Becoming African in America: Race and Nation in the Early Black Atlantic / Edition 1

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The first slaves imported to America did not see themselves as "African" but rather as Temne, Igbo, or Yoruban. In Becoming African in America , James Sidbury reveals how an African identity emerged in the late eighteenth-century Atlantic world, tracing the development of "African" from a degrading term connoting savage people to a word that was a source of pride and unity for the diverse victims of the Atlantic slave trade. In this wide-ranging work, Sidbury first examines the work of black writers—such as Ignatius Sancho in England and Phillis Wheatley in America—who created a narrative of African identity that took its meaning from the diaspora, a narrative that began with enslavement and the experience of the Middle Passage, allowing people of various ethnic backgrounds to become "African" by virtue of sharing the oppression of slavery. He looks at political activists who worked within the emerging antislavery moment in England and North America in the 1780s and 1790s; he describes the rise of the African church movement in various cities—most notably, the establishment of the African Methodist Episcopal Church as an independent denomination—and the efforts of wealthy sea captain Paul Cuffe to initiate a black-controlled emigration movement that would forge ties between Sierra Leone and blacks in North America; and he examines in detail the efforts of blacks to emigrate to Africa, founding Sierra Leone and Liberia. Elegantly written and astutely reasoned, Becoming African in America weaves together intellectual, social, cultural, religious, and political threads into an important contribution to African American history, one that fundamentally revises our picture of the rich and complicated roots of African nationalist thought in the U.S. and the black Atlantic. Features A major work of African American history, illuminating the birth and growth of "African" as the essence of black identity

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[A]n important contribution to both Atlantic history and early black intellectual history." —Afro-Americans in New York Life and History

"James Sidbury's Becoming African makes an immense historiographical contribution to contemporary discourses on black American identity. It seals critical gaps in our understanding of the historical and cultural dynamics and complexities of Africa-black Diasopora relattions. Most significantly, it underscores the historical roots and epth of the current tensions between affiliative and filiative constructions of identity among black Americans and continental Africans."—Tunde Adeleke, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"A welcome contribution to the puzzle of the complex relationships developing in the Atlantic world.... Full of insights that will be useful to experts and students alike. It is a compellingly argued contextualization of the politics of race in the United States during this early period."—Renée Soulodre-La France, American Historical Review

"Becoming African in America is a fine example of cultural history in the hands of a skilled historian: a richly detailed study that conveys the complexity of identity formation and cultural development.... A far-reaching, acutely researched example of how the fields of Atlantic, early American, and African American history are intricately tied together, Becoming African in America should be every scholar's reading list."—Jeffrey A. Fortin, The William and Mary Quarterly

"James Sidbury has written the most sophisticated, best researched, and subtly argued book yet on the complex story of how Africans became African Americans in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This is a genuinely Atlantic book in its scope and importance. Here, in the lives of famous writers and the rank and file, we come to know the deep links between Biblical, racial, and national self-understandings among blacks in America, and for those who crossed to Africa with a missionary and civilizationist spirit. Better than anyone, Sidbury traces our preoccupation with identity deep into early American history with telling implications for today."—David W. Blight, author of A Slave No More: The Emancipation of John Washington and Wallace Turnage

"Combining scrupulous historical research and astute literary criticism, James Sidbury's elegantly written new book is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the convoluted ways in which the transatlantic slave trade rendered ethnically diverse peoples in Africa and their descendants uniformly African in the Americas, first to Europeans, and later to themselves."—Vincent Carretta, author of Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man

"Taking us on a journey that stretches from New York and Philadelphia to Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, Jim Sidbury tells an elegant tale of how several generations of thinkers shaped, pursued, and transformed the idea of Africa. In the process, he provides a deeply engaging, and deeply human, portrait of intellectuals and communities in motion and in struggle."—Laurent Dubois, Duke University

"The American Revolution gave the example of a new nation born of the promise of freedom. Enslaved and formerly enslaved persons sensed that God was now calling them forth to form a new African nation, spanning the Atlantic and parting the waters to re-enter and redeem Africa itself. The compelling narratives in Sidbury's book not only unfold vital chapters of the African American story, they write a page of world history for all to read."—Rhys Isaac, author of The Transformation of Virginia and Landon Carter's Uneasy Kingdom

"Sidbury chronicles the ultimate demise of self-identifying as 'African,' especially among American blacks. Becoming African in America is an attempt to explain how and why this happend, and provides and important contribution to our understanding of the Black Atlantic in the early modern era."—Abigail L. Swingen, British Scholar

"A fine and welcome addition to the literature on the history of the African diaspora and the black Atlantic world...[Becoming African in America] will serve as a generative source for further research and inquiry. There can be no greater tribute to a person's scholarship, nor any greater reward." —Journal of African History

"This is a serious work for scholars of black nationalism and early African American literature that illuminates the intellectual and organizational challenges involved in the creation of a proud African identity within the anglophone diasporic community." —Journal of African American History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195382945
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/7/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

James Sidbury is Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of Ploughshares Into Swords: Race, Rebellion, and Identity in Gabriel's Virginia.

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Table of Contents

1. Africa and Africans in the Poetry of Phillis Wheatley and the Letters of Ignatius Sancho
2. Toward a Transformed Africa: The Second Generation of "African" Writers
3. African Identity and the Movements for 'Return': African Institutions and Emigration in the 1780s and 90s
4. Out of America: Sierra Leone's Settler Society and Its Meanings for "Africans" in America
5. African Identity at the Beginning of the New Century: Politics, Religion, and Emigrationism
6. African Churches and the Struggle for an African Nation: Paul Cuffe, The African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the American Colonization Society
Epilogue The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and Renewed Assertions of African Identity

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