In This Review

African Americans and Africa: A New History
African Americans and Africa: A New History
By Nemata Amelia Ibitayo Blyden
Yale University Press, 2019, 280 pp

Blyden has produced a fascinating book on the relationship between African Americans and the African continent from the era of slavery, to the late-nineteenth-century movements to return African Americans to West Africa, to the twentieth-century civil rights movement, to the eventual presidency of Barack Obama in the twenty-first century. She skillfully reveals the emergence and evolution of a distinctly African American identity through the writings and lives of black intellectuals, ranging from the eighteenth-century ex-slave and poet Phillis Wheatley to later figures such as the historian and activist W. E. B. Du Bois and the author Richard Wright. A recurring theme of the book is that African Americans have looked to Africa when their prospects in the United States have seemed particularly bleak and unpromising. Blyden also notes the ambiguity of that longing for Africa; for many African Americans, engagement with the continent has sparked a recognition of their distinctly American identity as much as it has engendered a sense of solidarity with Africans. Over a million Africans have immigrated to the United States in the last 30 years, a trend that may again remake black America.