The Making of African America: The Four Great Migrations

The Making of African America: The Four Great Migrations

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by Ira Berlin

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A leading historian offers a sweeping new account of the African American experience over four centuries

Four great migrations defined the history of black people in America: the violent removal of Africans to the east coast of North America known as the Middle Passage; the relocation of one million slaves to the interior of the antebellum South; theSee more details below


A leading historian offers a sweeping new account of the African American experience over four centuries

Four great migrations defined the history of black people in America: the violent removal of Africans to the east coast of North America known as the Middle Passage; the relocation of one million slaves to the interior of the antebellum South; the movement of more than six million blacks to the industrial cities of the north and west a century later; and since the late 1960s, the arrival of black immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, South America, and Europe. These epic migra­tions have made and remade African American life.

Ira Berlin's magisterial new account of these passages evokes both the terrible price and the moving triumphs of a people forcibly and then willingly migrating to America. In effect, Berlin rewrites the master narrative of African America, challenging the traditional presentation of a linear path of progress. He finds instead a dynamic of change in which eras of deep rootedness alternate with eras of massive move­ment, tradition giving way to innovation. The culture of black America is constantly evolving, affected by (and affecting) places as far away from one another as Biloxi, Chicago, Kingston, and Lagos. Certain to gar­ner widespread media attention, The Making of African America is a bold new account of a long and crucial chapter of American history.

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Editorial Reviews

Kevin Boyle
…majestic…Over the course of his distinguished career teaching history at the University of Maryland, Berlin has redefined our understanding of American slavery. In this relatively thin book he goes a step further. It's time, he says, to reconceptualize the entire African-American experience from the 1600s to the present—to set aside the long dominant "slavery to freedom" narrative, the story of a people moving slowly but inexorably toward equality, and to put in its place what Berlin calls a "contrapuntal narrative" of "movement and place, fluidity and fixity," the story of a people uprooted and searching for home…The Making of African America is primarily a story of the resilience, creativity and courage African-Americans drew upon as they engaged in the difficult process of piecing together new lives in an unfamiliar land.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Berlin (Many Thousands Gone) offers a fresh reading of American history through the prism of the “great migrations that made and remade African and African American life.” The first was “the forcible deportation” of Africans to North America” in the 17th and 18th centuries, followed by their “forced transfer” into the American interior during the 19th century. Then came the migration of the mid-20th century as African-Americans fled the South for the urban North, and the arrival of continental Africans and people of African descent from the Caribbean during the latter part of the 20th century. Berlin sees migration and the reshaping of communities to their new environments as central to the African-American experience. Movement is a matter of numbers, and Berlin provides them in detail kept fully readable by his attention to the cultural products of the shifts. In particular, he follows the church as it moves, the music as it takes on new themes, and kinship as it broadens. Berlin's careful scholarship is evidenced in his rich notes; the ordinary reader will be pleased by the fluidity and clarity of his prose. (Jan.)
Library Journal
The act of moving has added dimension to African American life, argues Berlin (history, Univ. of Maryland; Generations of Captivity). The experience began with the more than ten million shipped from Africa in the transatlantic slave trade. It continued with passage from Atlantic coastal communities to what became the Deep South. Next came the so-called Great Migration from South to North, which included movement from countryside to city. And now a global passage, explains Berlin, is reshaping a firmly entrenched urban African American population, with an influx of blacks from the Caribbean and Africa since the late 1960s. Migrations continue to remake black life, as they continue to remake American life; they create new histories and new realities, Berlin suggests. Others, notably historian Colin A. Palmer, have pursued similar themes of black passages but not so comprehensively in the broad sweep of place and space. VERDICT Berlin's neat synthesis offers the sharp insights and provocative commentary of one of the foremost historians of black America. Essential for library collections, general readers, and scholars of African American history. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/09.]—Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe
Kirkus Reviews
A succinct study of how the migrations of African Americans, from the slavery era to the present, affected the development of black culture in America. Berlin (History/Univ. of Maryland; Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves, 2003, etc.) analyzes what he calls the four great migrations: the transatlantic slave trade from Africa; the transcontinental slave trade within the United States; the movement of former slaves from the South to the North and West after the Civil War; and the wave of black immigration from the Caribbean, Africa, South America and elsewhere. He makes the case that all this movement-the cycle of being uprooted again and again-is what distinguishes the African-American experience from those of other immigrant American cultures. The repeated migrations, he argues, helped solidify the creation of African-American culture. The bond between people, created by common experience, became as important as the bond to specific places. Along with migration, Berlin also discusses the importance of rootedness in African-American life. For example, after blacks became a key part of urban society, the stability of staying in one place allowed distinct aspects of modern American black culture to emerge-including arts such as gospel and jazz and political movements such as black nationalism. In the most engaging section, the author addresses the massive post-1965 influx of black immigrants and how they and American blacks have adjusted to each others' ways. The differences in language, and prejudices on both sides, have often made that adjustment difficult. Despite the culture clash, however, black immigrants have also made crucial contributions toAfrican-American culture. For example, Berlin notes, many early hip-hop artists were of Caribbean descent. An insightful meditation on the physical and cultural journeys of African-Americans in the United States.

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Penguin Publishing Group
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