Becoming African in America: Race and Nation in the Early Black Atlantic

Becoming African in America: Race and Nation in the Early Black Atlantic

Becoming African in America: Race and Nation in the Early Black Atlantic

Becoming African in America: Race and Nation in the Early Black Atlantic

Synopsis

The first slaves imported to America did not see themselves as "African" but rather as Temne, Igbo, or Yoruban. In Becoming African in America, James Sidbury reveals how an African identity emerged in the late eighteenth-century Atlantic world, tracing the development of "African" from a degrading term connoting savage people to a word that was a source of pride and unity for the diverse victims of the Atlantic slave trade.
In this wide-ranging work, Sidbury first examines the work of black writers--such as Ignatius Sancho in England and Phillis Wheatley in America--who created a narrative of African identity that took its meaning from the diaspora, a narrative that began with enslavement and the experience of the Middle Passage, allowing people of various ethnic backgrounds to become "African" by virtue of sharing the oppression of slavery. He looks at political activists who worked within the emerging antislavery moment in England and North America in the 1780s and 1790s; he describes the rise of the African church movement in various cities--most notably, the establishment of the African Methodist Episcopal Church as an independent denomination--and the efforts of wealthy sea captain Paul Cuffe to initiate a black-controlled emigration movement that would forge ties between Sierra Leone and blacks in North America; and he examines in detail the efforts of blacks to emigrate to Africa, founding Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Elegantly written and astutely reasoned,Becoming African in Americaweaves together intellectual, social, cultural, religious, and political threads into an important contribution to African American history, one that fundamentally revises our picture of the rich and complicated roots of African nationalist thought in the U.S. and the black Atlantic.

Excerpt

In 1849, Ira Aldridge, the black actor known throughout much of Europe as the “African Roscius,” sought to capitalize on his growing fame by publishing a memoir. After a short discussion of the racial characteristics of the “regular coast of Guinea nigger,” the memoir turns to Aldridge’s royal African origins. Aldridge’s grandfather, an unusually “enlightened” prince “of the Fullah tribe,” had reportedly asked an American missionary to educate his son Daniel—the actor’s father—so that Daniel could contribute to the work of “civilizing his countrymen,” and the grandfather sought to contribute to the same project by ending Fullah involvement in the Atlantic slave trade. the missionary took Daniel Aldridge to New York to “receive the advantages of a Christian education,” a fortuitous decision, because the grandfather’s crusade against the slave trade angered the “principal chiefs” of the Fullah. a civil war ensued in which “the reforming Prince … together with his whole family, and personal attendants and connexions” were “savagely butchered.” Daniel Aldridge had sailed to America “just in time to avoid a similar fate.”

After his narrow escape from the slave-trading rebels, Daniel continued to pursue his father’s dream. He took advantage of the opportunity that he had been granted by attending Schenectady College and becoming a minister who was admired by all who knew him. He then bided his time. Upon learning of the death of the “rebellious chief who had headed the conspiracy” against his father, Daniel Aldridge married a “young wife … of his own colour,” and together they sailed to Africa to redeem his native land and reclaim his rightful place as the reforming leader of his people. Within a month of their arrival in Africa, Ira Aldridge was born, but the young . . .

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