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In Search of Brightest Africa

In Search of Brightest Africa: Reimagining the Dark Continent in American Culture, 1884-1936

Jeannette Eileen Jones
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 260
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  • Book Info
    In Search of Brightest Africa
    Book Description:

    In the decades between the Berlin Conference that partitioned Africa and the opening of the African Hall at the American Museum of Natural History, Americans in several fields and from many backgrounds argued that Africa had something to teach them. Jeannette Eileen Jones traces the history of the idea of Africa with an eye to recovering the emergence of a belief in "Brightest Africa"-a tradition that runs through American cultural and intellectual history with equal force to its "Dark Continent" counterpart. Jones skillfully weaves disparate strands of turn-of-the-century society and culture to expose a vivid trend of cultural engagement that involved both critique and activism. Filmmakers spoke out against the depiction of "savage" Africa in the mass media while also initiating a countertradition of ethnographic documentaries. Early environmentalists celebrated Africa as a pristine continent while lamenting that its unsullied landscape was "vanishing." New Negro political thinkers also wanted to "save" Africa but saw its fragility in terms of imperiled human promise. Jones illuminates both the optimism about Africa underlying these concerns and the racist and colonial interests these agents often nevertheless served. The book contributes to a growing literature on the ongoing role of global exchange in shaping the African American experience as well as debates about the cultural place of Africa in American thought.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4196-5
    Subjects: History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. PREFACE: What Is Africa to Me?
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. INTRODUCTION In Search of Brightest Africa
    (pp. 1-12)

    On May 18, 1936, Colonel J. C. Robinson, variously known as the Black Condor or Brown Condor, returned to the United States after several years serving as Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie’s personal aviator and trusted lieutenant. Disembarking the German ocean liner Europa in downtown New York, Robinson greeted friends from his native Chicago, including Claude Barnett, the director of the Associated Negro Press, as well as members of the mainstream national press. Robinson commented on the ongoing struggle between Italy and Ethiopia and predicted Ethiopian victory as trained soldiers and guerilla fighters mobilized to expel the Italian invaders. He also...

  6. ONE A Cry from Africa: Victorians, New Women, New Negroes, and Moderns Confront the Dark Continent
    (pp. 13-46)

    In December 1882, the black newspaper the Virginia Star ran two articles addressing the need for Christian evangelization in Africa under African American impetus, citing clergymen who argued that such work would result in the “spiritual regeneration of Africa.” The article “A Noble African” summarized a sermon delivered by Edward Wilmot Blyden at the First African Baptist Church in Richmond, in which he discussed the successes and failures of foreign evangelizing in Africa. At the time of the lecture, Blyden was president of Liberia College, where he had begun teaching in 1881.¹ Calling on congregants to support the college, Blyden...

  7. TWO To Bunco a Yankee: America and the Congo Question
    (pp. 47-82)

    On May 15, 1883, American Minister Resident Consul General to Portugal, John M. Francis, wrote to the Secretary of State, Frederick Frelinghuysen Jr., to inform him of the recent fracas involving Portugal and France. Unlike previous disputes between the two nations regarding disputed territory in Europe, this disagreement involved land and access to trade on the River Congo in Africa. A year earlier, the French had ratified a treaty signed in 1880 between the Tio monarch at Lake Malebo (on the river) and French explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza. According to the agreement, the king gave over his hereditary rights...

  8. THREE Written on the Wall: Pan-African Dreams of African Empires and Republics
    (pp. 83-131)

    In 1887, two years after the signing of the General Act of the Berlin Conference of West Africa, an editorial titled “An African Empire” appeared in the New York Freeman. The author explained how European exploration of the continent, beginning with Mungo Park’s expeditions (1794–1797) and culminating in the journeys of Stanley (1871–1877) and de Brazza (1874–1882) had “completely revolutionized accepted opinions of the geography and people” of Africa. While the article did not explain how those views were altered, it predicted that the “‘Dark Continent’ will soon hold within its grasp no secret as to its...

  9. FOUR To Capture a Vanishing World: Naturalist-Environmentalist Discourses and Displays of Africa
    (pp. 132-176)

    In 1900, Science magazine, the official organ of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (founded in 1848), published an article entitled “Protection of Wild Animals in Africa,” a reprint of a letter sent to the London Times by one of its correspondents in East Africa. According to the missive, the district of Beria, “which formerly teemed with game, [would] be denuded of all game through indiscriminate shooting.” The reporter identified three sources of depletion: the native and white hunters who hunted for canteens, seasonal hunting parties that shot young antelope, and the Rinderpest epidemic of 1898. Recognizing the...

  10. FIVE Reel Africa: American Filmmaking and Criticism in Defense of Africa
    (pp. 177-210)

    In 1920, members of African American and African diaspora communities assembled at Liberty Hall in New York City, the site of the unia convention, “to protest the wrongs and injustices” that they were “suffering at the hands of their white brethren, and state what they deem[ed] their fair and just rights.” Presided over by Marcus Garvey, the convention drafted and adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World, wherein the organization enumerated twelve complaints about the treatment of people of African descent. The declaration also listed fifty-four demands and objections, including the following: “We hereby...

  11. CONCLUSION The Wonders of Africa Brought to America
    (pp. 211-226)

    In December 1934 the Pittsburgh Courier announced: “Abyssinia, world’s most extensive and populous Negro-governed country, is seriously menaced by the territorial and commercial ambitions of Italy and the diplomatic maneuverings of France.” Recounting “secret designs against Abyssinia,” the reporter concluded: “Doubtless Abyssinia will be left to fight its battles alone against Italian imperialism. It acquitted itself magnificently under Menelik at Adowa, as Italians painfully recall. It may do so again, despite Italy’s air force.” Indeed, in 1896 Italy attempted to add Ethiopia to its empire only to have its forces routed by soldiers armed with “feudal” weapons. Motivated by a...

    (pp. 227-230)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 231-252)
    (pp. 253-276)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 277-296)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 297-297)