Best Of the Web: Black History Month Must-Reads

As it reaches the end of the UK’s Black History Month the U.S. Studies Online editorial team have rounded up some of the our favourite BHM posts on the web.

Check out our must-reads, and let us know yours! Continue reading

“An Eagle On His Button”: How Martial Portraiture Affirmed African American Citizenship in the Civil War

The wearing of a military uniform symbolises the desire to prove one’s worth as a citizen. There were few other ways in which African Americans could gain a platform from which to prove their equality with white men, and to earn their right to citizenship in the post-war United States, than through honourable action carried out in the midst of great national suffering. This is especially so considering the prior use of African American manpower to act as cooks, teamsters and burial workers for the military. These portraits provide undeniable proof of military service, and as such the uniform and weaponry included in these photographs transcend being merely destructive armaments and become tools for the attainment of equality and freedom. Continue reading

From Harlem to Texas: African American Art and the Murals of Aaron Douglas

Aaron Douglas paved the way for a greater appreciation of the black arts in many ways. He responded to the call of philosopher/author Alain Locke who advocated that visual artists look to Africa for inspiration. Douglas did this but in his own particular style. He is credited with marrying African themes to a modernist aesthetic combining Art Deco’s geometric sensibility with Cubism and Orphism, and humanism with Christianity. Though he taught at Fisk University from 1937 until he retired in 1966, Douglas is considered by many the “father” of the Harlem Renaissance. Continue reading

Fear and Motels in Las Vegas: Segregation and Celebrity on the Strip

Las Vegas was so strict in its segregation policies that it was known as the “Mississippi of the West.”[i] It was, after all, a town built on tourism and to allow blacks in was to affront white tourists from strictly segregated regions. This post looks at the ways that three well-known black entertainers challenged the segregation policies of big hotel casinos in 1950s Las Vegas. Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne and Nat King Cole each won the right for themselves and their musicians to become guests of the establishments. At the same time, the post asks whether the triumphs of these celebrities can be regarded as true civil rights victories, or whether they are simply indicators of individual star status. Continue reading

Not just Yo’ Mama but Rap’s Mama: The Dozens, African American Culture and the Origins of Battle Rap

The most famous Dozens recording is the 1938 recording performed by Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, known professionally as Jelly Roll Morton, the self-proclaimed inventor of Jazz music. This concept of taking an African-American oral tradition and putting it to music is a time honored tradition that continues until this very day. The utilization of rhyming mechanisms and swift off the cuff lyrics needed during bouts of The Dozens was easily transferred into the linguistic styles utilized by MC’s during rap battles in the early days of the Hip-Hop era. This makes it clear then that The Dozens, as Elijah Wald writes, is “Rap’s Mama”. Continue reading

The Legacy of African American Abolitionist Frederick Douglass in Britain

Frederick Douglass is the most famous African American of the nineteenth century, and is regarded today as a celebrated Civil Rights activist and social reformer. Douglass should be a central figure for Black History Month in Britain on this basis alone, but even more so when we consider his relationship with the UK. Douglass travelled here in 1845 for nearly two years, and visited Britain at least twice more before his death. His increasing fame here led to a successful career in America, and his legal freedom was ‘purchased’ by a family in Newcastle. Douglass would also not have been able to establish his newspaper, “The North Star,” without the support and donations from his British friends. Continue reading

Book Review: Slavery in American Children’s Literature, 1790-2010 by Paula T. Connolly

Connolly’s text is well-situated to help lay a foundation for the continuing study of American children’s literature as an individual field unto itself. This ambitious and highly accomplished work examines an extraordinary breadth of material. Connolly situates both the specific popular texts she explores and the genres of which they are representative as a foundation upon which two didactic goals are accomplished vis-à-vis American children and childhood: first, these texts inform the development of children’s identities, both as racialized individuals and as Americans (and all the cultural baggage that American-ness involves), and second, each successive generation of texts generates a complicated understanding of contemporaneous racial politics by reshaping the historical memory established by its precedents. Continue reading

Re-Imagining the Blues: A Transatlantic Approach to African-American Culture

Revisionists writers, such as Elijah Wald and Marybeth Hamilton, have argued that representations [of the blues] by white and, therefore, ‘alien’ observers during the post-war blues revival of the 1950s and 1960s distorted historical truths, and ‘invented’ the blues as we know it […] The work of [blues writer] Paul Oliver … is representative of the fact that meanings and representations of African American music and culture have been constructed within a transatlantic context. […] His work demonstrates how the blues became a reified ideal constructed in opposition to the forces of modernity, represented by the commercial music industry and the growth of teenage oriented pop in the 1950s and 1960s. African American music became a source of cultural capital for those that were disillusioned with Western consumerism and mass culture in the post-war era. Continue reading