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Influence of Slavery on Urban Blacks Culture

UST 202

Cleveland State University

For one to understand the influence of
slavery on African American culture, one must also understand the roots and the
origins of slavery. Slavery in the United was abolished on December 6th
1865, which was 149 years ago to date. Although slavery ended, the fallout
still remains; the trauma left behind scars on the African American society
that have never and probably will never truly heal. Over time, this has
transformed and continues to transform the thought process of practically every
black person in America.

From the 16th to 19th
centuries, Europeans began what is called the triangular slave trade along the
Atlantic Ocean it was a forced migration whereby West Africans were made to
endure a horrendous journey to the west where they would subsequently be
treated like animals; fear was the tactic of slave owners; they would abuse,
stigmatize and demoralize kidnapped Africans in order to control them.Although
West Africans also owned slaves, they were often criminals and prisoners of war
and some African chiefs sold Africans to Europeans as well.

When slaves were brought to America, they
were often sold at auctions like animals and were primarily used as workers in
plantations where they were treaded like they were commodities. Slaves got
married regardless of the probability of being separated this created stronger
bonds asthey would frequently have relationships with each other and start
families and then the children born from said relationships would automatically
become the property of the slave owners. The slave owners had the authority to
sell any slaves they owned and would frequently break up families by selling
members off to make profit or for spite. The hardships that slaves endured
brought about a sense of solidarity and community, which led to the development
of a very strong cultural identity where they looked out for each other as best
as their situations could allow.

When slaves were introduced to Christianity,
their source of solace became religion and from there, they created their own
form of prayer and worship and this form of religion was an expression of their
daily lives and the things they endured. They adopted the call and response
method of singing from working in the fields and merged it into their
spirituals and the music in their worship.They would often change the lyrics of
their spirituals to reflect their hope for freedom and also as a form of silent
resistance (Spilsbury, 2010).

Now that a brief history on slavery has been
provided, the topic can be addressed. African American culture is undoubtedly
rooted in the historical experiences endured by Blacks as a result of slavery. Urban
African American culture can be referred to as a subculture within another
subculture; it is an influential, distinct part of black culture as a whole in
the culture of the United States of America. In the time of slavery, Slaves
were not allowed to practice their original beliefs, cultures, values or
traditions reminiscent of their origins, which lead them to make certain
modifications and merge them with the traditions of other groups such as the Europeans
and Native Americans. As France Ntloedibe (2006) notes, this enabled and helped
them to cope with the “oppressive conditions of American slavery” (p. 410).
This created a brand new African American culture indicative of the cultures
and traditions of West and central Africa—because majority of the slaves were
brought from those parts of Africa—that essentially took on a new life and
impacted American culture and the world as a whole (Ntloedibe, 2006).

Due to racial discrimination and slavery,
African American culture has always been distinct from but important to
American culture because white Americans wanted no part of it and Black
Americans wanted something made them individual that belonged solely to them,
which others could not comprehend. African American slaves created and
maintained their own traditions that we see in our society today.

A very important part of African cultures
were religious beliefs which involved ancestral rituals and rites intended to
appease the gods and deceased ancestors to enable them live happy and
prosperous lives without calamities such as droughts, floods or famine so they
would always take care of their surroundings as a show of respect and
gratitude. This coincides with the belief in spiritual possession and an
afterlife whereby ancestors or deceased martyrs were the mediators or
messengers of the living and the gods. After the visit of missionaries,
Christianity slowly proliferated in theirsomewhat societal gatherings, which
brought about a complex fused religious dynamic to the enslaved Africans that
has been passed down for generations and is now engrained in black culture
(Ntloedibe, 2006).

Oral tradition is a very important aspect of
urban black culture as it was a staple aspect of indigenous African cultures.
Slaves had to rely on their speech as a form of communication and education
because their owners for fear of hidden communication and enlightened ambitions
denied them proper education. This lead to the development of oral tradition as
a way to preserve customs, folktales, history and any other precious cultural
information (Shuffelton, 1994). These were used by African Americans as forms
of inspiration and education passed down from generations. An example of an
African American Folktale includes the uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit stories
written by Joel Chandler Harris.

African scholars discovered that there were noticeablesimilarities
found between the Uncle Remus stories and African animal stories.Research by
Berry and Blassingame (1977) noted that African animal stories “served as the
prototype of the well known Uncle Remus stories” (p. 503) and the plots of at
least 13 of the Uncle Remus stories are similar to those in Hausa stories.After
studying more over 1.000 traditional Fulani and Hausa folktales in Nigeria, H.
A. S. Johnston stated that “Brer Rabbit is the is undoubtedly the direct
descendant of the hare of African folktales”(Berry & Blassingame, 1977, p.

African American oral culture also leaks into
urban black religion, if one were to attend a typical African American church,
they would notice that the preachers/ pastors do not simply stand in one spot
and speak, they enunciate their words and essentially put on a performance to
engage the congregation. They preach with loud expressive voices and
occasionally include spiritual songs that involve dancing and call and response
(Morgan, 2002). In African American churches, a spot located specifically for
the choir or response group is called the amen corner where they provide
unwavering support to the pastors’ sermon and it is acceptable for the
congregation to interrupt the preacher when they are ‘filled with the Holy

The buildings where religious sermons take
place and the members of the service are collectively referred to in our
society today as the Black church. Because many slaves were forced into
Christianity, the fusing of African traditions and Christianity occurred often
in secret meetings where slaves integrated practices such as dancing, passionate
singing, rhyming and so on and these practices remain an enormous part of the
Black church today. Black churches focused on messages that promoted hope,
freedom and a brighter future (Ntloedibe, 2006) and Richard Allen formed the
first ever African American denominational church in 1787 and it is called the
AME (African Methodist Episcopal)
Church. Other aspects of African American oral tradition include rhyming,
wordplay, rap and spoken word ­­­­(Allison, 1999). The art of spoken word is a
tradition that was influenced by African American preachers, which involves
rhythm, engaging an audience and in some cases, signifying. Spoken word and rap
are African American traditions that have become mainstream and engrained in
pop culture today.

From the 20th century, many
African Americans——still being heavily subjugated by racism and segregation——started
moving from the South to the North on a large rate at the dawn of the First
World War. Due to the laws that restricted European immigration, there was an
availability of jobs and need for industrial human labor (Miller & Wheeler,
1997). Compared to what it was, the move to the North substantially improved
the quality of their lives. Urban Black culture flourished in the new
environments despite the persistent oppression they faced.

A city in uptown New York called Harlem was a
beacon for black immigrants from the south where black culture and businesses
thrived. When the First World War ended, a group of Black creative individuals
(artists, musicians, writers, intellectuals) who sought a cultural identity
found their creative energy in their daily struggle to be Black and American at
the same timethe name of this movement was called the Harlem Renaissance, which
was the first major public acknowledgment of urban Black culture. The people
the center of this movement included Langston Hughes, Rudolph Fisher,Nella Larsen, Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace
Thurman,Wallace Thurman Claude McKay, Charles S. Johnson and other Black
artists and philosophers (, 2009).

Langston Hughes in particular adopted the
language of the black ghetto and the rhythm of jazz to artistically narrate the
daily Black experience in is poems. This is seen in African American music
today when rappers and musicians draw from their daily collective struggles and
channel all that energy into their music. Zora Neale Hurston also transformed
African American Oral Culture into literary works of art (Berry &
Blassingame, 1977).

of further topics to touch on:

(the hood/ghetto)

and formation of


and traditions/ rites of passage


of soul food

and social consciousness


Berry, M. F.,
& Blassingame, J. W. (1977). Africa, Slavery, & the Roots of Contemporary Black Culture. The Massachusetts Review, 18(3), 501–″>

D. W., & Brown, R. E. (2002). The Antipathy of Black Nationalism:
Behavioral and Attitudinal Implications of an African American Ideology. American
Journal of Political Science
, 46(2), 239–″>

S. (2003). [Review of CULTURAL TRAUMA: Slavery and the Formation
of African American Identity
]. American

Studies, 44(1/2), 287–289. Retrieved from″>

M. (2002). Language, discourse, and power in African American culture. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

F. (2006). A Question of Origins: The Social and Cultural Roots of African American Cultures. The Journal of African American History, 91(4),

F. (1994). Circumstantial Accounts, Dangerous Art: Recognizing African-American
Culture in Travelers’

Narratives. Eighteenth-century Studies, 27(4),
589- 603.

R. (2010). Slavery and the Slave Trade.

Heinemann-Raintree Library.

M. (2002). Language, discourse, and power in African

American culture. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
University Press.

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