Did I mention my first sight of the African coast? Something struck in me, in my soul, Celie, like a large bell, and I just vibrated.
(Alice Walker, The Color Purple)
This chapter continues the analyses of African and diasporic identities undertaken in Chapter 2, in order to explore African-American appropriations and interpretations of Africa in twentieth-century literatures. Reading African-American Black identities in terms of their historical and imaginative connections with Africa and African origins, this chapter re-visits the topology of geographical space, of memory and time, to examine how the United States, as a national territory, has been explored as a place of contesting and differential histories in Black texts. The intersections of historical time and geographical place, through strategies of memory and migration, lead to particular constructions of race and racial identity. The imbrications of race with sexuality and the place of feminist analysis and female identity are interrogated here through textual readings. The focus on the United States and on imaginative literatures serves to expose the role of historical contingency and African self-understanding discussed in the preceding chapter as it is manifested in the metaphorical and political texts of Black America.
Beginning with a reading of Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy, the chapter explores how Black American feminisms and women’s narratives can become implicated in oppressive forms of American nationalism, where a pan-Africanist feminism selects African women as objects for cultural reform. Having examined alternative representations of women as cultural visionaries, rather than victims, in African texts, the chapter will focus on analyses of African-American women’s literatures to read how memories of Africa and migration surge into the imaginary of Black America, creating representations of American nationality as a multi-layered and contested concept, challenged and redefined by urgent historical remembering. From an interrogation of racial memory and mourning, it will be argued that the literary histories of the slave narratives, with their motifs of migration, their preoccupation with naming, race and nation, and their complicated