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The River Flows On: Black Resistance, Culture, And Identity Formation In Early America

1146 words - 5 pages

The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution officially prohibited slavery and all its forms on the 6th December 1865. The United States will soon mark 150 years since the abolishment of its “peculiar institution”, and yet, historians are still struggling to establish a collective version of the events that led to its development and continued significance throughout the 18th and 19th centuries . As a result of this, the study of slavery has produced one of the richest and most varied historiographies in all of American history. Walter Rucker’s The River Flows On: Black Resistance, Culture, and Identity Formation in Early America’s unique contribution to this existing literature, in my opinion, means it should be widely read by scholars and students alike.
The River Flows On: Black Resistance, Culture and Identity Formation in Early America is a fascinating consideration of African culture and its effect on the history of slave resistance in North America. Walter Rucker seeks to establish that the effect was extensive; furthermore, he claims it to have been essential in the creation of a communal consciousness among enslaved peoples. One of his main objectives appears to be to impress upon his reader the important advancements that could continue to be made if greater significance was placed on slaves’ African roots. In doing so, he claims, one could “better grasp the convoluted complexities of slave life” . Not unlike the work of Michael Gomez, in which Rucker places great significance, The River Flows On rejects an “Americanist” approach to the study of slave culture in favour of one that embraces a unique African-American identity . Of those historians who take an “African-Americanist” position on the subject, Rucker’s work attracts considerable attention.
Rucker’s book is useful in two ways. Not only can it be seen as ardent defence of the importance of African cultural traditions to the institution of slavery in North America, but also as a chronological examination of black resistance over a two century period. Rucker’s argument focuses on the idea that ethnicity was an essential binding factor to those groups of slaves who took part in conspiracies. He even goes as far to say that regions in which slaves from similar ethnic backgrounds came into close contact suffered more occasions of slave resistance than those that were more ethnically diverse. For example, he attributes the events of the 1712 revolt and 1741 conspiracy in New York to the large numbers of slaves’ descendant from the Gold Coast living and working there, “In particular, Akan-speakers from the Gold Coast were perceived to be the most recalcitrant…and were likely a sizable portion of the “Refuse” and “Malefactors” sold to New York on the eve of the 1712 revolt.” The most innovative part of Rucker’s work, however, is his analysis of numerous forms of African cultural heritage and how they found purpose within slave resistance movements. Folklore, to which...

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