Cover image for Africans in America : America's journey through slavery
Africans in America : America's journey through slavery
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Harcourt Brace, c1998.
Physical Description:
xv, 494 p. : illustrations.
General Note:
Based on a television series produced by WGBH Television, in Boston, Massachusetts.
Added Author:
Added Corporate Author:


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 973 JOH 1 1
Book 973 JOH 1 1

On Order



The companion volume to the public television series. This extraordinary examination of slavery in americanca features a four-part history by poet and performance artist Patricia Smith and a dozen fictional narratives by National Book Award-winning novelist Charles Johnson. Two-color with black-and-white illustrations throughout.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Designed to complement a PBS series of the same name, this is much more than a companion book. A monumental research effort wed with fine writing has produced a work that can stand on its own. Studded with a dozen short stories by Johnson, the NBA-winning author of Middle Passage, and filled with arresting period illustrations, it is ultimately shaped by journalist/poet Smith's (Big Towns, Big Talk) beautiful narrative. There is plenty to praise, in particular the drawing together of several slave narratives and other accounts to flesh out the true picture of slave lives in this country. The ugly reality of the "triangle trade" and the initial confusion of newly enslaved Africans are fully realized, while the apparent hypocrisy and contradictory reasoning of the Founding Fathers is given a human face. The impact of the Caribbean experience, America's western expansion, and black abolitionism are also illuminated. Perhaps the most riveting moments begin early in the journey, at the point when slavery becomes synonymous with blackness in colonial America. Heartbreaking setbacks include the forced migration of slave communities deeper and deeper south, as well as the kidnapping and forced enslavement of free children from the streets of Philadelphia. The struggle of whites against slavery and the divisions within the abolitionist movement are discussed frankly, another in a list of refreshing surprises. While American society can be seen as the logical end of this dreadful institution, the story of all those who struggled to end it is indeed liberating. Although lavishly illustrated, this is not a coffee-table book. It deserves a curious and enlightened reader. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

The companion to a forthcoming PBS series (to air in October) exploring how slavery shaped America combines revisionist history and historical fiction with mixed results. Like its predecessor, Eyes on the Prize, Africans in America documents an important chapter in the nation's history by focusing on personal stories. The sprawling account starts with the advent of the European slave trade and the arrival of the first African slaves a full year before the Mayflower; it ends with Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. The narrative approach of the text (written by award-winning but controversial former Boston Globe columnist Smith, and researched by WGBH television under the auspices of all-star scholars like Henry Louis Gates and Leon Litwack) has its strengths and drawbacks. Under-reported aspects of slaveryŽhow tribal rivalries predisposed Africans toward profiting from the enslavement of fellow countrymen, for exampleŽare brought into the light. So are lesser-known figures like Phillis Wheatley, the first black American to publish a book of poetry, and Anthony Johnson, a black indentured servant who became a prominent 17th-century landowner. It admirably credits individual contributions but glosses over huge events: the Civil War gets a page, the contribution of black soldiers a paragraph. Far better is the account of blacks' huge role on both sides in the Revolutionary War, when former slaves like Colonel Tye led raids to free slaves and provision the British. Most disappointing is the contribution of MacArthur-winning novelist Charles Johnson (Middle Passage, 1990). His slight fictional sketches interrupt Smith's narrative, elaborating (often redundantly) facts and situations raised by her ``to conjure a moment in time with feeling.'' Johnson's narrative gimmicks include a letter, a newspaper article, and a first-person account by Martha Washington of her fear after the death of George, who gave his slaves compelling reason to kill Martha by tying their freedom to her death. Despite many fine parts, this is ultimately more a cheerleading revisionist textbook than a rigorous scholarly history. (60 b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Booklist Review

This companion to the PBS documentary series of the same name offers a poignant re-creation of the shameful story of U.S. slavery. Smith's narrative (see "Telling the Whole Story" in the opposite column) begins in the slave-trading posts in West Africa, with Africans selling captives of war, debtors, and enemies from other tribes. But it was the sale of black Africans to Europeans, and their eventual moves to change the nature of slavery from a temporary state that could be bargained and worked out of into a permananet institution tied to skin color and ideologies of racial superiority and inferiority, that created the racial divisions which plague the nation--and the world--today. The book portrays kidnappings in Africa, the frightening middle passage to the Americas, and the economic forces that fed the need for a captive workforce. The book also traces slavery through the Revolutionary War, highlighting the hypocrisy of Thomas Jefferson and other leaders of a budding nation fighting for freedom yet holding onto an institution that enslaved others. The accounts up to the Civil War highlight the longing for freedom expressed by an array of slaves from the refined poetry of Phyllis Wheatley to the insurrectionist activities of Denmark Vesey and the thoughts and actions of lesser-known black historical figures. The history is interspersed with a collection of short stories by Johnson that conveys the personalities and aspirations of the individuals caught in a system seemingly immune to ethical reason, religious appeals, or the occasional violent resistance mounted by slaves and radical abolitionists. This is an impressively researched book--Boston's WGBH research team is credited on the title page--that includes photographs, drawings, and posters evoking the long and dishonorable period of American slavery. --Vanessa Bush

Library Journal Review

Boston Globe columnist Smith and National Book Award winner Johnson team for this companion to a four-part, six hour PBS series, which tells America's story from the African American viewpoint. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.