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Article

Donna M. DeBlasio

The acculturation of newly arrived enslaved Africans to the New World involved the interaction between Europeans and Africans. In this complex process Africans were often able to fuse their native culture with that of the Europeans who were their new masters. Indeed, elements of African traditions survived in many forms, including religion, dance, music, folklore, language, decorative arts, and architecture. With the closing of the slave trade and a decreasing number of native-born Africans, intense acculturation abated. Over time both cultures, European and African, were transformed by their coexistence and sharing of traditions. The richness and variety of American culture owes much to traditions brought by Africans to the New World.

Religious practices and beliefs were central to both the Africans and the Europeans Early in slavery s history in North America many whites actually opposed converting slaves to Christianity They believed that baptizing African slaves might give them ideas ...

Article

African American participation in Mardi Gras has been persistent since its introduction into the Louisiana colony. Their aims ranged from enjoying the merriment of the celebration to enjoying the pleasure of subversion of the social order through masquerade activities.

Using the cloak of satire enabled them to ridicule the prevailing status quo and display identities that were more consistent with who they felt they were as a self-valuing people living in a hostile environment. James Creecy, a cotton farmer, slave holder, and writer, who attended the 1835 New Orleans Mardi Gras noted that

Men and boys women and girls bond and free white and black yellow and brown exert themselves to invent and appear in grotesque quizzical diabolical horrible humorous strange masks and disguises Human bodies are seen with heads of beasts and birds snakes heads and bodies with arms of apes man bats from the moon mermaid satyrs beggars ...

Article

African American Vernacular English, or Black English, is fundamentally a spoken language. In fact, it is several distinct dialects, encompassing the vernacular speech of blacks in the United States, the Caribbean, Britain, and elsewhere. Each of these black vernacular languages emerged within a particular racial and cultural context. Most significantly, the roots of African American Vernacular English lie in the experience of slavery and in the cultural collision between a multitude of African languages and an English-speaking dominant culture. This essay focuses on the spoken English of blacks in the United States, which has been the subject of increased attention and occasional controversy since the 1960s.

African American Vernacular English is not substandard English, it is nonstandard English. Grounded in an oral tradition and subject to continuous innovation, it is not easily codified or reduced to formal rules. Yet as linguist William Labov made clear in a groundbreaking series ...

Article

Sudarkasa Niara

Early in the twentieth century, scholars such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Carter G. Woodson, and Melville J. Herskovits incorporated research about the African past in their writings on blacks in the United States and elsewhere in the Americas. More than any other scholar, the anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits focused his research and publications on the survival of African cultural influences in the United States, as well as in the Caribbean and South America. Herskovits refuted the assertion by E. Franklin Frazier and others that the culture of blacks in America showed little or no evidence of links to Africa. According to Frazier, the remnants of African culture that had been brought to the United States were obliterated by the experience of slavery. Yet Herskovits provided many examples of enduring cultural links to Africa in his book, The Myth of the Negro Past (1941).

Article

Carlos Franco Liberato and Martha I. Pallante

[This entry contains two subentries dealing with the African diaspora, from the origins of slave trade through nineteenth-century America. The first article focuses on the evolution and criticism of the diaspora, while the second article focuses on the cultural effects of this forced transatlantic migration.]

Article

Robert H. Gudmestad

Africanisms refer to African cultural and linguistic practices that survived the passage across the Atlantic Ocean, including language, music, dance, medicine, folk culture, food preparation, and many others. The extent to which enslaved Africans retained their culture was the subject of much debate in the twentieth century.

A sociologist rather than a historian first raised the question: in the early twentieth century E. Franklin Frazier doubted the persistence of African cultural forms in America. The anthropologist Melville Herskovits disagreed, arguing that significant numbers and types of Africanisms survived the Middle Passage. Sidney Mintz and Richard Price who both examined black activity in the Caribbean provided a more nuanced interpretation they believed that no single African American culture was transported intact to the Americas but rather that the Middle Passage was crucial to a reinvention of slave self identity Modern historians commonly believe that once slaves arrived in the Americas ...

Article

If by the term Afro-Latino culture, we are referring broadly to the cultural experience of Spanish-speaking black people in what has become the territory of the United States, then their role in the settlement of San Agustín, Florida, in 1565, and later in building the city's Castle of San Marcos (1672–1695) and Fort Mose (1702), places Afro-Latinos at the threshold of American history. Or perhaps, given the foundational symbolism of Jamestown (1620) and Plymouth (1607 those initial Afro Latino experiences in Spanish Florida are more the antechamber the less ceremonious advance contact between European invaders and indigenous peoples As buffers and cannon fodder as reconnaissance scouts and militiamen as intermediaries and of course as attendants and slaves Afro Latinos have been implicated in the forging of the North American story made to comply with and at the same time themselves ...

Article

Darshell Silva

oral historian and centenarian, was born a slave in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to parents who were slaves brought to the United States from Barbados. She was moved to Dunk's Ferry in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, when she was ten years old to be with her master, of whom no information is available. There Alice lived as a slave, collecting ferry fares for forty years of her life.

Alice was a spirited and intelligent woman. She loved to hear the Bible read to her, but like most other enslaved people she could not read or write. She also held the truth in high esteem and was considered trustworthy. Her reliable memory served her well throughout her long life.

Many notable people of the time are said to have made her acquaintance like Thomas Story founder of the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane which was the precursor to ...

Article

Nagueyalti Warren

trademark, stereotype, cultural icon to many whites, and racist caricature to many African Americans. For Chris Rutt and Charles Underwood, Aunt Jemima was the perfect symbol for their experiment with the first packaged pancake mix. These white entrepreneurs attended a vaudeville show in 1889, featuring black-faced comedians in a New Orleans-style cakewalk tune entitled “Aunt Jemima.” Emblazoned on the posters announcing the act grinned the familiar image of mammy. Rutt appropriated the name and image, for who could better sell processed foods to American housewives than mammy, ready to save them from kitchen drudgery? Barbara Christian's Black Women Novelists (1980) analyzes how Jemima kept particular images about white women intact. African American writers used the stereotype subversively, as described by Trudier Harris in From Mammies to Militants (1982).

Jemima, the offshoot of irascible mammy, was sweet, jolly, even-tempered, and polite. Jemima, Hebrew for ...

Article

William E. Lightfoot

Piedmont-style guitarist, was born near Collettsville in the African American community of Franklin, an Appalachian hollow not far from the John's River in upper Caldwell County, North Carolina. Her grandfather Alexander Reid and father Boone Reid, both born in Franklin, played the banjo in the old-time clawhammer manner, with Boone going on to become an accomplished musician who also played fiddle, harmonica, and guitar, on which he used a two-finger-style approach. Boone Reid had absorbed many kinds of music of the mid-to-late nineteenth century, including Anglo-American dance tunes, lyric folksongs, ballads, rags, religious music, and published pieces that had drifted into folk tradition—popular Tin Pan Alley songs old minstrel tunes and Victorian parlor music Boone and his wife Sallie who sang instilled their love of music in their eight children a process that led eventually to the formation of a Reid family string band that played after ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Bernard Demczuk

Ben's Chili Bowl (1213 U Street, NW) is a family-owned and -operated restaurant in the historically African American community of Shaw/Cardozo, Washington, DC. The restaurant sits on the former, yet famous, “Black Broadway,” so named by Pearl Bailey in the 1940s as the premier African American entertainment strip in America. During the Jim Crow Era of segregation, Black Broadways appear in urban centers across the United States but the U Street corridor, just blocks from Howard University, cultivated a sense of its own blackness with hundreds of African American businesses, churches, social clubs, banks, hotels, barbershops, beauty salons, and entertainment venues, including one of the premier African American performing arts venue in America—The Howard Theatre—established in 1910 Ben s Chili Bowl sits at the epicenter of the Black Broadway strip close to the theater that rocked with blues jazz gospel R B doo wop soul funk go go ...

Article

Beulah  

James Sellman

Beulah Brown, a black domestic servant in radio and television comedies, carried on a long tradition of white stereotyping of African Americans. An updated version of the faithful Mammy figure, Beulah subordinated her own life and needs to serve as mother figure, therapist, and problem-solver to her white employers. On the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) television program Beulah (1950–1953), Beulah worked for a New York lawyer and his family.

Whenever a member of the white upper middle class Henderson family faced a crisis the maid hurried to the rescue with the cry Somebody bawl fo Beulah Beulah also opened each episode by sharing some observation or bit of folksy wisdom that would frame the evening s story for example If marriages are made in heaven my guardian angel s sho been loafin on the job Ha ha ha ha ha Despite the demeaning nature of such material the ...

Article

Richard Newman

Black collectibles comprise any objects created by or about African Americans. Traditionally this has meant the “higher” categories of books and art, but the term now also refers to the vernacular material of popular culture, including items that perpetuate negative stereotypes, such as Aunt Jemima cookie jars or postcard views of black children eating watermelon.

Attitudes vary regarding the collection of these racist images. Some believe they should be acquired in order to be destroyed; others think that representative samples should be preserved as documentation of everyday American racism; still others maintain that possessing these offensive objects, especially their ownership by African Americans, gives the collector a certain power that nullifies their damage. Despite the debate, black memorabilia has become scarcer in the marketplace and prices continue to rise, often dramatically, as the hobby gains popularity.

See also Art Collections in the United States; Collectors of African American Books ...

Article

Edward J. Rielly

In modern times, Black English vernacular is alternately referred to as African American vernacular English, Black English, inner-city English, Ebonics, or African American English, although the last term is sometimes used to indicate a broader category comprising closely related dialects. The precise origins of Black English vernacular remain unsettled and controversial.

The theory regarding the beginnings of Black English vernacular that dominated the first half of the twentieth century is sometimes referred to as the Anglicist hypothesis, so named because it identifies the origins of Black English with the origins of other American English dialects, namely British English. According to this theory, from the early seventeenth century on, slaves (the first of whom, technically indentured servants, were brought to Jamestown in 1619 arrived in the southern United States speaking a variety of West African languages including Hausa Ibo and Yoruba Slaves learned English though imperfectly from plantation overseers and ...

Article

Marian Aguiar

When African American historian Carter G. Woodson first conceived of the idea of a Negro History Week (which would later become Black History Month), he envisioned a celebration of black history and achievement as well as an educational medium. With the support of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (later the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, or ASALH), he organized the first annual celebration in 1926. It was held during the second week in February in honor of the birthdays of African American scholar Frederick Douglass and former United States president Abraham Lincoln The event grew in popularity promoted by schools white as well as black press and women s clubs Negro History Week provided an opportunity for lectures performances written materials and photographs of black history to reach wide audiences In the early 1970s the Association for the ...

Article

Elon A. Kulii

is the archetypal hero-trickster character from African American oral literature. While Brer Rabbit got much exposure in Joel Chandler Harris's Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings (1881), folklorists and literature scholars are well aware of the rich cycle of tales that circulate around this tricky and cunning figure. These tales thrived especially during the pre- and post-slave era up until the mid-1900s. Resembling the two major tricksters of Africa (Anansi, the Ashanti spider, and Ijapa, the Yoruba turtle), “Buh” Rabbit has always seemed to be the most helpless and most afraid of all the animals in the kingdom.

Brer Rabbit is constantly at odds with the likes of Brer Bear, Brer Wolf, and Sly Brer Fox This trio singularly or collectively attempts to humiliate outsmart and sometimes even kill Brer Rabbit In contrast Brer Rabbit tries to nullify the plans of his stronger archenemies by ...

Article

John Edgar Tidwell

Sterling Allen Brown was born on 1 May 1901 into what some have called the “smug” or even “affected” respectability of Washington's African American middle class. He grew up in the Washington world of racial segregation, which engendered a contradiction between full citizenship and marginalized existence. The son of a distinguished pastor and theologian, Brown graduated with honors from the prestigious Dunbar High School in 1918. That fall, he entered Williams College on a scholarship set aside for minority students. By the time he left in 1922, he had performed spectacularly: election to Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year, the Graves Prize for his essay “The Comic Spirit in Shakespeare and Molière”, the only student awarded “Final Honors” in English, and cum laude graduation with an AB degree.

At Harvard University from 1922 to 1923 Brown took an MA degree in English In retrospect he ...

Article

Lisa Clayton Robinson

Through his long career as a writer, anthologist, critic, scholar, and educator, Sterling Allen Brown became one of the most influential individuals in the field of African American literary studies. He was born into Washington, D.C.'s educated black middle class. His father, an ex-slave, was a prominent pastor and professor of religion at Howard University, and his mother had been valedictorian of her class at Fisk University. Brown attended the well-known Dunbar High School, where Jessie Fauset and Angelina Weld Grimké were among his teachers, and graduated with honors in 1918. He then accepted a scholarship to Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. At Williams, Brown was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, earned the distinction of being the only student awarded final honors in English, and graduated with a bachelor's degree cum laude in 1922 From there he went to Harvard University to pursue a master ...

Article

Edison Carneiro was born and lived in Brazil's northeastern state of Bahia. Unlike many mestiços (people of indigenous and European descent) from his generation who denied their African origins, Carneiro dedicated his studies to the customs and traditions of the descendants of Africans in Brazil, particularly regarding religious ritual. This was pioneering work at the time, when African religions were still repressed by the Brazilian government. Carneiro is considered to be the first person to systematically record the practices, beliefs, and history of the Afro-Brazilian people. Among the rituals developed by Afro-Brazilians, Carneiro identified the Nagô rituals as the only authentic variant of the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé, as opposed to the Bantu rituals. In his search for the pure African religion, he considered the Bantu sect to be a degenerated form of African religion.

Carneiro combined his studies with a strong political activism He participated in the ...