The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross

The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross

Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Language: English

Pages: 320


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

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.

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boycott had left off. These were the children of a generation that did not speak up. John Lewis said his own parents, sharecroppers in Pike County, Alabama, didn’t have time to fight for what was “right” or “wrong”; their struggle to survive on a daily basis was a daunting enough prospect.37 As early as 1943, there had been sit-ins. What started as relatively isolated events in cities like Chicago, St. Louis, and Baltimore showed the first signs of being a movement by the late ’50s, when

Virginia whites expressed over the impact of the Saint-Domingue Revolution only incited Gabriel further. Conservative whites had spread rumors that the revolutionary government in France had ordered a black rebel from Saint-Domingue to lead an army of former slaves and invade the southern United States. Gabriel could read these reports for himself and overhear the dire stories of whites who had fled the island, and he could speak with the slaves that the French colonial slaveholders had brought

proved not so lucky. They were tracked to the home of a free black man by a force of deputy U.S. marshals, with a warrant for the Garners’ arrest under the terms of the Fugitive Slave Act. The Garners barricaded themselves in the home—and decided they would rather die than be captured. This decision led them to do something that is almost impossible to imagine. The Modern Medea (Margaret Garner). Harper’s Weekly, May 18, 1867. Wood engraving. Library of Congress. By the time the arresting party

in January 1865 what they wanted for themselves, they heard unexpectedly clear and explicit answers. The government appeared to listen at first, as we have seen, and gave them the land they desired and deserved. But before long, the head of the bureau, General O. O. Howard, visited the Sea Islands and advised the former slaves that they would have to give up their land. “Why, General Howard,” the assembled freedmen asked, “Why do you take away our lands? You take them from us who are true, always

racist society proved the key to his success, a strategic talent he passed on to his son Isaiah. Both men followed accommodationist political policies that intended to deflect white opposition away from their efforts. It would be a tactic that Booker T. Washington would turn into an art form and Isaiah Montgomery would later use to protect his own black community at Mound Bayou. Beginning with the financial depression of 1873 and the expansion of their business into Vicksburg, the fortunes of

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