Imagining the African American West

Imagining the African American West

Imagining the African American West

Imagining the African American West

Synopsis

The literature of the African American West is the last racial discourse of the region that remains unexplored. Blake Allmendinger addresses this void in literary and cultural studies with Imagining the African American West --the first comprehensive study of African American literature on the early frontier and in the modern urban American West. Allmendinger charts the terrain of African American literature in the West through his exploration of novels, histories, autobiographies, science fiction, mysteries, formula westerns, melodramas, experimental theater, political essay, as well as rap music and film. He examines the histories of James P. Beckwourth and Oscar Micheaux; slavery, the Civil War, and the significance of the American frontier to blacks; and the Harlem Renaissance, the literature of urban unrest, rap music, black noir, and African American writers, including Toni Morrison and Walter Mosley. His study utilizes not only the works of well-known African American writers but also some obscure and neglected works, out-of-print books, and unpublished manuscripts in library archives. Much of the scholarly neglect of the "Black West" can be blamed on how the American West has been imagined, constructed, and framed in scholarship to date. In his study, Allmendinger provides the appropriate theoretical, cultural, and historical contexts for understanding the literature and suggests new directions for the future of black western literature. Blake Allmendinger is a professor of English at the University of California at Los Angeles. He is the co-editor of Over the Edge: Remapping the American West and the author of Ten Most Wanted: The New Western Literature.

Excerpt

Did you know that an African American cowboy invented the sport known as steer wrestling? Bill Pickett introduced the sport while performing in rodeos in the early twentieth century. After wrestling a steer to the ground, he would bite the animal’s lip, paralyzing the steer and forcing it to surrender to his control.

Did you know that “The Yellow Rose of Texas” was written by a Texas plantation owner who was in love with one of his slaves? In the mid-nineteenth century, Colonel James Morgan composed the ballad in honor of Emily West, a “high yellow” woman with “golden-skinned” charms.

Did you know that not all of the Okies who left Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl and who moved to California were white? There were also a number of African American immigrants. Some of them, who are now almost one hundred years old, still live in the small town of Teviston.

Although whites represent the majority of the population, other races and ethnic groups live in the West. In Westerns, minorities often play subordinate and stereotypical roles. But in reality, non-whites have made major contributions to the West throughout history.

Like other racial and ethnic groups, African Americans have been visible in the region for centuries. But scholars did not begin to study the West and its inhabitants until fairly recently. In “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” published in 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner complained that nineteenth-century American historians paid too much attention to the North and the South. While focusing on tensions between the two regions, scholars neglected the West. According to Turner, the Civil War was merely a sectional “incident” and a brief affair compared to westward migration, which was a national movement that continued throughout most of the century.

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