Relevant Texts History of African American Literature


The Declaration of Independence, 1776

David Walker, David Walker’s Appeal in Four Article, 1829 (NA 227-238)

Freedom Riders 
Director/Producer Stanley Nelson

Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, 1861

Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom(1855) http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/DouMybo.html
and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass(1881-1892) http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/douglasslife/douglass.html
(NA Excerpts, 385-387 and 452-483)

Ida B. Wells Barnett, “A Red Record,” 1895 (NA 675-686)

Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery Excerpt, 1901, (NA 570-602)

WEB DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk,1903 (NA 686-689, 692-766)

Ann Petry, from The Street Excerpt 1946 (NA 1496-1516)
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man Excerpt 1952 (NA 1548-1570)
James Baldwin, “Notes of a Native Son,” 1955 (NA 1696-1699, 1713-1727)
Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun, 1959 (NA 1768-1830)
Martin Luther King, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” 1964 (NA 1895-1908)
El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, From The Autobiography of Malcolm X 1964
In (NA 1859-1876)
Ntozake Shange, Excerpts. In NA 2553-2559.

The Birth of a Nation 1914

D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1914) is rightly notorious for its strident view of African American participation in Reconstruction. It is also a uniquely important and unforgetttable film in many ways. Viewing these films about it might be beyond the range of undergraduate interests but certainly more advanced students will find this helpful in understanding the mindset of the Jim Crow era as well as the emerging popular culture of America.

A year or two ago I attended a symposium on THE BIRTH OF A NATION at The New School where I was privileged to share the podium with the American historian of the Civil War in Popular Culture David Blight.  Not only that, the entire procedings together with beautifully edited selections of the entire length with the original music of The Birth of a Nation are available on Youtube for all to see: His talk, My talk.

I must say, I like my talk better.

Birth and Rebirth of a Nation Part I: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSqUDxzv3bE
Birth of a Nation Part II: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_YN6INiZ_Y&feature=related

Blues People Began Again Thursday, Aug 26th, Assigned Readings

 As of the Fall semester of 2010 at the City College of New York, I will be teaching once again my course Blues People: African American Culture in the 20th Century, as a special section of World Humanities under the course number WH 10302.  The course will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3:30 p.m.  We will begin in a new way with the discussion of our individual visits to the exhibition For All The World To See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights at The International Center of Photography located at 43rd Street and 6th Avenue.  We will also be reading the book by Maurice Berger, which accompanies the exhibition, in the course of the semester in combination with our other readings in the Norton Anthology and African American Music: An Introduction.  
From there, we will progress to our chronological reading of African American literature in the 20th century, beginning with chapters from WEB Du Bois's 1903 masterpiece TRHE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK.  You are invited to supplement the reading of SOULS with visual materials from Du Bois's "Negro Exhibition" at the Paris Exposition of 1900, about which a great deal has been written and said.  

Du Bois's NEGRO EXHIBITION was compiled by him and others  to document the progress of African Americans since their enslavement had officially ended in the United States in the mid-1860s.  He travelled steerage to Paris to install it at the Paris Exposition of 1900, one of the most celebrated of the world's fairs of the period.    

World's Fairs in general were particularly instructive when considering the status of race and African American in the United States and elsewhere.  Especially when the fair was actually located in the United States (as was the case of the Atlanta Cotton Exposition of 1896 in Atlanta at which Booker T. Washington delivered his celebrated address), African American artists and various kinds of status reports and exhibitions on African Americans were included. 

On this blog, I have made available a variety of related materials, as well, as a very excellent presentation of Du Bois's exhibition at the Paris fair compiled by Eugene Provenzo, who is also the author of THE ANNOTATED SOULS OF BLACK FOLK.  While the book doesn't have high quality photographs, the website is superb and includes superior supporting documentation related to the exhibition.  





The Slave Ship Clotilda--The Last To Arrive Before The War

I added this material to the Blues People blog concerning The Slave Ship Clotilda, the last slave ship to carry new slaves successfully to the United States, for a number of reasons. First, I had always heard that there were very late arrivals to slavery from continental Africa well after the importation of slaves was illegal in the United States but this book made available to me the precise documentation of one case.

I first became aware of this case through the writings of Zora Neale Hurston, who had interviewed one of the elderly survivors of this group in the 1930s and who had written a book, which was never published, about him.  Much of what Hurston has written or said remains unsubstantiated and unpursued in a scholarly way, perhaps because Hurston never completed a Ph.D. in Anthropology and therefore much of her "research" is taken lightly by the people who generally determine the importance of such things. That she often lied about things having to do with her personal life doesn't help the matter. Nonetheless, in this particular case this particular alleged survivor of the slave ship Clotilda was very real indeed, as you can see in part from this photograph of him. Also from reading Sylvaine Diouf's recent and fascinating study of this case, DREAMS OF AFRICA IN ALABAMA: THE SLAVE SHIP CLOTILDA AND THE STORY OF THE LAST AFRICANS BROUGHT TO AMERICA. 

I envision currently this curriculum to include, however minimally, the vast mostly unchartered field of slavery studies in the continental United States. In addition to the various cases of groups of Africans who continued to arrive as slaves in the United States after the importation of slaves from Africa was rendered illegal, there is the fascinating case of the many legally emancipated African Americans who continued to be held in forced servitude well after slavery was rendered illegal in the United States as a consequence of the Civil War (1860-1965), and the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th ammendments.See, for instance, Douglas A. Blackmon's SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME: THE RE-ENSLAVEMENT OF BLACK AMERICANS FROM THE CIVIL WAR TO WORLD WAR II, Doubleday 2008.

There is a very interesting researcher/activist in the South right now, who I will subsequently devote a post to, who has begun to investigate some of the extreme economic under-development of African American populations in the South as a consequence of these pockets of continued isolation and enslavement, particularly in the outback of such states as Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. These were places where the Confederacy's failure to win the Civil War landed hard and where the acceptance of the liberty of African Americans never really took root because of all manner of local challenges (some of them, interestingly, both technological and geographical) until the re-enactment of the Civil War in the guise of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Moreover, if slavery is defined as forced unpaid labor and not by ethnicity and/or forced immigration, this would be a vast field of study indeed revealing many interesting chapters in the history of Native, Asian, and Latin populations. Since we still like to think of ourselves as the home of the free and the land of the brave, we have an obligation to take a continued interest in such matters. It is our plan to live up to that obligation.

Cudjoe Lewis, Former Slave and Surivor of the Slave Ship Clotilda

    In 2007, Oxford University Press published a book called DREAMS OF AFRICA IN ALABAMA: THE SLAVE SHIP CLOTILDA AND THE STORY OF THE LAST AFRICANS BROUGHT TO AMERICA written by Slviane A. Diouf.  
    The book describes the story of 110 young men, women and children from the Bight of Benin in West Africa brought illegally via the vessel Clotilda to Mobile, Alabama as slaves in 1860 (less than a year before the outbreak of the Civil War and 52 years since the abolition of the international slave trade in the United States). 
The writer of this book Diouf points out the sad realization that we know little of this particular group today, although their story had been reported in many places, including by Zora Neale Hurston who wrote a book about the last of the survivors (Cudjoe Lewis) /  Yet the manuscript survives intact in the Alain Locke Papers kept at Yale University although it has never been published.  
    Many important authorities have denied or disregarded the existence of this group of slaves, from President James Buchanan to WEB Du Bois in his Ph.D. dissertation (1895) published as THE SUPPRESSION OF THE AFRICAN SLAVE-TRADE, as well as a variety of major subsequent studies of the slave trade.  And we would probably still know nothing about them if not for the extraordinary circumstance that despite five years of enslavement in the United States, they managed to remain together as a group, form a settlement called African Town in Alabama and continue to speak a common African language and preserve their legacy to pass it down to their children.  
     According to Diouf, they ran their settlement according to traditions they had brought with them from Africa under the leadership of someone who had formerly been of noble birth in Dahomey, named Gumpa.  Most of them had been sold as prisoners of war by the Dahomeyan Army.  
    The survivors in Alabama remained together long enough to give interviews to whomever would listen in the hopes of making contact with those who had remained behind but they were never able to get back to Africa.  
    A long interview with Cudjo Lewis and his wife Abile was published in HARPER'S WEEKLY in 1887.  They were written about again in 1903 in a long article in HARPER'S MONTHLY.  Booker T. Washington paid them a visit in 1909 and Emma Langdon Roche published a book about them in 1914. 
     In the summer of 1928, Zora Neale Hurston spent two months interviewing Cudjoe Lewis, the last of the original group, for her book.  Her last draft entitled BARRACOON was completed in 1931 but it never found a publisher.  
Cudjoe was the last of the group to survive and died in 1935.  Diouf's book includes a fascinating collection of photos and documents, all serving to substantiate that slavery was both real and compelling to its descendants well into the 20th century.