The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross
Henry Louis Gates Jr.
The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross is the companion book to the six-part, six-hour documentary of the same name. The series is the first to air since 1968 that chronicles the full sweep of 500 years of African American history, from the origins of slavery on the African continent and the arrival of the first black conquistador, Juan Garrido, in Florida in 1513, through five centuries of remarkable historic events right up to Barack Obama’s second term as president, when the United States still remains deeply divided by race and class.
The book explores these topics in even more detail than possible in the television series, and examines many other fascinating matters as well, guiding readers on an engaging journey through the Black Atlantic world—from Africa and Europe to the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States—to shed new light on what it has meant, and means, to be an African American.
By highlighting the complex internal debates and class differences within the black experience in this country, readers will learn that the African American community, which black abolitionist Martin R. Delany described as a “nation within a nation,” has never been a truly uniform entity, and that its members have been debating their differences of opinion and belief from their very first days in this country. The road to freedom for black people in America has not been linear; rather, much like the course of a river, it has been full of loops and eddies, slowing and occasionally reversing current. Ultimately, this book emphasizes the idea that African American history encompasses multiple continents and venues, and must be viewed through a transnational perspective to be fully understood.
Nation was about not just music but also a “way of life.” Its Seven Infinity Lessons prescribed rules and philosophies for its members, echoing the Nation of Islam and US in language and style, but with one very significant difference: Bambaataa was a proponent of integration, if not in the traditional sense (which America had come to see as being court-ordered), then in a spiritual one. Part Martin Luther King and part Malcolm X, Bambaataa, in his own innovative way, was helping to integrate the
it suited him, and certainly never hesitated to sell off a recalcitrant slave to almost certain death in the Caribbean regardless of family considerations.30 Harry may have had a wife and perhaps even a son, and if so Washington sent the two to a different plantation and kept Harry at Mount Vernon. Harry’s first confirmed attempt to run away came in 1771, at about age 31, but he was soon captured and returned to the plantation. Was he motivated by the separation of his family or by Revolutionary
American Revolution that African Americans insisted was their rightful heritage, too. As historian Douglas Egerton has observed, these freedom cases that sprang up in the wake of independence showed that blacks “expected the Revolution to offer not merely new opportunities for freedom but also full participation in the new political order.”36 These court cases are full of ironies and contradictions. First, as we have mentioned, Sedgwick had been a slave owner and subsequently accepted another
http://archive.org/stream/memorialdiscourse00garn#page/n7/mode/2up. 3 Frederick Douglass, “What Shall Be Done with the Slaves If Emancipated?” Douglass’s Monthly (January 1862), http://www.lib.rochester.edu/index.cfm?PAGE=4386. 4 Ripley, The Black Abolitionist Papers, 5:353–56. 5 Wallace Turnage’s memoir and biography are in David W. Blight, A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation (Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc., 2007). 6 Journal of Wallace
black political participation in the South. The flow of African Americans northward that began in the 1890s became a torrent in the first decades of the 20th century. Between 1910 and 1920, northern cities saw an unprecedented explosion of growth in their black populations. In New York, the black population grew by 66 percent; in Chicago, 148 percent. In Philadelphia and Detroit, the number of blacks making new homes for themselves was off the charts, with 500 and 611 percent growth