Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South

Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South

Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South

Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South

Synopsis

The transatlantic slave trade brought individuals from diverse African regions and cultures to a common destiny in the American South. In this comprehensive study, Michael Gomez establishes tangible links between the African American community and its African origins and traces the process by which African populations exchanged their distinct ethnic identities for one defined primarily by the conception of race. He examines transformations in the politics, social structures, and religions of slave populations through 1830, when the contours of a new African American identity had begun to emerge.

After discussing specific ethnic groups in Africa, Gomez follows their movement to North America, where they tended to be amassed in recognizable concentrations within individual colonies (and, later, states). For this reason, he argues, it is possible to identify particular ethnic cultural influences and ensuing social formations that heretofore have been considered unrecoverable. Using sources pertaining to Africa as well as runaway slave advertisements, ex-slave narratives, and folklore, Gomez reveals concrete and specific links between particular African populations and their North American progeny, thereby shedding new light on subsequent African American social formation.

Excerpt

In 1822 a most remarkable experiment was undertaken in and around Charleston, South Carolina. A fifty-five-year-old seafarer, born in either Africa or the West Indies, attempted to destroy the very foundations of American slaveocracy. An examination of Denmark Vesey's insurrection is instructive in that it not only speaks to the capacity of slaves to engage in the ultimate form of resistance but also reveals the nature of social relations within the slave community by the first quarter of the nineteenth century. People of African descent, born in either Africa or the Americas, coalesced for the purpose of realizing a common objective. Free blacks also chose to cast their lot with those in legal bondage, after sober assessment revealed that their own status was precarious if not illusory. Further, the critical role of the evolving black church as a center of resistance and affirmation is underscored by the observation that most, if not all, of the leaders of the revolt were also class leaders or religious instructors in the African Church in Charleston. It is therefore possible to view this endeavor as an attempt to bridge differences of origin, status, and culture by means of religion. As such, the Vesey movement serves as a model for many such subsequent efforts.

Vesey's plans for insurrection were uncovered and those suspected of involvement eventually apprehended. Following legal proceedings, some thirty-five blacks were hanged, at least forty-three were deported to either Africa or the Caribbean, and another fifty-three were released. The trial of . . .

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