Black Legacy: America's Hidden Heritage

Black Legacy: America's Hidden Heritage

Black Legacy: America's Hidden Heritage

Black Legacy: America's Hidden Heritage

Synopsis

"Drawing on a vast wealth of evidence - folktales, oral histories, religious rituals, and music - this book explores the pervasive if often unacknowledged influence of African traditions on American life. The result is a bold reinterpretation of American history that disrupts conventional assumptions and turns racial stereotypes inside out. William D. Piersen begins by examining a series of African and African-American oral narratives that interpret the experience of slavery from a distinctly black perspective. Centered on issues of moral truth, these tales bear witness to the meaning and human cost of the slave trade as perceived by those who were its victims. Piersen then analyzes the ways in which enslaved Africans adapted their rich cultural heritage to the new circumstances they were forced to endure. He shows, for example, how they imaginatively - and often aggressively - devised forms of public satire to resist white authority. He traces the transfer of traditional African medical knowledge to the Americas and demonstrates that in antebellum America many black healers were more skilled than their white counterparts. He further shows how African customs helped shape the evolving contours of American culture - particularly in the South - from holiday celebrations, musical traditions, and architectural styles to modes of speech, habits of work, and ways of cooking. The black legacy to America even extended, ironically, to the Ku Klux Klan, whose founders imitated masking traditions handed down from West African secret societies. By reestablishing the forgotten cultural links between Africa and America, this study enriches our understanding of American history and is a powerful testament to the legacy of African culture in American life." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

An interesting artistic effect most of us have experienced is the way certain black and white designs can be made to contain two vastly different pictures, the observed pattern depending upon which color our mind perceives at a particular moment to be dominant. So it is with history; what the historian sees is influenced by what the historian believes is important. What would happen if we shifted our normal perspective so as to make our nation's black legacy a primary point of reference? Just as in the visual image, the patterns of American history would instantly seem to reverse themselves. Such a process would not change the history, but it would offer a flash of Afrocentric insight-- how changed the world could be if only we thought differently about things, at least for a moment.

Talking the African heritage seriously can be disorienting, for it is not often (or at least not often enough) that Africans and African Americans are presented as cultural founding fathers and mothers with life-building agendas of their own. We have no trouble assuming the influence of Europe and Europeans on our history and culture, but until recently we have tended to reject the idea that the cultures of Africa could also have had significant effect.

Indeed, how could influence from Africa have survived the brutal filter of the Atlantic slave trade and the oppressions of American bondage? Moreover, given the great numbers of African cultures involved, would not African perceptions simply have canceled each other out when crushed down by the ethnocentric values of dominant Europeans? Let us assume for a moment that despite such difficulties the African cultural heritage was not destroyed, that aspects of Africa did . . .

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