Africans in America
Many people believe that the first inhabitants of America were the pilgrims, but they are wrong. Indians and Africans were here long before pilgrims. African culture has bled through society. Today many foods such as collard greens and architecture such as pyramids and the sphinx come from early African culture. Perhaps the biggest African influence is music; including jazz, blues, early forms of rock and roll, and especially rap. Elements of rap can be seen in early African songs such as James Weldon Johnson’s Lift Every Voice and Sing.
Through the readings so far in the book African American Literature I have learned that African slaves would tell stories to keep the hope of becoming free someday. An example of stories for hope is People Who Could Fly by Julius Lester. In this story, a witch doctor says a word that gives slaves the ability to fly and the slaves fly home to Africa. In the last paragraph, it says that no one remembers the word now but maybe one day someone will wake up with the word on their tongue and “we will all stretch out our arms and take to the air, leaving these blood-drenched fields of our misery behind.” I think stories like this were told to keep the idea of becoming free in the slave’s minds, to keep hope alive so no one would give up.
In the poem, A Motherless Child an anonymous slave describes how it feels to be a slave. A mother could represent many things, someone that shows love and affection to you someone to teach and guide you, and someone to come home to. Slaves had none of this, they were often split from there families, there was no learning except for learning how to do work for their masters, and they were a long way from what they considered a home which was Africa.
Also evident in many of the slave stories is their obsession with deceiving their masters to gain their freedom. For example, in How Buck Won His Freedom, Buck outsmarted his master by acting as if he couldn’t speak proper English then, later, by imitating his master he gained his freedom.
One last point I would like to make is that the slaves used a lot of imagery in their stories whites were sometimes referred to as animals. For example, Brer Bull, Mr. Horse, and Mr. Hoot Owl in The Knee High Man Try to Get Sizeable. Also, the stories had hidden meanings. The reason for this imagery and hidden meanings was so that whites and the slave masters would not understand what the slaves were talking about.
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