Campbell (History/Brown Univ.) assembles a fine look at various homecomings to a continent that was not often welcoming, for many of the stolen sons and daughters of Africa returned to find that they were now truly “American.”
Some, like Richard Pryor, joked about it, while others, such as Eddie Harris and Maya Angelou, found the situation disturbing. The first great travelers presented here are fascinating characters nearly lost to history: the Muslim nobleman Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, ransomed from slavery in Maryland by sympathetic Londoners in 1733 and returned to Gambia (where, ironically, he became a slaver); the musician Newport Gardner, author of “the first compositions published by a black person in American history,” who finally returned to Africa from Rhode Island as an old man, having tried for years to make the crossing. Campbell sets forth that leaders such as Thomas Jefferson encouraged such homecomings, inasmuch as they meant that blacks would leave America; he even made inquiries about whether the British government would accept black Americans in the new colony of Sierra Leone. Many African-Americans did travel to West Africa in resettlement schemes, and many died en route, while “many of those that survived immediately began searching for ways to return to the United States.” So it was with author Richard Wright, who traveled to Ghana to witness independence and was terribly alienated by the corruption he found, and Era Bell Thompson, whose Egyptian experiences led her to “thank God for the Stars and Stripes.” Yet others, such as W.E.B. DuBois, found that they liked being among the privileged elite. In the end, Campbell observes, there are as many kinds of homecomings as there are travelers.
A well-conceived and solidly written perspective on the African diaspora.