Joplin and Uplift

Joplin and Uplift


There are many connections between uplift ideology and Treemonisha. Uplift ideology is a term used to describe motivational moves to empower the Black community and provide betterment for the greater good. Many critics see Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha as an uplift opera, as the titular heroine seeks to better her community through education, self-help, and other positives. Similar to his opera, Joplin contributed to donations and organizations to support Black art and community. Because of these connections, uplift and Treemonisha are interconnected and it is woven throughout the plot.


What is Racial Uplift?

Racial uplift ideology can be described as a prominent response of Black middle class leaders and activists to the assault on the political and civil rights of African Americans in the United States rural south from the 1880s to 1914. In other words, racial uplift was rebellion to “The Negro Problem”, and was a movement that caused African Americans to try to maintain a positive identity in a society that reduced their existence to being a problem. 

   Joplin demonstrated uplift ideology merely by his choice to compose and opera in the first place, as opera was considered a “high art” tradition. Uplift is also shown with Joplin’s use of “school” in his work, “School of Ragtime”. It shows its didactic purpose and places it in a serious artistic realm as other genres like opera when most people did not consider ragtime music to require devotion and skill. Furthermore, in the opera Treemonisha, Joplin wrote a preface where he describes his use of a recurring leitmotiv to represent “the happiness of the people when they feel free from the conjurors and their spells of superstition”. This motif of empowerment in Joplin’s work solidifies his commitment to racial uplift, especially with his championing of a Black, educated Treemonisha in the rural U.S south. 


Scott Joplin and Uplift

~Uplift through Education

Since the idea of racial uplift focuses on the bettering of black people as a community, Scott Joplin is an example of how this ideology is carried out. While studying music at Sedalia’s George R. Smith College for Negros, Joplin worked as a mentor to other Black students/ragtime musicians. By helping mentor other black people, Joplin was fulfilling the goal of uplifting through education. He also contributed to the bettering of the Black community by attending school himself. Education is jus