Forty years ago CBS aired the miniseries Roots, based on Alex Haley’s 1976 bestseller in which he traced his own ancestors back to West Africa, followed them to the United States as slaves, and took them forward into freedom. For the first time, a massive audience—roughly half the country’s population—confronted slavery and its legacies through an African American perspective. Roots prompted Americans to search out their own ancestors, particularly in subsequent years as digitization and personal computing brought resources to searchers’ fingertips.Now genealogy’s popularity—attested by the success of ancestry.com and the television show Who Do You Think You Are—makes it tempting to forget that we often shape our ancestors ourselves, even at the expense of historical evidence. Professional historians, in fact, were quick to point out fictions within Roots, a charge Haley accepted by originally calling his book a work of “faction.” I (re)learned this lesson about historical memory myself when it almost derailed the project that became my book, Atlantic Bonds.
The outcome of this nineteenth-century emigration movement offers little comfort for those who would leave today. At least half of the African Americans who settled in West Africa perished of tropical diseases, while others struggled to eke out a living. And they were not welcome there. Though they called their colony Liberia and touted “the love of liberty” in their official motto, the settlers’ encounters with local Africans were marked by violence, condescension, and—ironically—conditions not unlike slavery.
It is hard to know exactly how many of the Hare captives lived in clusters that permitted them contact with their countrymen and countrywomen. To start, we do know that forty-four of the fifty-six were purchased along with at least one other Hare captive, while eleven were purchased singly, but even being purchased together did not necessarily mean the captives would stay together. Africans throughout the Americas placed a special importance on the shipmate relationship. Shipmates treated one another as kin, and recognition of the bond might continue into subsequent generations. However, being purchased in company with another Hare captive did not guarantee an enduring, close shipmate relationship.
With his arrival in Cuba yesterday, President Barack Obama has become the first sitting U.S. president to visit the island nation since 1928. This three-day trip is just one step in the major shift under the Obama administration to begin to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba. For insightful historical perspective on what this trip means, we check in with some UNC Press authors who are providing helpful analysis.
Gina Mahalek: Very briefly, what is Liberated Threads about?
Tanisha C. Ford: Liberated Threads is about how everyday women turned getting dressed into a powerful political act that transformed the cultural and political landscape of the 1960s and 70s around the world. Often, when we study the social movements of the mid-twentieth century, we focus on policy issues, the fight to integrate public spaces, and big events, such as marches and protests. But, in Liberated Threads, I argue that we need to focus on everyday acts such as getting dressed in order to understand how everyday people engaged in movement politics. Most people were not involved in formal political organizing. They were not members of Black Freedom movement organizations. But, they were engaged in the fashion culture of the time. I wanted to explore the various ways that fashion and style connected people to the global movement for black freedom.
There is no way to tell the story of what happened on June 17, 2015, without talking about deeper histories of race, religion, and violence.
The study of African American history is a year-round endeavor for UNC Press, but in honor of African American History Month, we’d like to highlight the great new work we’ve been able to publish in this field recently. Here are books on African American history, culture, and modern society from UNC Press over the past year, plus a few that will be available later this spring and are available for pre-order now.
These discoveries have changed the way I teach about Islam even at the introductory level. I now try to put Black people at the center of my course rather than on the margins of it (and by extension, on the margins of Islam).
Amidst the thrills and heartbreaks of the World Cup, Minkah Makalani writes of his own heart’s ties to Ghana’s Black Stars.
Malcolm’s transition would include rejecting the homegrown and Ahmadiyya-based, heterodox Islam practiced by the Nation of Islam and embracing the intellectual, moral, and political currents of orthodox Sunni Islam, African decolonization, and Arab nationalism. In this way, Malcolm’s political and moral commitments combined sometimes-contradictory political ideologies, including those of Muslim Brothers, secular pan-Africanists, and Nasserist pan-Arabists.
Goree Island is not the only site of slave trade remembrance on the African coast. Further south, in Ghana, there are two prominent warehouses, most often referred to as the slave castles at Cape Coast and Elmina, that are part of a thriving tourism trade catering mainly to black American travelers, many of whom are on roots journeys to “return home.” Just as Post reporter Fisher is right for asking critical questions related to Obama’s photo op at Goree Island, we can profit from asking challenging questions about a tourist trade that offers an uncomplicated reconciliation and welcome home at the same time that it traffics in horror.
We are honored and delighted to share the news of some of our most recent award-winning books. Hope you’ll join us in congratulating these fine authors. And you may want to consider using some of these books in your classroom or kitchen. Click the cover images or book titles to go to the book page …
We are happy to announce UNC Press author James Sweet, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Frederick Douglass Book Prize for his book, Domingos Álvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World.