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Black History Month

2005 - The African Diaspora: Voices and Rhythms

While African peoples had migrated from Africa for millenias prior to the 15th century, it is during the period of the trans-Atlantic slave trade that the vast majority of African migration took place. Over a period of almost four centuries, it is estimated that at least ten million Africans were forced from their families and enslaved in a new world where everything familiar was absent. The African diaspora is the story of how Africans managed to retain traditions and reform identities in spite of persecution. African cultural elements, such as religion, language, and music, blended over time with other cultures in the United States to create today's mosaic of American culture.

Voices from the African diaspora can also be found reflected in the texts of many famous American writers, including Maya Angelou, Frederick Douglas, W.E.B. DuBois, Ralph Ellison, Marcus Garvey, Langston Hughes, Alice Walker, and Richard Wright. Toni Morrison once said that African American literature has contributed such a wealth of words, phrases, literary conventions, and rhythms to American Literature as a whole that "the literature of America is incoherent without the contribution of...Black writers."

The history of American music exemplifies the cultural interaction of Africans with Europeans in America. Many musical instruments in use today, including the banjo and xylophone, have been adapted from traditional African instruments. Slave traders allowed slaves to retain their drums on slave ships as a form of exercise to prevent illness among the slaves and financial losses for the traders. In 1953, Langston Hughes stated that American music is soaked in African-American rhythms.Ragtime, jazz, rock, r&b, and hip hop all demonstrate elements of America's melded cultural legacy.

Perhaps in the swift change of American society in which the meanings of one’s origin are so quickly lost, one of the chief values of living with music lies in its power to give us an orientation in time. In doing so, it gives significance to all those indefinable aspects of experience which nevertheless help to make us what we are. In the swift whirl of time music is a constant, reminding us of what we were and of that toward which we aspired.

Ralph Ellison

Internet Sources

Image from exhibit



To be sold, on board the ship Bance Island, ... negroes, just arrived from the Windward & Rice Coast

Library of Congress
Prints and Photographs Division


All books with call numbers are owned by ODU Libraries and may be checked out by ODU students, faculty, and staff. Those books listed without call numbers can be obtained through Interlibrary Loan.

  • Adjaye, Joseph K., and Adrianne R. Andrews, eds. Language, rhythm, & sound : Black popular cultures into the twenty-first century. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, c1997. E185.625 .L634 1997
  • Curtin, Phillip D. The Atlantic slave trade: a census. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969.
  • Dennison, Sam. Scandalize my name : Black imagery in American popular music. New York: Garland Publishing, 1982. ML3477.D46 1982
  • Finkelman, Paul, ed. Women and the family in a slave society. New York, NY: Garland Publishers, 1989.
  • Frey, Sylvia P. Water from the Rock: Black Resistance in a Revolutionary Age. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.
  • Gershenhorn, Jerry. Melville J. Herskovits: and the racial politics of knowledge. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. GN21.H47 G47 2004
  • Gomez, Michael Angelo. Exchanging our country marks: the transformation of African identities in the colonial and antebellum South. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.E185.18 .G18 1998
  • Gutman, Herbert G. The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom 1750-1925. New York, NY: Vintage, 1976. E185.86.G77 1976
  • Hall, Gwendolyn Midlo. Africans in colonial Louisiana: the development of Afro-Creole culture in the eighteenth century. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.E185.93.L6H16 1992
  • Harris, Joseph E., et al. The African diaspora. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1996. DT16.5 .A325 1996
  • Harris, Joseph E., ed. Global dimensions of the African diaspora. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1993. DT16.5.G58 1993
  • Heywood, Linda M. Central Africans and cultural transformations in the American diaspora. Cambridge, U.K.; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2002. E29.N3 C46 2002
  • Inikori, Joseph E. Forced Migration: The Impact of the Export Slave Trade on African Societies. London and New York: Hutchison and Africana, 1982.
  • Kelley, Robin D. G. Freedom dreams: the Black radical imagination. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2002. E185 .K39 2002
  • Lemelle, Sidney J. and Kelley, Robin D.G., eds. Imagining Home: Class, Culture, and Nationalism in the African Diaspora. London and New York: Verso, 1994.
  • Mahon, Maureen. Right to rock: the Black Rock Coalition and the cultural politics of race. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004. ML3534 .M31 2004
  • Manning, Patrick. Slavery and African life: occidental, oriental, and African slave trades. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990. HT1321.M36 1990
  • Mintz, Sidney Wilfred and Price, Richard. The birth of African-American culture: an anthropological perspective. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1992.
  • Mühlhäusler, Peter. Pidgin and Creole linguistics. Oxford, UK; New York, NY: B. Blackwell, 1986. PM7802.M78 1986
  • Murphy, Joseph M. Working the spirit: ceremonies of the African diaspora. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1994. BL2490.M87 1994
  • Okpewho, Isidore; Davies, Carole Boyce; and Mazrui, Ali A., eds. The African diaspora: African origins and New World identities. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999. E29.N3 A49 1999
  • Penningroth, Dylan C. The claims of kinfolk: African American property and community in the nineteenth-century South. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. E185.8 .P39 2003
  • Raboteau, Albert J. Slave religion: the "invisible institution" in the Antebellum South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. BR563.N4R25
  • Radano, Ronald and Bohlman, Philip V., eds. Music and the racial imagination. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000. ML3795 .M782 2000 
  • Thornton, John Kelly. Africa and Africans in the making of the Atlantic world, 1400-1680. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. DT31.T516 1992
  • Van Deburg, William L. Slavery and race in American popular culture. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984. E441.V23 1984
  • Ward, Brian. Just my soul responding: rhythm and blues, Black consciousness, and race relations. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1998. ML3479 .W37 1998
  • Williams, Walter L. Black Americans and the evangelization of Africa, 1877-1900. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982. BV3520.W49 1982
  • Wright, Michelle M. Becoming Black: creating identity in the African diaspora. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004. HT1581 .W69 2004
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