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Historian Traces Emergence of Black Identity in America

During the transatlantic slave trade an estimated 20 million people from the continent of Africa were transported to North America as slaves.

History Professor James Sidbury tells the complex story of how this diverse group of people forged a unified identity through the shared experience of oppression in “Becoming African in American: Race and Nation in the Early Black Atlantic” (Oxford University Press, 2007).

Drawing upon compelling narratives by early black writers such as Ignatius Sancho in England and Phillis Wheatley in America, Sidbury illuminates how thought leaders and political activists transformed the term “African” into a symbol of pride and unity for the Black Diaspora.

The book also examines the rise of African-American churches, especially the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the important role they played in helping form black identity.

Renée Soulodre-La France, of the American Historical Review, called the book “A welcome contribution to the puzzle of the complex relationships developing in the Atlantic world…. Full of insights that will be useful to experts and students alike. It is a compellingly argued contextualization of the politics of race in the United States during this early period.”

Sidbury also is the author of “Ploughshares into Swords: Race, Rebellion, and Identity in Gabriel’s Virginia, 1730-1810” (Cambridge University Press, 1997).