Until I had begun this part of my blog, The Bible through Artists’ Eyes, I had thought that the major contribution of blacks to American culture was music. In my research, I discovered the immense range and depth of the contribution of black people to the United States, indeed, to the world.
I highly recommend the following site:
Afro-American Contributions to American Culture
It is generally common knowledge that George Washington Carver “invented” peanut butter as a protein source and encouraged the cultivation of peanuts as an alternative to cotton. He was so much more than that. Born at about the time of the Civil War, at a time that education was a limited opportunity for blacks, and then separate from privileged white universities in black universities, he obtained an education and became a scientist, botanist, inventor and educator. There is so much more to the story of the gifts of blacks, generally to American culture and achievement. I will attempt to summarize the content of the above site, in hopes that it might encourage readers to explore that and similar sites.
I was not aware that certain areas of Africa were known for specific skills, such as raising cattle, dairy production, cultivation of rice, architecture, and so much more than either cuisine or music. We generally are aware of the stories of Uncle Remus, which have their source in Africa: Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox and Chicken Little originated there.
Many of the black slaves were skilled in animal husbandry, including artificial insemination, agriculture, including the introduction to the United States of rice and its cultivation, the peanut, okra, black-eyed peas, kidney and lima beans, and herbal medicine.
American culture considers cowboys to be uniquely American, but the very term, “cowboy,” finds its origin in reference to blacks who were “cow boys.” It is particularly ironic to me that, living in the Midwest of the United States, a term of derision (cow “boy”) would be adopted proudly for what has become perceived as a white activity or sport. After the Civil War, as the West continued to be developed, whites distinguished themselves from black cowboys by describing themselves as “cattlemen.” The word, “doggies,” is African in origin.
The banjo was an African instrument which, blacks could proud of, until, in 1840, it became part of the “Blackface acts” of minstrel shows. Certain words that are common to contemporary American culture are actually of African origin: OK (okay), bogus, boogie-woogie, bug (insect), guy, hippie, and phony.
Long before black women risked their lives and health for me, black women had been not only caregivers to white children, but prior to the Civil War 90% of the white births were attended by black midwives. African folk medicine discovered and used an inoculation for smallpox long before Western medicine developed it. The above site notes of that inoculation practice:
. . . Africans knew that smallpox inoculation was done by simply taking some of the pus from the scalp and inoculating those who were not exposed. Smallpox was the most feared epidemic in Colonial America.
With the Native American population, African doctors introduced white culture to holistic medicine. Many of the highly skilled professions generally associated with a moneyed class, such as architecture and engineering, were practiced by slaves in the colonies. Again, I quote from the above site:
Enslaved artisans played a major role in the economic and physical development of the American South. Enslaved Africans were responsible for the design and construction of both the Plantation house and the slave quarters. . . .
The slave quarters at Keswick, near Midlothian, Virginia, were constructed around 1750 and made with the African tradition of hand-made burnt clay bricks by plantation slaves. . . .
For an excellent article on the influence of a larger range of black music upon American culture see http://www.chatham.edu/pti/curriculum/units/2007/Powell.pdf
I have already noted my great debt to black women, and I have alluded to the debt of American culture to black people who were originally introduced into this country as slaves. The debt is indeed much deeper than I had recently acknowledged. Thank you, my friends.
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