Clare Corbould
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Africa has always played a role in black identity, but it was in the tumultuous period between the two world wars that black Americans first began to embrace a modern African American identity. Throwing off the legacy of slavery and segregation, black intellectuals, activists, and organizations sought a prouder past in ancient Egypt and forged links to contemporary Africa. Their consciousness of a dual identity anticipated the hyphenated identities of new immigrants in the years after World War II, and an emerging sense of what it means to be a modern American.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-05365-6
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    The 2000 U.S. census, for the first time, allowed respondents to tick a box marked “African American” in the race category. The new option marked official and bureaucratic recognition of a term that had been gaining currency for some years, particularly since the late 1980s. It also set off a new controversy over just who was eligible to describe themselves as “African American.” Many recent immigrants to the United States and their children, including Senator Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, favor the term. Other migrants prefer to include a more specific region in the name they...

  6. 1 Africa the Motherland
    (pp. 18-56)

    Africa, said Marcus Garvey, was “the noble black man’s home and Motherland.”¹ In 1919, a year of tumultuous change in the United States and worldwide, Garvey began to make his mark. Garvey had migrated from Jamaica in 1916, bringing with him a self-improvement league known as the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). He preached the message that black Americans were not and would never be accepted in the United States and that they should embrace their true identity as Africans. The second plank in his or ganization’s program followed on from the first: as Africans, they were in the wrong...

  7. 2 Discovering a Usable African Past
    (pp. 57-87)

    Newspapers worldwide ran the story with banner headlines: English archaeologist Howard Carter had had the find of his life. By candlelight, he peered into an Egyptian tomb in the Valley of the Kings, trailed by his financier, Lord Carnarvon, who asked if he saw anything. “Yes,” replied Carter, “wonderful things.”¹ Inside was a treasure of riches, including the gold mask and the mummy of a young pharaoh, Tutankhamen. The 1922 discovery turned Westerners’ fascination with ancient Egypt into a mania that percolated through all forms of popular culture. In fashion, literature, architecture, and film, jeweled Egyptian motifs, pyramidal forms, and...

  8. 3 Institutionalizing Africa, Past and Present
    (pp. 88-128)

    Black Americans in the interwar years took it as axiomatic that having a past of which one could be proud was essential to psychological health. History, properly taught, could provide children with a protective coating that would help to deflect the scoring of American racism. Becoming African American was therefore a collective and institutional enterprise as well as an individual one, as various organizations sprang up around the country to pursue knowledge about the black past, in Africa, in colonial America, throughout the diaspora, and in the United States. To a remarkable degree, black civic life was devoted to this...

  9. 4 The Artistic Capital of Africa
    (pp. 129-162)

    Africa was “poetic capital of the first order” according to Alain Locke, philosopher at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and a key promoter of writers and artists during the 1920s and 1930s.¹ The “motherland” certainly preoccupied many of black America’s creative elite, who were the luminaries of a cultural movement known at the time as the New Negro Re naissance or Awakening. These names for the movement—now more commonly known as the Harlem Renaissance—referred to the hope that the brilliance last seen at the glittering peak of the Ethiopian and Egyptian civilizations would shine once again. Protagonists and...

  10. 5 Haiti, a Stepping-Stone to Africa
    (pp. 163-195)

    If connecting to Africans proved a challenge, there was a place closer to home that offered black Americans fertile ground for thinking about what it meant to be black in America. Haiti had long been regarded as the jewel in the black world’s crown. At the dawn of the nineteenth century, after fighting tenaciously for over thirteen years, enslaved Haitians had overthrown their French colonial overlords. This unique revolution inspired black Americans, and at mid-century, some two thousand free people emigrated there, hoping for a better life.² Come the second decade of the twentieth century, Haiti was fresh once more...

  11. 6 Ethiopia Ahoy!
    (pp. 196-213)

    World War II came early for black Americans, when late in 1935 fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia, providing the most decisive event in their transformation into African Americans. At perhaps no other time since the early nineteenth century had black Americans feel such a close kinship with their African “brothers.” Ethiopia was beloved because of its special place in black religious traditions of exodus and because it was one of the few remaining in de pendent black nations. In the months leading up to the invasion, Italy repeatedly made clear its intentions to elevate its status among Europe an imperial powers...

  12. Epilogue: What’s in a Name?
    (pp. 214-220)

    Black Americans in the interwar years transformed their sense of themselves from a people whose most defining feature was that they had endured, survived, and resisted American slavery and segregation to a group with connections to people worldwide. For many of these years black Americans directed their attention toward Africans in the past and on black history. By the end of the 1930s, however, black consciousness was now focused firmly on a global black world, defined as broadly as possible. It would be an exaggeration to say that black Americans prior to 1919 had no sense of their connections to...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 221-270)
  14. Index
    (pp. 271-278)