[This entry comprises two articles. The first is an overview of the major figures and currents of thought associated with anti-slavery literature in North America during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The second is an expanded discussion of African-American perspectives from the eighteenth century to the present day. ...
John Sekora and Donald A. Petesch
Rebekah Presson Mosby
The colonial period in America was not noted for its fine arts there was little in the way of sculpture and most of the paintings that were made were stiff portraits in the manner of European mostly British art The puritanical spirit that dominated America at the time was not one that nurtured the arts in general Very little if any experimentation went on in any of the arts as most art was regarded as frivolous and a distraction from what was held to be the serious and important business of religion and work Within this context there is evidence that fine art in the form of portraits was made by Africans in colonial America However most of the known artifacts from both slave and free blacks are the work of artisans Some of this work is of exceptionally high quality and it includes just about every imaginable practical and ...
the first African American to integrate baseball, was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the second son of Nelson Askin and Sarah Lloyd. In 1844 Nelson Askin moved to Florence, a mill village in Northampton, Massachusetts, to open a livery. Across the road was the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, a utopian community whose ideals and practices ensured an integrated membership. Although the association disbanded in 1846, many members stayed in Florence, including Sojourner Truth and David Ruggles; their influence marked the village as a “sanctuary” for all, regardless of religion, class, or race. But in 1849, when Sarah Askin arrived in Florence with her six children, Nelson had already sold off parts of his property, and shortly thereafter the livery was seized by creditors. By 1850 Nelson had abandoned Sarah From then on Sarah took in washing to support her children who at the earliest ...
Susan J. Hubert
Autobiography has been a significant genre throughout the history of African American literature. In documenting the lives of African Americans, autobiographical writing has challenged racist beliefs and racially oppressive institutions—especially slavery—and provided examples of perseverance and resistance. Although they were primarily concerned with their individual thoughts and experiences, African American autobiographers have also helped define the character of African American people as a whole. As a literary form, African American autobiography evolved from its somewhat derivative beginnings into a distinctly African American literary movement.
Authenticity is a central issue in early African American autobiography Although some autobiographers relied on amanuenses the publication of narratives written by African Americans provided concrete evidence against racist claims that people of African descent were incapable of artistic and intellectually sophisticated writing Writing provided a degree of independence that has often been denied black people in racist societies and African American authors gained representation in ...
Marlene L. Daut
Medal of Honor recipient, actor, and playwright, was born in Richmond, Virginia, of unknown parentage. Beaty (sometimes spelled Beatty) was born a slave, but little else is known of his early years or how he came to be free. Beaty left Richmond in 1849 for Cincinnati, where he would spend the majority of his life, and became a farmer. Later, Beaty's education consisted of an apprenticeship to a black cabinetmaker in Cincinnati, as well as a tutelage under James E. Murdock, a retired professional actor and dramatic coach.
On 5 September 1862 Powhatan Beaty along with 706 other African American men was forced to join Cincinnati s Black Brigade after Confederate troops repeatedly threatened the city The Black Brigade was one of the earliest but unofficial African American military units organized during the Civil War but it did not engage in any military action since the city was ...
Tiffany M. Gill
Black is beautiful This familiar cry of the Black Power movement was revolutionary in its celebration of the culture style politics and physical attributes of peoples of African descent Symbols of the black is beautiful aesthetic most notably the Afro not only conjured up ideas about black beauty but also highlighted its contentious relationship with black politics and identity This tension between beauty standards and black politics and identity however did not first emerge in the late twentieth century with the Afro or the Black Power movement In fact blacks particularly black women have been struggling to navigate the paradoxical political nature of black identity and beauty since their enslavement in the Americas Despite this strained relationship black women have actively sought to define beauty in their lives and in the process created and sustained one of the most resilient and successful black controlled enterprises in America the black beauty ...
Alice Ross and Mark H. Zanger
The Caribbean influence on American food has been continual for hundreds of years, initially in coastal areas of similar climate, from Texas to the Carolinas. The early Spanish involvement in the Caribbean brought Caribbean foods to Europe and Africa, from whence they quickly returned to North America. Spanish gold shipments attracted other Europeans to the area and brought about the colonization of eastern North America. Cheap Caribbean sugar, coffee, cocoa, and spices have influenced the palates and tables of all Americans. The peoples of the Caribbean islands have developed multicultural cuisines that have been affecting American cooking at all levels since colonial times.
Influence of the Caribbean on contemporary American food may predate Columbus, because there is some possibility that Caribbean Indians reached Florida and introduced tropical tubers, or chilies. The chain of influence began in 1492 as the varieties of maize beans chilies squash peanuts and cassava collected ...
Mary F. Corey
a founder of the African Methodist Episcopal church, author, and educator, was born a slave in Frederick County, Maryland, the son of Susan Coker, a white indentured servant, and Edward Wright, a black slave belonging to the same plantation owner, whose name is unknown. Daniel Coker was educated with his master's son, who refused to go to school without his slave. When Coker was in his early teens he escaped to New York City where he joined the Methodist Church and was ordained as a lay minister.
Empowered by his education and ordination, Coker returned to Maryland in 1801 to become the first African American teacher at the African Academy a school founded by the Baltimore Abolition Society for the education of free blacks He was the first black licensed minister in Baltimore and the spiritual leader of an independent prayer meeting formed by black Methodists dissatisfied ...
Todd Steven Burroughs
In the late nineteenth century, black comedy was about to burst out of the shadows of minstrelsy that it had been forced into by whites. Born in Africa via folktales and verbal contests and raised in America, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century African American humor was created by several tensions: the relationship between the master and the slave, the folktales stressing trickery and mental skill, the stories that showed the superiority of the slave over the master, and the parodies of slave life. The creation of the minstrel shows had resulted in a struggle between whites attempting to control black humor and black minstrels attempting to subvert the degrading black stereotype, performing instead a pantomime that mocked the white audience by playing exaggeratedly to its expectations while at the same time injecting a strain of human dignity into the parts they played.
Bert Williams, who appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies ...
Robert H. Gudmestad and Kathleen Thompson
[This entry contains two subentries dealing with dance from the early eighteenth century through the end of the nineteenth century The first article discusses the transmission of African dance traditions to North America by slaves and the new expressions that arose while the second article discusses the movement of ...
Allan D. Austin
political activist, doctor, newspaper editor, and author, was born in Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia), son of Samuel Delany, a slave, and Pati Peace, the free daughter of free and African-born Graci Peace. In 1822 Pati fled with her children to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania; Samuel joined her in 1823 after purchasing his freedom.
In 1831 in Pittsburgh, Delany studied history, geography, literature, and political economy, informally, with Lewis Woodson and Molliston M. Clark. Here Delany began his restless, wide-ranging advocacy of African American political rights, cultural self-reliance, and independent enterprise. Opposed to physical and “servile” work, Delany apprenticed himself to a white doctor in 1833. During his time in Pittsburgh he joined or helped found several African American antislavery, temperance, historical, literary, and moral reform societies. When Pennsylvania rescinded black suffrage in 1839 Delany explored Mexican Texas where slavery was illegal and ...
Roy E. Finkenbine
abolitionist, civil rights activist, and reform journalist, was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey near Easton, Maryland, the son of Harriet Bailey, a slave, and an unidentified white man. Although a slave, he spent the first six years of his life in the cabin of his maternal grandparents, with only a few stolen nighttime visits by his mother. His real introduction to bondage came in 1824, when he was brought to the nearby wheat plantation of Colonel Edward Lloyd. Two years later he was sent to Baltimore to labor in the household of Hugh and Sophia Auld, where he remained for the next seven years. In spite of laws against slave literacy, Frederick secretly taught himself to read and write He began studying discarded newspapers and learned of the growing national debate over slavery And he attended local free black churches and found ...
Danielle Taana Smith
Black entrepreneurship has been important for the American economy from the 1600s, when the first Africans arrived in America.
slave, sailor, writer, and activist (widely known in his time as Gustavus Vassa), became the most famous African in eighteenth-century Britain as the author of his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789 While the scholar Vincent Carretta has found some evidence placing his birth in South Carolina Equiano identifies his birthplace as Essaka a small ethnically Igbo town in present day Nigeria His parents remain unknown but Equiano s family was prominent he expected to undergo a scarification ritual but was kidnapped by slavers as a young boy He experienced slavery in a variety of West African communities until he was brought to a seaport and sold to European slavers Neither Essaka nor the name Equiano has been definitively identified although both have plausible Igbo analogs such as Isseke and Ekwuano Both his African origin and his exact ...
Olaudah Equiano identified himself by this name only once in his life—on the title page of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789). In the Narrative itself Equiano wrote of his forename that it was an Ibo word meaning “change,” “fortunate,” or “loudly or well spoken,” but this derivation has not been corroborated. Words similar to his surname have been identified in languages spoken both east and west of the Niger River, which flows south through Iboland, the southeastern region of present-day Nigeria, where Equiano claimed to have been born. He was accused almost immediately of fabrication, however, and he may have been born in North America. All other documentation of his life, including vital records and his own signatures, used the name Gustavus Vassa (sometimes Vasa, Vassan, and other variations). Both the Narrative and commercial and public ...
David N. Gellman
Throughout English colonial North America, African American slaves participated in rituals and celebrations that stitched together black communities while preserving a folk life rooted in African traditions. Eighteenth-century festivals often coincided with, and at least superficially mirrored, events staged by European colonists. Blacks sometimes invested their own cultural traditions so thoroughly into white holidays that festivals became known as distinct African American events.
African American festivals are much easier to document and describe in the North where the smaller slave population was dispersed among the European population than in the South where larger numbers of slaves were concentrated on plantations This disparity may reflect both the need and the ability of southern slaves to conceal their collective activities from masters Despite the severe constraints that typified slavery everywhere slaves up and down the coast of the North American mainland managed to find means to express their collective identity in joyous ...
Michael Frank Knight
, clerk, editor, Civil War veteran, and recipient of the Medal of Honor, was born to Charles and Anna Marie Fleetwood, free people in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1863 Christian left a lucrative position as a clerk in the Brune shipping and trading empire and joined the Fourth United States Colored Troops as a private. Just over a year later Fleetwood received the Medal of Honor for bravery and coolness under fire at the Battle of New Market Heights (Chaffin's Farm), 29 and 30 September 1864. He was one of only sixteen African American soldiers to receive the Medal of Honor during the Civil War.
Christian Fleetwood's remarkable story begins in the home of the prominent Baltimore businessman John C. Brune Fleetwood s father served for a long time as the majordomo in the Brune household and it was there that Christian received his early education in reading ...
John C. Fredriksen
soldier and engineer, was born in Thomasville, Georgia, the son of Festus Flipper and Isabelle (maiden name unknown), slaves. During the Civil War and Reconstruction he was educated in American Missionary Association schools and in 1873 gained admission to Atlanta University. That year Flipper also obtained an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy through the auspices of Republican Representative James C. Freeman. He was not the first African American to attend West Point, as Michael Howard and James Webster Smith preceded him in 1870, but neither graduated. Flipper subsequently endured four years of grueling academic instruction and ostracism from white classmates before graduating fiftieth in a class of sixty-four on 14 June 1877. He was commissioned second lieutenant in the all-black Tenth U. S. Cavalry, and the following year recounted his academy experience in an autobiography, The Colored Cadet at West Point (1878 ...
Sholomo B. Levy
journalist and activist, was born Timothy Thomas in Marianna, Florida, the third of five children, to Emanuel and Sara Jane, slaves of Ely P. Moore. After emancipation his family took the name Fortune from that of an Irish planter, Thomas Fortune, whom Emanuel believed to be his father. Emanuel was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1868 where he served for three years until he was forced to leave Marianna as the reign of terror that drove black office holders from power swept through Florida Before his family joined him in Jacksonville they lived in Tallahassee where the young Fortune worked as a page in the state senate During his four sessions there Fortune developed a distrust of black and white politicians from both political parties Though he spent only a few years at primary schools run by the Freedmen s Bureau he ...
Frances Smith Foster
minister, author, editor, and activist, was born near New Market, Maryland, to an enslaved couple then known as George and Henrietta Trusty. A few weeks after the death of their owner, Henry, his parents, his sister, and seven other relatives escaped to Wilmington, Delaware. Part of the Trusty family went to New Jersey, but George and Henrietta, having changed their surname to Garnet, continued on to New Hope, Pennsylvania, where nine-year-old Henry had his first days of formal education. In 1825 the family moved to New York City. Henry, along with his cousin Samuel Ringgold Ward (whose family were also fugitive slaves) and his neighbor Alexander Crummell, attended the African Free School. About 1830 while apprenticed to a Quaker farmer on Long Island Henry was crippled in an accident The intrepid fifteen year old returned to New York City and enrolled at Canal ...