BLACK LEGACY by William D. Piersen


America's Hidden Heritage
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 Piersen (History/Fisk University) looks at selected areas of American culture from a perspective that offers an occasional convincing surprise, as he focuses on African traditions and social mechanisms that reached the New World (including the Caribbean and Latin America) with the black slaves. The author has collected folktales and oral traditions from both sides of the Atlantic to explain how blacks came to be dominated by whites--material that, while it may not cast a new light on history, is interesting in itself and gives access into the rationalizing consciousness of the enslaved. Piersen takes a serious, not romantic, view of African royalty: While few African kings and princesses ruled over vast regions or great wealth, ideas of rank and social etiquette were highly developed, and the author suggests that class-conscious slaves were not--as is usually believed--upholding their masters' values but were transmitting African ideas about manner and caste. Satiric song lyrics and the subversive humor of black Americans have often been described as weapons of powerless people too beaten to use force, but Piersen shows that public humiliation and criticism--rather than violence or physical punishment--was a primary method of social control in African societies. He suggests that the original KKK regalia (predating white hoods and sheets) was inspired by the masking traditions of African secret societies. The African origins and influence on southern cooking, Carnival, and the use of herbal medicine seem much less hidden. If Piersen can't consistently provide jolts of new understanding, his compilation of materials remains readable and interesting throughout.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-87023-854-X
Page count: 288pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1993