Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

The South and the Caribbean

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

The South and the Caribbean

Article excerpt

The South and the Caribbean. Edited by Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez and Charles Reagan Wilson. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001. Pp. xii, 208. Acknowledgments, introduction, notes, contributors, index. $35.00.)

More so than by geographical proximity, the U.S. South and the Caribbean are linked by the legacies of plantation slavery-by the complex codes of racism reinforcing hierarchical and exclusive societies on the one hand, and by extraordinarily rich African-American cultures on the other. The essays collected here examine these legacies, reaching towards new understandings of the regions in question.

Each of the four research articles that make up the heart of the volume is matched by a brief commentary, a format that stems from the volume's origin as a symposium. This works best when the paired authors disagree substantially, as is the case with Ralph Lee Woodward, who emphasizes large-scale economic causation and dependency theory in his sketch of the foundational political economy of the Caribbean, and David Eltis, who responds with a call for closer attention to historical contingency and to contextual information. In particular, Eltis carefully rebuts Woodward's claim that the profits of Caribbean slavery jump-started the Industrial Revolution. In leaving the work of synthesis for the reader, Woodward and Eltis fulfill the volume's goal of stimulating comparative analysis of regional problems.

The format works less well when the paired authors have much the same thing to say, as is the case with Roger Abrahams's essay revealing the similarities between modes of musical expression in the South and the Caribbean and Kenneth Bilby's comment, which merely adds details to several of Abrahams's points. Both of these essays, in turn, are enriched by Charles Joyner's comparison of African culture within the slave systems of the South and the Caribbean. Joyner posits the existence of a common African-American cultural grammar molding local lexicons. This formulation transcends previous dichotomies of African "survivals" or "retentions" versus New World inventions, enabling more nuanced comprehension of the real similarities underlying regionally diverse African-American cultural expressions.

In one pairing, the first author unintentionally leads the second astray: in the course of developing her rich and provocative comparison of lynching in the South and in Cuba, Aline Helg refers to a Cuban "black middle class" that failed to defend poor blacks from a massacre perpetrated by the Cuban Army in 1912. …

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