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African American Cultural History and Development in South to America by Imani Perry and Colour Purple by Alice Walker

African American Cultural History and Development in South to America by Imani Perry and Colour Purple by Alice Walker

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CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1 Background to the Study

African-American culture refers to the contributions of African Americans to the culture of the United States, either as part of or distinct from mainstream American culture. The distinct identity of African-American culture is rooted in the historical experience of the African-American people, including the Middle Passage. The culture is both distinct and enormously influential on American and global worldwide culture as a whole.

African-American culture is rooted in the blend between the native African cultures of West Africa and Central Africa and the European culture that has influenced and modified its development in the American South. Understanding its identity within the culture of the United States, that is, in the anthropological sense, conscious of its origins as largely a blend of West and Central African cultures.

Although slavery greatly restricted the ability for Africans to practice their original cultural traditions, many practices, values and beliefs survived, and over time have modified and/or blended with European cultures and other cultures such as that of Native Americans. African-American identity was established during the period of slavery, producing a dynamic culture that has had and continues to have a profound impact on American culture as a whole, as well as that of the broader world. (Bhagwati 42; Mittleman, 847).

Elaborate rituals and ceremonies were a significant part of African-Americans’ ancestral culture. Many West African societies traditionally believed that spirits dwelled in their surrounding nature. From this disposition, they treated their environment with mindful care. They also generally believed that a spiritual life source existed after death and that ancestors in this spiritual realm could then mediate between the supreme Creator and the living. Honor and prayer were displayed to these “ancient ones”, the spirit of that past.

West Africans also believed in spiritual possession. At the beginning of the 18th century, Christianity began to spread across North Africa; this shift in religion began displacing traditional spiritual practices from Africa. The enslaved Africans brought this complex religious dynamic within their culture to America. This fusion of traditional beliefs from Africa with Christianity provided a commonplace for those practicing religion in Africa and America. (Inyang, 67)

After emancipation, unique African-American traditions have continued to flourish, as distinctive traditions or radical innovations in music, art, literature, religion, cuisine, and other fields. 20th-century sociologists, such as Gunnar Myrdal, believed that African-Americans had lost most of their cultural ties with Africa. But, anthropological field research by Melville Herskovits and others demonstrated that there has been a continuum of African traditions among Africans of the diaspora.

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The greatest influence of African cultural practices on European culture is found below the Mason-Dixon line in the American South. For many years African-American culture developed separately from American culture, both because of slavery and the persistence of racial discrimination in America, as well as African-American slave descendants’ desire to create and maintain their own traditions.

Today, African-American culture has influenced American culture and yet still remains a distinct cultural body. African-American culture is influenced by the culture of the Southern United States. Their food and language is influenced by White Southerners who enslaved them on plantations in the South. (Glolfelty, 27).

People of African descent in America today are called African Americans. Over time and at different times in history, they had been called Negroes, coloured, blacks and Afro-Americans. Because of the negative connotations of the words in the American history, Negroes and coloured/coloured have become rare in usage in recent times. Black and, especially, African American, are more favourable terms.

The politics and tension of even the proper name to call this race speak volumes on how they got to America in the first place and what their life experiences have been. The slave trade and slavery of the 17th to 18th centuries is responsible for the presence of most African Americans in the space called the United States of America today.

They were mostly required to work in the plantations (rice, cotton, sugar and tobacco); thus slave labour took a very long time to be erased and was done in stages with different parts of America emancipating their slaves at different times. Abolition faced stiff opposition in some states of America with the Southern states being the last to let go because of the economic relevance of the slaves, especially as the crops like cotton have become export crops.

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African American Cultural History and Development in South to America by Imani Perry and Colour Purple by Alice Walker

With the abolition of slave trade by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution on December 18, 1865, slavery ended in the United States only in name (Weider History Group, 213; America‘s Historical Documents, 20). The blacks were still under the same kind of demeaning treatment from their white counterparts; only this time it has found other names: racial discrimination, denial of human rights, and the black population were still employed to do mean jobs since industrialisation was still rising.

Of course, human beings do not naturally keep quiet when maltreated. Therefore, it is only expected that slave trade, slavery and the accompanying ill treatment raised different reactions from both the black and white quarters, but more from the black side of the divide. Abolitionists went to work with their protests, campaigns, writings, etc. and gradually erased slavery.

Other movements would also rise among the African American to champion the cause of the marginalised blacks: Movements which fought against the Jim Crow laws that promoted racial discrimination – Niagara Movement and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the early 1900s, the Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) which brought about the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Black Power Movement which encouraged African Americans to look to their African/Black roots for inspiration and emphasised black solidarity.

In the history of African American literary tradition, there are two opposing cultural theories regarding the problem being confronted. One theory is “integrationist’’ and argues that the Black man must strive to integrate into the American experience. It chooses priority of American values over the black ones.

The other theory considers integration as impossible because America is not a homogeneous country to integrate into. Thus they speak in favour of group solidarity, ethnic independence and the “negritude “Historically, the African –American writer has always oscillated between these two aesthetic theories. It is on this background that the work seeks to examine African American Cultural History and Development in by Imani Perry’s South to America and Alice Walker’s Colour Purple

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Over the years, African Americans who fled from the South soon found that they had not escaped segregation and discrimination. They were confined mainly to overcrowded and dilapidated housing, and they were largely restricted to poorly paid, menial jobs. Again there were anti-Black riots, such as that in East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1917. But in the Northern cities the economic and educational opportunities for African Americans were immeasurably greater than they had been in the rural South.

In addition, they were helped by various organizations, such as the National Urban League, founded in 1910. Some African Americans opposed involvement in World War I. The Black Socialists A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen argued that the fight for democracy at home should precede the fight for it abroad. But when the United States entered World War I in April 1917, most African Americans supported the step.

During the war about 1,400 Black officers were commissioned. Some 200,000 African Americans served abroad, though most were restricted to labour battalions and service regiments.  It is on this note that the work seeks to examine African American Cultural History and Development in South to America by Imani Perry and Colour Purple by Alice Walker.

African American Cultural History and Development in South to America by Imani Perry and Colour Purple by Alice Walker

1.3 Objective of the Study

The purpose of this research work will be to investigate the African American Cultural History and Development in Imani Perry’s South to America and Alice Walker’s Colour Purple

1.4 Significance of the Study

  1. This study will be of immense significant, the reader of this research work with a view of having more knowledge on the issue of African American Cultural History and Development as seen in the text under study
  2. The research work will also serve as a source of literature to students who will love to carry out a research on topic related to this
  3. The research will also help to portray African American women in Alice Walker’s The Color

Purple and their quest for freedom of the black race

1.4 Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study shall be:

  1. explore the nature and the characters of the blacks in in Imani Perry’s South to America and Alice Walker’s Colour Purple
  2. examine the history of the southerners in Imani Perry’s South to America and Alice Walker’s Colour Purple
  3. examine the cultural heritage of the African Americans in Imani Perry’s South to America and Alice Walker’s Colour Purple
  4. examines the position of African American women in Imani Perry’s South to America and Alice Walker’s Colour Purple
  5. examine various female characters trying to resist the white society’s oppression and standards of beauty in Imani Perry’s South to America and Alice Walker’s Colour Purple

African American Cultural History and Development in South to America by Imani Perry and Colour Purple by Alice Walker

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1.5 Research Methodology

This research will employ the qualitative research method which explores issues by analysing data through words and concepts. This study therefore involves an in-depth analytical investigation of primary data from Imani Perry’s South to America and Alice Walker’s Colour Purple.

, This study will also investigates secondary sources in the form of existing literature in several fields, books, magazines, e-journals, articles, newspapers, presentations, lectures, and unpublished works which provide valuable information about current environmental issues in Nigeria and the world at large. The Library and the Internet will also consult for relevant data for this study.

1.6 Scope and delimitation of the Study

The scope of this research work is delimited to African American Cultural History and Development in South to America by Imani Perry and Colour Purple by Alice Walker.

1.7 Bio-Data of Imani Perry

Imani Perry is a professor of African American studies at Princeton University. Perry is the author of Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry, winner of the 2019 Bograd-Weld Biography Prize from the PEN America Foundation. She is also the author of Breathe: A Letter to My Sons; Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation; and May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem. Perry, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, who grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Chicago, lives outside Philadelphia with her two sons.

1.8 7 Bio-Data of Alice Walker

Alice Malsenior Tallulah-Kate Walker (born February 9, 1944) is an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and social activist. In 1982, she became the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, which she was awarded for her novel The Color Purple. Over the span of her career, Walker has published seventeen novels and short story collections, twelve non-fiction works, and collections of essays and poetry.

Alice Malsenior Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia, a rural farming town, to Willie Lee Walker and Minnie Tallulah Grant. Both of Walker’s parents were sharecroppers, though her mother also worked as a seamstress to earn extra money. Walker, the youngest of eight children, was first enrolled in school when she was just four years old at East Putnam Consolidated.

African American Cultural History and Development in South to America by Imani Perry and Colour Purple by Alice Walker

As an eight-year-old, Walker sustained an injury to her right eye after one of her brothers fired a BB gun. Since her family did not have access to a car, Walker could not receive immediate medical attention, causing her to become permanently blind in that eye. It was after the injury to her eye that Walker began to take up reading and writing. The scar tissue was removed when Walker was 14, but a mark still remains. It is described in her essay “Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self.”

As the schools in Eatonton were segregated, Walker attended the only high school available to black students: Butler Baker High School. There, she went on to become valedictorian, and enrolled in Spelman College in 1961 after being granted a full scholarship by the state of Georgia for having the highest academic achievements of her class. She found two of her professors, Howard Zinn and Staughton Lynd, to be great mentors during her time at Spelman, but both were transferred two years later.

Walker was offered another scholarship, this time from Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York, and after the firing of her Spelman professor, Howard Zinn, Walker accepted the offer. Walker became pregnant at the start of her senior year and had an abortion; this experience, as well as the bout of suicidal thoughts that followed, inspired much of the poetry found in Once, Walker’s first collection of poetry. Walker graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1965.

Walker wrote the poems that would culminate in her first book of poetry, entitled Once, while she was a student in East Africa and during her senior year at Sarah Lawrence College. Walker would slip her poetry under the office door of her professor and mentor, Muriel Rukeyser, when she was a student at Sarah Lawrence. Rukeyser then showed the poems to her literary agent. Once was published four years later by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

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Following graduation, Walker briefly worked for the New York City Department of Welfare, before returning to the South. She took a job working for the Legal Defense Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Jackson, Mississippi. Walker also worked as a consultant in black history to the Friends of the Children of Mississippi Head Start program. She later returned to writing as writer-in-residence at Jackson State University (1968–69) and Tougaloo College (1970–71).

In addition to her work at Tougaloo College, Walker published her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, in 1970. The novel explores the life of Grange Copeland, an abusive, irresponsible sharecropper, husband and father. In the fall of 1972, Walker taught a course in Black Women’s Writers at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

In 1973, before becoming editor of Ms. Magazine, Walker and literary scholar Charlotte D. Hunt discovered an unmarked grave they believed to be that of Zora Neale Hurston in Ft. Pierce, Florida. Walker had it marked with a gray marker stating ZORA NEALE HURSTON / A GENIUS OF THE SOUTH / NOVELIST FOLKLORIST / ANTHROPOLOGIST / 1901–1960. The line “a genius of the south” is from Jean Toomer’s poem Georgia Dusk, which appears in his book Cane. Hurston was actually born in 1891, not 1901.

African American Cultural History and Development in South to America by Imani Perry and Colour Purple by Alice Walker

Walker’s 1975 article “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston”, published in Ms. Magazine and later retitled “Looking for Zora”, helped revive interest in the work of this African-American writer and anthropologist.

In 1976, Walker’s second novel, Meridian, was published. Meridian is a novel about activist workers in the South, during the civil rights movement, with events that closely parallel some of Walker’s own experiences. In 1982, she published what has become her best-known work, The Color Purple.

The novel follows a young, troubled black woman fighting her way through not just racist white culture but patriarchal black culture as well. The book became a bestseller and was subsequently adapted into a critically acclaimed 1985 movie directed by Steven Spielberg, featuring Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg, as well as a 2005 Broadway musical totaling 910 performances.

Walker has written several other novels, including The Temple of My Familiar (1989) and Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992) (which featured several characters and descendants of characters from The Color Purple). She has published a number of collections of short stories, poetry, and other writings. Her work is focused on the struggles of black people, particularly women, and their lives in a racist, sexist, and violent society.

In 2000, Walker released a collection of short fiction, based on her own life, called The Way Forward Is With a Broken Heart, exploring love and race relations. In this book, Walker details her interracial relationship with Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal, a civil rights attorney who was also working in Mississippi.

The couple married on March 17, 1967, in New York City, since interracial marriage was then illegal in the South, and divorced in 1976. They had a daughter, Rebecca, together in 1969. Rebecca Walker, Alice Walker’s only child, is an American novelist, editor, artist, and activist. The Third Wave Foundation, an activist fund, was co-founded by Rebecca and Shannon Liss-Riordan. Her godmother is Alice Walker’s mentor and co-founder of Ms. Magazine, Gloria Steinem.

In 2007, Walker donated her papers, consisting of 122 boxes of manuscripts and archive material, to Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library. In addition to drafts of novels such as The Color Purple, unpublished poems and manuscripts, and correspondence with editors, the collection includes extensive correspondence with family members, friends and colleagues, an early treatment of the film script for The Color Purple, syllabi from courses she taught, and fan mail. The collection also contains a scrapbook of poetry compiled when Walker was 15, entitled “Poems of a Childhood Poetess.”

In 2013, Alice Walker published two new books, one of them entitled The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm’s Way. The other was a book of poems entitled The World Will Follow Joy Turning Madness into Flowers (New Poems).

Mr. Harrison

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