+) communities. Responding to these forms of erasure, my essay advances the study of Black women’s bisexual rhetorics through a focus on the collected papers of a freeborn African American woman, Rebecca Primus (1836–1932). Specifically, the essay offers a comparative analysis of two archival collections containing letters to her: the widely studied Primus Family Papers and the more recently acquired Rebecca Primus Papers. Taken together, these collections offer an enlarged view of Rebecca’s epistolary relationships with people of more than one gender. In doing so, I argue, the new collection reveals a need for a bisexual archival framework, which redresses the limitations of any single collection of romantic letters as a necessarily partial and speculative source of information. This framework affirms Black women’s bisexual rhetorics while recovering a more diverse LGBTQ+ past.



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