A provocative thought about the African diaspora in the U.S.

Nicholas Lemann’s The Promised Land posits a connection between the so-called underclass of the Northern ghettos and the impoverished share-croppers of the deep South who migrated north. Criticism of his thesis invokes comparisons to other ghettoized populations which share characteristics of the underclass. I have the book and need to read it because somewhere I recall reading that Lemann also invokes the specter of large numbers of slaves coming from the interior of African late into the slave period, people who had no experience with European culture, unlike many earlier slaves who either sojourned in the Caribbean or had lived on the African coast and so were familiar with European, maritime culture. These people, thrust immediately into the maw of the cotton expansion, had little opportunity to learn the culture of the country they found themselves in and segregation completed their being sealed off from the wider culture.

This thought was triggered by reading in The Slave Trade by Hugh Thomas that in the period starting with the last twenty years of the 18th century and the first eight years of the 19th century, more slaves poured into this country than had been brought in from 1619 to 1780. These slaves were bereft of any familiarity with European cultures for two reasons: slave holders were afraid to import slaves from the Caribbean because there were rebellions there, culminating in the 1791 successful slave revolt in Haiti… and because the coast of Africa had already given up the readily available slaves and slave raiders were reaching far into the interior for slaves and these lived in smaller communities isolated from the rest of the world.

While this line of thinking may be far-fetched, it remains for scholars to trace the “recruitment” of slaves from the interior of Africa naked of any understanding of European culture through to their descendants recruitment as factory workers in the northern U.S. and show when they would have had the opportunity to learn the culture of the U.S.

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