Release Date:27 May 1993
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Black Legacy

America's Hidden Heritage

University of Massachusetts Press
Drawing on a vast wealth of evidence - folktales, oral histories, religious rituals, and music - this book explores the pervasive if often unacknowledged influence of African traditions on American life. The result is a bold reinterpretation of American history that disrupts conventional assumptions and turns racial stereotypes inside out. William D. Piersen begins by examining a series of African and African-American oral narratives that interpret the experience of slavery from a distinctly black perspective. Centered on issues of moral truth, these tales bear witness to the meaning and human cost of the slave trade as perceived by those who were its victims. Piersen then analyzes the ways in which enslaved Africans adapted their rich cultural heritage to the new circumstances they were forced to endure. He shows, for example, how they imaginatively - and often aggressively - devised forms of public satire to resist white authority. He traces the transfer of traditional African medical knowledge to the Americas and demonstrates that in antebellum America many black healers were more skilled than their white counterparts. He further shows how African customs helped shape the evolving contours of American culture - particularly in the South - from holiday celebrations, musical traditions, and architectural styles to modes of speech, habits of work, and ways of cooking. The black legacy to America even extended, ironically, to the Ku Klux Klan, whose founders imitated masking traditions handed down from West African secret societies. By reestablishing the forgotten cultural links between Africa and America, this study enriches our understanding of American history and is a powerfultestament to the legacy of African culture in American life.
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