Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787-2005
A groundbreaking history of African American journeys back to Africa over the course of three centuries, a book whose enormous accomplishment reveals to us that without understanding the long-evolving place of Africa in the African American imagination, our understanding of American history is woefully incomplete.
In the four centuries after Columbus' voyage to the New World, some twelve million Africans were loaded into the holds of European ships and carried to the Americas as slaves. For most, the "middle passage" across the Atlantic was truly a voyage of no return. But beginning in the eighteenth century, a small number of African Americans found their way back to their ancestral continent. The roster includes many of the central figures in African American intellectual and political life, including Martin Delany, Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, Eslanda Robeson, Richard Wright, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Maya Angelou, to name only a few. As James T. Campbell shows in this marvelous book, these journeys illuminate not only the enduring importance of Africa in African American life but also the changing contours of African American life in the United States.
Middle Passages recounts more than two hundred years of black American encounters with Africa, from the arrival of the first liberated slaves in what would become Liberia to the photojournalism and heritage tourism of the twenty-first century. Together, the stories recounted here-of journeys celebrated and obscure, journeys replete with irony and tragedy but also hope and inspiration-chart the history of African Americans' ever-changing relationship with Africa and, by extension, their complex, often painful, relationship with the United States. As the book makes wonderfully clear, to ask "What is Africa to Me?," the question famously posed by Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen, is also to ask, "What is America to me?" and, perhaps, "What am I to America?"