Africanisms in African-American Material Culture:
An Annotated Bibliography

By Marie Turner Wright

Contrary to the beliefs of some historians, sociologist and anthropologists, neither the Middle Passage nor Colonial America acculturation completely erased memories of the domestic arts Africans practice before they were enslaved in the Americas. The tendency once was to assume that in those instances where Africans did not bring African-made artifacts with them in the slave ships, there was no possibility that any of them would be able to reproduce their ancestral material culture.

The appearance of artifacts, particularly in the Southern states of North America, areas of South America and the Caribbean, confirm the survival of African practices in the material culture of African-Americans in regions where Africans were enslaved. The survival of these cultural artifacts is a reality that exists three hundred years later in physical realities.

This bibliography is a listing of journal articles, books, museum catalogs and Internet Sites that document material culture Africanisms among the peoples of African descent, focusing on North America, and the New World culture they helped to create. Extensive research into African American music genres, musical instruments and folk tales has been done by numerous scholars. Even though material culture survival studies began long before Melville Herskovits' Myth of the African Past, the widespread recognition of truths unveiled through these studies have not become as much a part of our popular culture as the acceptance of African influences on American visual and aural arts.


Bial, Raymond. The Strength of These Arms: Life in the Slave Quarters. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997. 40 p.
Illustrated with archival photographs and on site photographs taken at various locations throughout the south. A notable Children's Trade Book in the field of Social Studies.

African-Americans did not simply accept slavery, they created new lives for themselves "out of what they found around them." " [S]laves were able to preserve some elements of their African heritage. Recent excavations of slave quarters have uncovered artifacts such as cowrie shells, which were used as money in Africa, and pottery in African styles. [M]any African words, such as banjo, mumbo-jumbo, jam, okra, juke, chigger, and goober have become part of the English language (p.7-8). Clothing was supplied by their owners, "yet wherever they could, slaves expressed their independence by keeping elements of African dress. Many young women wore beaded necklaces called charm strings to bring good luck. Occasionally men braided their hair in plaits similar to African cornrows and women tied their hair with string and bits of cloth in African styles. Most of the women and some of the men wore had kerchiefs similar to those worn in Africa. Slaves along the Mississippi River work had cloths like the turbans of West African were popular" (p.17-18). Slaves also raised their own cabbage, collards, turnips, peanuts, and corn in garden plots by their cabins. They found also found ways to make their meals more like the spicy African Food they remembered - bland park and stew became barbecue and gumbo" (p. 19-20). Many slaves had been farmers in Africa. This knowledge and ability allowed them to undertake the formidable tasks of managing the rice plantations.

Blockson, Charles L. Sea Change in the Sea Islands "Nowhere to Lay Down Weary Head". National Geographic. Vol. 72, (6) December, 1987, 735-763 p.
Photographs by Karen Kasmauski.

A story about the "Sea Change in the Sea Island." Island tradition is dying as one of the last vestiges of African culture in America bows to "development" or gentrification, the term used in northern urban areas, to indicate low- income residents being replaced by affluent ones. The language, religion, dietary habits, fishing, and other tasks so closely linked to African are focused on through interviews with older and younger generations. Children who have left to go to college and pursue careers in states far removed from Daufuskie Island, but still feel a spiritual link, talk about the changes on the islands. This is also the place where the noted southern/African-American chef, Edna Lewis collects plants like the elephant ear, a tuber, which she prepares as a side-dish. On page 755 Mary Jackson is pictured showing her daughter April how to make coiled baskets. Examples of Miss Jackson's baskets, now prized by collectors, are in the lower picture on page 755. . "Basketry is one of the oldest African crafts practiced in the United States."

Deagan, Kathleen and Darcie MacMahon. Fort Mose: Colonial America's Black Fortress of Freedom. Florida: University Press of Florida/Florida Museum of Natural History, 1995. 54 p.

The authors include Illustrations References and Further Readings lists which help the readers understand the scope of research necessary to write this history. This research required searching publications from Portugal to Spain and to North and South America.

Fort Mose, a site in Spanish Florida, is the first legally sanctioned free black town in what is now the United States. It was a refuge for slaves, particularly those fleeing from South Carolina to St. Augustine, Florida. Fort Mose served as a beacon of liberty for enslaved Carolinians, and protected the Spanish colony against English attack. (p.20) The existence of St. Augustine as a free territory for slaves of African heritage was abhorred by the English plantation owners of the Carolinas and Georgia.

"When Europeans first arrived in West Africa they found a diversity of people and cultures - nomad tribes, rich trading societies, and powerful city-states. West Africans possessed a wealth of skills - language, ideas, styles, traditions, religion and beliefs, technology, art and music - needed in the Americas. Their technological skills contributed more to the establishment of settlements and cities than history has credited. . The mixture of the traditions of these diverse peoples in America produced a distinctively African-American cultural tradition influenced by European and American Indian traditions, but profoundly rooted in the African past. (p. 2) "An Unacknowledged Legacy: Life and Economy" has reprints, 46, 47, 48, 49 and 57, of prints showing African slaves at work using the skills they once used in their homelands. (p. 18)

The first Africans the Spanish brought to America, in the sixteenth, were not slaves. Unfortunately, by 1700, some one- and -a half million African people had been brought, unwillingly, to the Americas as slaves.

"Don't Grieve After Me" The Black Experience in Virginia 1619-1986. Philip Morgan, editor. Virginia: Hampton University, 1986. 100 p.
Ferguson, Leland G. Uncommon Ground: Archaeology and Early African America 1650-1800. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. 1992, 186 p.
Ferris, William, editor. Afro-American Folk Art and Crafts. University Press of Mississippi: Jackson, 1983. 440 p.
An excellent collection of essays that cover the gamut of Afro-American folk arts and crafts. Many of the authors in this collection have different articles and books listed under other categories in this bibliography.
Genovese, Eugene D. Roll, Jordan Roll: The World the Slaves Made. New York: Random House, 1976. 823 p.
This book has become a classic and can be found listed in almost every bibliography of African American history. Three sections of Part II, Hearth and Home, Gardens, Kitchens, High and Low are most pertinent to the focus of this bibliography. The slaves continue the cultural traditions brought from Africa whenever and wherever possible. Reading these sections document the food slaves ate, the seeds from Africa that they planted and how they survived on wild plants and animals. Readers curious about the continuing love for certain colors, headwear and other clothing preferences among African-Americans will find surprising answers on these pages.
Holloway, Joseph E. editor. Africanisms in American Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.
Beginning with the Herskovits and Frazier debate about questionable survivals, this collection of 10 essays is packed with research. The categories are history, language, religion, the arts and new directions. Holloway begins his introduction with this statement:
This collection of essays grew out of the felt need for a new and comprehensive examination of Africanism in America and especially the United States from historical, linguistic, religious and artistic perspective. The essays in this volume update the influential findings of Melville J. Herskovits, looking particularly at African cultural survivals in North American not previously described by Herskovits or other researcher exploring New World Africanisms.
Holloway's essay, "The Origins of African-American Culture" provides the background about all the scholarship and identifies the areas in western African from which most of the slaves were taken. The commonly used terms, Ivory Coast and Congo in no way reflect the wide range of tribes and cultures that characterize the slaves brought to the New World. The African slaves' culture cultural heritage was based on numerous West and Central African cultures. (p.11) The last essay, "The African Heritage of White America" by John Edward Philips, when read, may send shock waves through White America. The very research that documents the survival of African culture among African -Americans may document African culture among whites. Among the "white Africanisms Philips explores besides music are "southern dialect, southern cuisine, gumbo, seasonings and the elaborate etiquette of the South, with its respect for elders and kinship in speaking to neighbors." Additionally, Philips discusses little known scholarship about the American West stating, " only recently have we [Americans] begun to recognize the extent to which cowboy culture had African Roots. Texas longhorns and African cattle egrets were brought to American with Fulani slaves. Many details of cowboy life, work, and even material culture can be traced to Fulani antecedents." (p. 232)

Each essay has complete note/bibliographies, appropriate charts, tables, and photographs complement the essays. One index covers all essays.

Jackson, Juanita, Sabra Slaughter and J. Herman Blake. The Sea Islands as a Cultural Resource. The Black Scholar. March, 1974, p. 32-39.
Jones-Jackson, Patricia. When Roots Die: Endangered Traditions on the Sea Islands. Athens Georgia: University of Georgia Press. 1987. 189 p.
McDaniel George W. Hearth & Home: Preserving a People's Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 1982. 297pages.
Mintz, Sidney W. and Richard Price. The Birth of African-American Culture: An Anthropological Perspective. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press, 1976. 121p.
Opala, Joseph. The Gullah: Rice, Slavery and the Sierra Leone-American Connection. USIS: Freetown, Sierra Leone, 1987. 36 p.
The Other Slaves Mechanics, Artisans and Craftsmen. James E. Newton, and Ronald L. Lewis editors. G. K. Hall: Boston, 1978. 245 p.
Pettaway, Addie E. Africatown, USA: Some Aspects of Folklife and Material Culture of an Historic Landscape. Madison, Wisconsin: Wisconsin Dept. of Public Instruction, 1985.
Pettaway 's research documents that this town was established in 1868 in Mobile and Prichard, Alabama by members of the last cargo of slaves brought to the United States. The author details the arts and crafts of the descendents of these Africans. Architecture indicates the residents built shotgun houses (see Architecture) - many were destroyed in the 1979 when Hurricane Frederic hit the Gulf coast.
Savannah Unit Georgia Writers' Project Work Projects Administration. Survival Studies Among the Georgia Coastal Negroes. Brown Thrasher Books. University of Georgia Press: Athens, 1940, 1986. 274 p.
The writers traveled to twenty communities and spoke with 138 people over a period three years about their personal recollections and their remembrances of things about the past as told by others. Similar stories told by informants at different locations give authenticity to the recants.
Stavisky, Leonard Price. Negro Craftsmanship in Early America. American Historical Review. Vol. 54 (2). Pages 351-375.

"the decorative character manifested in the handicrafts of the black races of Africa is of surpassing character"

Stavisky begins this article with comments by a German physician who toured the United States in 1783 and made comparison with [N]egro slaves and Russian serfs. The physician made the assumption that the Negro craftsmen he observed had learned their skill from their British owners. Probably the most important statement Stavisky makes is on the first page, "There is reason to believe that Negro workers engaged in the crafts white still on the continent of Africa. In the Sudan, almost one thousand years ago, cotton was already being woven. Long before England established colonies in the Western Hemisphere, primitive tanning, weaving, and toolmaking were practiced by the natives of Lake Tchad and Timbuctoo. There is more here about Negroes as craftsmen in general and how they fit into the Northern and Southern planting and manufacturing systems than specific retentions. However, this article is important because it notes that Africans did not arrive on this continent without skills. Along with listing skills at the loom and blacksmithing, Stavisky makes note of outstanding craftsmen like Benjamin Banneker and Neptune Thurston a New England slave cooper and the unnamed slave silversmiths employed by William Faris of Annapolis.
Thompson, Robert Farris. Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy. Random House: New York. 1983. 317 p.
Pertinent to this study is Chapter Four, "Round Houses and Rhythmised Textiles: Mande-Related Art and Architecture in the Americas". Thompson provides the reader with some history of the Mande civilization. His thesis is supported by photographs taken in Africa which are compared to similar architectural structure in America. The textile essays confirms and broaden research of others. Unfortunately they are black and white, but they make it easy to see the staggering of the stripes and the deliberate clashing of "high-affect colors." One picture shows a man seated at his narrow strip loom, illustrating that men dominated this craft. The Mande architectural style is extant in the walled wattle-and-daub round houses of the Mande descendants in Costa Chica, Mexico a little known and explored area to which the Spanish brought slaves, and later abandoned them. This is a fertile area for extensive research. .
Vlach, John Michael. "Black Creativity in Mississippi: Origins and Horizons" in Made by Hand: Mississippi Folk Art. An Exhibition at the Mississippi State Historical Museum Old Capitol Restoration, January 22-May 25, 1980. Pages 28-32.
Weevils in the Wheat: Interview with Virginia Ex-Slaves. ed. Charles L. Perdue, Jr., Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980. 405pages.
Wood, Peter H. Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 Through the Stono Rebellion. New York: Knopf. 1975. 346 p. unpaged index.
This publication is based on a thesis the author wrote in 1972, and is an excellent historical study of African slaves in North American and their contributions to American culture. Wood's chapter on Black Labor- White Rice has much more detail than other scholarship of the Africans control of rice cultivation in America.
Black Majority cover photo In contrast to Europeans, Negroes from the West Coast of African were widely familiar with rice planting Ancient speakers of a proto-Bantu language in sub-Sahara region are known to have cultivated the crop. An indigenous variety (Oryza glaberrima) was a staple in the wester rain-forest regions long before Portuguese and French navigators introduced Asian and American varieties of O. sativa in the 1500s. Be the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, West Africans were selling rice to slave traders to provision their ships. Through out most of the slaving era a central part of the area from the Windward Coast" to Elmina in present-day Ghana was designated as the Grain Coast. (p. 59)
From Observation upon the Windward Coast ( footnote p.119):
Indigo and cotton grow in wild exuberance almost everywhere, without culture, and the women collect such quantities as they consider requisite for their families, which they prepare and spin upon a distaff; the thread is woven, by an apparatus of great simplicity, into fillets, or pieces from six to nine inches broad, which are sewed together to any width, required for use. The indigo, in it indigenous state, and a variety of other plants, colour these cloths, an ell of which will serve as a dress for a Negroe of the lower class.
Wood's research about raising and herding of cattle is the foundation of Philip's research and conclusions about the Africanisms of the American West cowboy culture. This book is and excellent read for anyone interested in the history of Africans in America.


Arrigo, Joseph. Louisiana's Plantation Homes: The Grace and Grandeur. Stillwater, Mn.: Voyageur Press, 1991. 102 p.
Melrose Plantation is near the city of Natchitoches, the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase. Melrose was built by a free man of color, Augustin Metoyer, in 1833. African House, the original structure on the plantation is now called Yucca, because of the spear like plant that grows near it. Built for Metoyer by the mulatto workmen the "mushroomlike, overhanging roof, similar in appearance to West African structures" has an unexplained function. It is now used as museum. The "main" house on the plantation has some structural similarities to African House, Cammie Henry who came to live at Melrose in 1899 has restored and preserved the plantation. It is a mecca for writers and artists and holds a large collection of materials about Louisiana history.
Biggers, John. Shotgun, Third Ward #1. (oil on canvas)
Biggers' painting depicts the predominantly African-American Houston community of shotgun houses. These historic houses are the community's connection to the "shogun" style houses of western Africa. This painting is a pivotal work in the artist's career. John Biggers has done a number of artistic interpretations of the Houston community where he grew up. His artwork captures the people and their homes call "shotguns" because a shotgun fired at the front of the houe will travel straight through the house and out the back door. For more in depth discussion of the shotgun design, floor plans and history see Vlach, John M.
DBAE Curriculum Resources. The Shotgun Houses of John Biggers: African American Vernacular Architecture

"The Evolution of the Shotgun House: From Haiti to the Southern United States"

Research traces the shotgun house from Haiti to New Orleans "where it spread across the southern United States". In the early days of slavery in Haiti slaves built houses combining the structural forms and materials of the native Tainos Indians, the original inhabitants, and the remembered architectural form of West Africa. This paper defines the shotgun house as a structure that when a shotgun is fired through the front door would pass straight through the house and out the back door.
Gritzner, Janet Bigbee Hazen. Tabby in the Coastal Southeast: the Culture History of an American Building Material. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1981.
Harwood, Buie. The Aubin Roque House Natchitoches, Louisiana. North Louisiana Historic Association 4:4 (1973) 131-133.
Jones, Steven L. Afro-American Architecture and the Spirit of Thomas Day. Berkeley, Calif: University of California, Library Photographic Service, 1985.
Louisiana's Oldest City: Historic and Private Homes of Natchitoches, Melrose Plantation. Classic American Homes Incorporating Colonial Homes. Vol. 26 (1), 66-68 p.
Melrose Plantation is the site of Africa House one of the most frequently cited extant buildings that replicates an architectural style known in Africa.. The house was built by Marie Therese Coicoin, a slave, born in 1742 in Natchitoches, Louisiana. She produced 10 children of Franco-African descent, father by Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer. "Metoyer freed Marie Therese in 1780, and eventually all of their children." One biographer states that Marie left Louisiana at one point during her relationship with Metoyer and lived in Haiti. Marie and one of her sons built Africa House. It is believed that the upper level was used for storage.

Africa House was restored in "1898 and artistic patronage transformed Africa House into a cultural Mecca." "The most famous artist associated with Melrose was a resident, not a visitor. Clementine Hunter, the daughter of freed slaves, was born near Cloutierville in 1887. Hunter became one of American's foremost primitive painters. Melrose owns the largest collection of her works on display in one place. (see also Joseph Arrigo above)

Plantation Cabins: The Tabby House. Colonial Homes. March/April, 1982. Vol.9, (2). 62-68 p.
At the close of the 18th Century slaves who tilled the lowland cotton fields lived in tabby cabins, which held several large families. One of the tabby cabins featured in this photo-essay is now a shop chock-full of southern antiques and folk art. Among the pieces of folk pottery on display in one tabby are some pieces of pottery made by a slave craftsman. Also featured is Annie Mae Greene a craftswomen who lives on Sapelo, Island. Miss Greene is an accomplished basket maker. Pictures of her appear in other articles about basketmakers, specifically sea grass basketmarkets on the Georgia Sea Islands. In this article she is shown making baskets out of forest grapevines. A completed basket filled with spring blossoms, awaiting a buyer, is placed on the steps of Tabby House.
Vlach, John Michael. The Shotgun House: An African Architectural Legacy. Pioneer America. Vol. 8. July 1976. 57-78 p. Illustrated


Images of Mississippi Black Folklife. Photoessay by Roland Freeman. In Made by Hand Mississippi Folk Art. An exhibition at the Mississippi State Historical Museum Old Capitol Restoration, January 22 - May 25, 1980. Jackson, Mississippi: The Mississippi Department of Archives and History, 1980. 23-30 p.
Patton, Sharon F. Development of Culture by Black Artisans. Negro History Bulletin. Vol.46. (1983) 43-45 p.
Powell, Richard J. African and Afro-American Art: Call and Response. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1984. [19] p.
Powell's essay is the textual accompaniment for the exhibition "African Insights: Sources for the Afro-American Art and Culture".
Vlach, John J. Afro-American Folk Crafts in Nineteenth Century Texas. Western Folklore. Vol 40, (2) (1981) 149-161p.
Vlach, John M. The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990. 175p.


Black Dimensions in Art, Inc. Black Artists in Historical Perspective: A Bicentennial Exhibit 1976.
An exhibit at the Schenectady Museum, Schenectady, New York, February 14 through April and Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany, New York, May 1 through May31.

On display and in the catalog were several baskets "authenticated for the African origin of the design." Photographs of these baskets are on page 6 of the catalog. African origin is also true for the canes, and harpoons shown on the same page.

Biondo, Marlene. The Wisdom of the Sweet Basket Makers. 1997
The Charleston Marketplace is the scene of the authors observation of the variety of baskets being made and those ready for purchase. Biondo describes the various materials used to make these baskets while informing the reader of the new status of these baskets - as objets d'art and museum pieces. The basket making history goes back several centuries to Africa when baskets made for processing rice were made by men, and more functional or utilitarian baskets, used inside the home, were made by women. The Historical Society of Charleston is establishing sweet grass reserves on Sullivan Island to protect and insure the endurance of the coil basket production of the African-American community.
Charleston, South Carolina. Colonial Homes. November/December 1986, Vol. 12, (6), 84-85 p.
The focus of this short article is Christmas decorations in Charleston, but there is one small picture of a craftswoman and her traditional baskets of sea grass, in color, that will help readers realize the beauty of these baskets.
Hall, Robert L. African Religious Retentions in Florida. in Africanisms in American Culture ed. Joseph E. Holloway. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990. (98-118 p.) Illustrated
Among the retentions in Florida, a state that had a large number of African-born individuals in the state's black population, are the basket-making styles. Along the roadsides of Florida are craftspeople making white-oak baskets. Basket makers fingertips carry "the memory of an ancient African craft fast disappearing from the face of the Florida Panhandle. African slaves once brought to the Panhandle to work on plantations, made baskets to hold cotton picked from the fields." (107 p.) Baskets were woven to use for church collections.
"Images of Mississippi Black Folklife. Photographic essay by Roland Freeman. In Made by Hand: Mississippi Folk Art. An exhibition at the Mississippi State Historical Museum Old Capitol Restoration, January 22-May 25, 1980. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History Jackson, Mississippi 1980. Pages 23 -27.
Freeman's photographs illustrate the craftsmen whose work is thought to show a link " between the material culture of black folk who survived the "middle passage" to the Americas and those who live in Mississippi today". Includes Talf Putnam, basket-maker, Abraham Hunter, cornshuck mule collar maker. Mrs. Annie Dennis and Malissa Banks quilt makers, yard sculpturers and cane makers. The reptile images on canes are very common on canes made in Africa.
Osburn, Margaret. Along the Side of the Road: Crafting Sea Grass Baskets. American Visions, Vol. 3 (2), April 1988. 16-21 p.
This distinctive African-American craft, baskets made of small coiled bundles of sea grass sewn together with narrow strips of palmetto frond. "sea grass", "sweet grass" or "show baskets" sewing reaches back 300 years to the rise of rice plantations in America and, long before that to the agriculture of Africa's west coast." Osburn gives a brief history of this small traditional family industry in South Carolina. Readers may be surprised to learn that some basket making was "men's work." Illustrations include the work of several basket makers including the baskets of Mare Foreman Jackson whose designs have received national fame.
Rosengarten, Dale. Row upon Row: Sea Grass Baskets of the South Carolina Lowcountry. McKissick Museum: University of South Caroline. 1994. 72 p.
Rosengarten's investigation and research, funded in part by The National Endowment for the Humanities, is a documentary of the people who continue this ancient craft brought by African slaves to the South Carolina Lowcountry. Historical and contemporary photographs provide visual clarity for Rosengarten's text. Some of the first baskets made by African slaves were fanners used for the processing of rice. Other baskets served more utilitarian purposes like storage containers for food and other items for their families. The basketmakers who keep this craft alive operate as cottage industries and sell baskets at the city market in Charleston, or along the highway to tourists.

From 1916 to the 1920's Clarence Legerton's basket company sold the seagrass baskets. But selling the baskets through Legerton's company was an unsuccessful enterprise for the basket-makers. There are a few brief comments, with pictures, about some of the basket-makers, and Rosengarten also includes excellent information about Mary Jackson a highly skilled basket-maker whose baskets are on display in some of America's notable museums. (Several of her baskets are in the permanent collection of the Charles Wright African-American Museum in Detroit Michigan.) Jackson also teaches classes at art galleries. There are photographs of some of Jackson's baskets that illustrate the more contemporary designs she has developed to make her baskets more marketable. Jackson is also shown in a classroom with students she taught.

An excellent history of the industry embellished with photographs and other documentation. Credits include a catalog of exhibitions and a bibliography.

Sears, M. S. Sweet-grass Baskets. Country Living. January 1992, Vol. 15 (1) 22-24 p.
Illustrations of baskets.

Sears traces the history of South Carolina's Low Country sweet-grass baskets. Africans, brought to South Carolina during the 17th and 18th centuries as slaves, were primarily responsible for South Carolina's rice growing industry. The slaves brought their knowledge of rice growing and the skills to make the tools and other implements they needed to grow, harvest and cultivate the rice. Slaves brought their basket making skills with them and these skills were critical to the industry. Most of the plantation owners were absentees because of the climate and lack of knowledge about rice growing. This article briefly traces and illustrates the various uses of the baskets over the years. Further Sears documents the care and skill the makers bring to the making of each basket. Author expresses her sincere concern about this threatened craft.

Tallahassee Democrat. Basket Weaving Down-Home Style. Tallahassee, Fla.: Capital City Pub. Co., 1949.

Illustrated with black and white photograph of maker and baskets.

James Dickerson, staff writer, writes about Lucreaty Clark's 78-year-old fingers that have woven splintered strips of white oak into baskets that are part of her memory of an ancient African craft. Mrs. Clark lived long enough to see her baskets on exhibit in art shows.
Wexler, Mark. Sweet Tradition. National Wildlife, April -May. 1993,Vol. 31(3). 38-42 p.
Sweet grass is the plant gathered from the coastal areas of Mt. Pleasants, South Carolina to make the traditional baskets, an African craft that has survived for over 300 years in the Southeast. This article includes beautiful pictures of baskets with contemporary designs and spotlights the renowned African American basket maker Mary Jackson. Unfortunately Wexler's theme is the short supply of the basket makers product because of the erosion of the shore due to coastal development.


Savannah Unit Georgia Writers' Project Work Projects Administration. Survival Studies Among the Georgia Coastal Negroes. Brown thrasher Books. The University of Georgia Press: Athens, 1940, 1986. 274 p.
The introduction to this field study informs readers of the various theories and arguments, pro and con, about the survival of Africanisms by the American Negro. Informants speak of foods like Palmetto cabbage, Benne, Elephant Ears, Rice (and rice cakes) sorghum and okra, all staples at many African American tables. Black and white photographs illustrate wooden carvings, baskets for food and drums that reflect the informants' African heritage.


Durham, Michael S. "I am going to be Thomas Day". American Legacy. Vol. 3, No. 4 (1998) 48-53p.
Thomas Day, Cabinetmaker. Colonial Homes. January/February, 1982. Vol. 8 (1)
Thomas Day was a free black cabinetmaker, one of the most successful in North Carolina. Day made furniture for many prominent citizens. The largest single collection of furniture made by Day was for the Governor of North Carolina, David Reid. Reid was governor from 1851 to 1854. This article has approximately 15 pictures of Day's furniture, however, none of these show Day's use of African motifs.

This information about Day is important because it illustrates the skill of this extremely talented black man.

The Legacy of Thomas Day. Colonial Homes. August, 1996. Vol. 22 (4) 68-69, 101 p.
Unlike the feature article about Day, Colonial Homes, 1982, there is more biographical information in this one. "Day was born in Dimwiddie County, Virginia, in 1801 to free parents: John Day, Sr. a cabinetmaker whose family had been free blacks since pre-Revolutionary War days. His mother Mourning Stewart Day was the daughter of a wealthy doctor and landholder. It is believed that Day apprenticed with his father before moving to Milton, North Carolina. As the Milton area became rich from farm products like tobacco there was a demand for furniture to fill the grand homes they were building. Day's workshop and home which was privately owned, was devastated by fire in 1989. A group of people in Milton formed a partnership with Craftique to rebuild the house and open it as a museum in 1997.

The story of Thomas Day is a significant part of African-American and American history.


Westmacott, Richard. African-American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. 1992.
Landscape architect Westmacott explores the significance of "yard" and "garden" in the African-American community. In spite of cautionary phrases the author does use documentation to support survivalist treatment of exterior space by African-Americans. Westmacott looks at the tradition of " sweeping the yard," which may have originated in Africa, and "caring for the garden". African Americans utilize the outdoor spaces around their homes. The primary function of the African-American "garden" is the production of edible plants. But the "yard" is an extension of the house- a place to entertain, work and relax. These particular uses of outdoor spaces, according to the author, are found most consistently in three geographic areas. These areas are: the low country of South Carolina, the southern piedmont of Georgia, and the black belt of Alabama. The yard may have small areas near the porch where flowers are grown.


Negro's Art Lives in His Wrought Iron.
Lyons, Mary E. Catching the Fire: Philip Simmons, Blacksmith. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1997. 47 p.

Photographs by Mannie Garcia, front jacket photo by John Michael Vlach and back jacket photo by Mannie Garcia. Notes and Bibliography and Books of Interest cited on pages 46 and 47.

Lyons' Introduction gives the reader this statement about Simmons and his connection with the history of blacksmithing.

"To touch a Philip Simmons gate is to touch the past. His craft is over five thousand years old. In 3500 B. C., Egyptian smiths shaped metal with hammer and fire. In Sierra Leone, West Africa, smiths have worked brass and copper since the thirteenth century. From 1670 until 1863, thousands of West Africans were enslaved on the coast of South Carolina. Some were blacksmiths who passed the tradition on to their offspring. One descendant, a former slave, showed Philip Simmons how to work iron. "
This is story is really about Simmons life after leaving Daniel Island, where he had lived his first eight years with his grandparents William and Sarah Simmons. He went to Charleston to live with his mother. During his first three years in Charleston and noted the beautiful iron fences around Charleston and became enchanted with the music from a hammer that flowed through a workshop door. The workshop belonged to Peter Simmons, no relation to Philip, who was the shop's owner and a master blacksmith. In time Philip became Peter's apprentice. "[B]lacksmithing agreed with Philip and he quit school at fifteen to work full-time." Peter taught Philip that there would always be something for the smith to do long after the horseless carriages took over society. In 1972 Philip met John M. Vlach (see Charleston Blacksmith: The Work of Philip Simmons) a graduate student from Indiana, who was looking for someone to tell him about "the old ways of ironwork." Philip explained the history of his business to Vlach and Vlach's biography is the result. Lyons includes Philip's recounting of his collaboration with Vlach in this biography.

"Events in this biography are based on Philip Simmons's memories and described in his own words." When he listened to the author's text he often commented "Let me tell you the real story" if he felt the need to correct some detail. Photographs of Simmons and members of his family, his mentor and teacher Peter, archival photographs of Charleston in the early 1920's as well as pictures of the smithy's workshop and Simmons's beautiful craftsmanship, are accompanied by a description of the art of blacksmithing. The result is a beautiful story for readers of all ages. One major highlight of this biography is the story about Simmons's invitation to demonstrate his art at the Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C. In 1995 Simmons received a Conservation Craftsman Award.


Cruz, Adriene. Colorful Crochet. Threads Magazine. Vol.19. August/September, 1988. 64-69 p.
Cruz believes that her African-Caribbean heritage influences her multicolored designs of tapestry crochet. She states "that listening to African, Afro-Cuban, and Brazilian rhythms stimulates my creativity". Cruz has been told that her designs "resemble the Wisdom Knot , an intelligence test used among the Dan people of the Ivory Coast, and the Marriage Chain design of the Yoruba people of Nigeria". This article has examples of her vibrantly colored works of art, and clear instruction on how to change colors to achieve the effect.


Baldwin, Cinda. "Edgefield Face Vessels: African-American Contributions of American Folk Art. American Visions. August 1990, Vol. 5, No. 4. 16-20 p.
"put every bit all between/surely this jar will hold 14"
signed, Dave, the potter, July 12, 1834

Baldwin's article is supported with photographs of the particular style of pottery attributed to slaves and the unique style of facial jugs linked to the Kongo people. The slave, "Dave the potter" signed his work thereby leaving a record documenting his skill and creativity."Dave was part of the African-American labor force that was largely responsible for the early expansion of alkaline-glazed stoneware production in the Edgefield District of South Carolina. Stoneware and earthenware were used for food storage and preservation in the 17th and 18th centuries. Dave 's career spanned over four decades. He emerged in 1840 as Edgefield's most celebrated African-American potter. New evidence has recently been uncovered that links the Edgefield face vessels with the Kongo people. A slave ship, the "Wanderer" anchored at Jekyle Island, Georgia in 1858 and carried some slave up the Savannah River.

It is believed that Dave acquired his skills at Abner Landrum's Pottersville factory where he also may have learned to read and write. Dave specialized in the production of extremely large, bulbous jars. Dave began to sign his work in 1840. His signature was unique because it was accompanied by verses which "may have been a form of passive protest".

"In addition to large utilitarian jars Edgefield slave potters produced unusual sculpted vessels" with facial features. Jugs, pitchers, lidded jars, cups and water carriers were made with facial features. "New evidence has recently been uncovered that links the Edgefield face vessels with the Kongo people. A slave ship, the "Wanderer" anchored at Jekylle Island, Ga. in 1858 and carried some slaves up the Savannah River. They were mostly Kikongo-speaking people. Many of them were sold to Edgefield planters. Baldwin research makes a connections to Romeo who build an African-style house constructed of rush. A ledger from the Palmetto Fire Brink works shows a slave named Romeo among the workmen. The production of one particular face vessel, the "monkey jug", a type of water carrier, is attributed to Romeo. Jon Vlach has speculated that "since the monkey jug was known in the Caribbean, it may have been a remembered African form.

I made this jar… : The Life and Works of the Enslaved African-American. Potter, Dave. Edited by Jill Beute Koverman. South Carolina: McKissick Museum, University of South Carolina, 1998. 101 p.
A catalog of an exhibition held at Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, Winterthur;, Delaware, February 5 - June 25, 2000. Accompanying essays give historical perspective about slave life and more recent archaeological findings. Reading the verses (p. 82- 92), and Koverman's commentary about the meanings Dave inscribed on his pots, illustrate Dave's wit and wisdom.

This catalog is an excellent complement to the exhibition seen at Winterthur, but in no way is it a substitute for the actual exhibition. Dave's work was also on exhibit at the McKissick Museum, University of South Carolina, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit, Michigan.

"The importance of Dave and his work to larger issues of African-American history and culture, and in particular the contribution slave artisans made to American craft, art just becoming nationally recognized." (p.8)
It is difficult to try to image the size and skills possessed by a potter who could craft such huge storage vessels that he inscribed with original poems. Dave's ability to read and write and to gauge the size vessel necessary to hold a certain capacity still amazes observers. Most of the photographs in this catalog are in black and white, and it is those in color that really give a sense of Dave's skill with glaze and the over all magnitude of these one hundred and fifty year old pieces of potter.

Lynn Robertson, Director, McKissick Museum, University of South Carolina, states in the foreword that scholarship by John Vlach, Eugene Genovese, Charles Joyner and Robert Farris Thompson "have presented persuasive evidence linking African influences to American folklife." Jill Beute Koverman's introduction attempts to answer the questions: When was Dave born, Who did he belong to, and when did he die?; How did Dave's skill as a master potter and poet affect his experience as a slave.; and What is Dave's Legacy?

Orville Vernon Burton's paper "Edgefield, South Carolina: Home to Dave the Potter" is a statement about the atmosphere Dave worked in and the harsh, inhuman conditions imposed on all the Edgefield potters and slaves in general.


 "African-American women quilting and African-American men threading the needles"

Photographs and Prints Division
Schomburg Center for
Research in Black Culture
The New York Public Library
Astor, Lenor and Tilden Foundations

Benberry, Cuesta. The Threads of African-American Quilters are Woven into History. American Visions. Vol. 8, No. 6. 1994. 14-18p.
"Most exciting of all [is] the linkage between black American quilts and African design traditions. Believed to indicate an unconscious cultural memory in the quiltmakers of their faraway motherland. African-American quilts became one of America's newest forms of exotica."
Freeman, Roland L. A Communion of the Spirits: African-American Quilters, Preservers, and Their Stories. Nashville Tennessee: Rutledge Hill Press, 1996. 396 p.
Freeman's life story is inextricably woven into the story of African-American quilters. His passion for quilts began with the spirits he met as a child, when he slept under a quilt made by a "spiritwoman". Freeman reveals, through the quilters he interviews, the special communion with the past and the present their quilts represent. African-American women, in some cases two and three generations, and a few African-American men across America use quilts to tell their families' stories. Maya Anjelou and Camille Cosby ( wife of "Bill" Cosby) are among the exhibitors in this book. Anjelou is a quilter and she displays a quilt that Ophra Winfrey commissioned Faith Ringgold to make for Anjelou. Some quilters use carefully cut pieces to make quilts more in the tradition of European quilters. Others continue the strip designs and appliqued story cloths of Africa. Original designs by Freeman, but made by other people are a part of this story. This new publication with beautiful color photographs is one of the best pieces of photojournalism on this subject. Freeman's text includes insights about his fieldwork and advice about traveling through the deep south to the far north and from the east to the west coasts. This beautifully illustrated book helps to bring a visual reality to other books about African-American quilters.

The excellent index , A Bibliography of Influences in the Development of A Communion of the Spirits, and a Gallery of Quilted Photographs are great assets to this title. Jacket artwork is not repeated on the hardcover edition.

Fry, Gladys-Marie. Stitched From the Soul: Slave Quilts from the Ante-Bellum South. New York: Dutton Studio Books in Association with Museum of American Folk Art, 1990. 101p.
A scholar looks at African American quilts made by slave and freed black women of the Ante-Bellum South. Fry's research into the history of the quilting traditions of African-American women relied on the following types of sources: (1) official historical accounts; (2) the testimony of former slaves from the WPA Federal Writers Project and other nineteenth-century writings by African Americans; and (3) oral tradition, and primary family accounts pertaining to the provenance of their own surviving slave-made quilts. According to Fry each type of source has its own strengths and weaknesses. This book is a must for everyone interested in slave quilts. It is essential that every reader notes "Link to Survival" and the epilogue on Harriet Powers: Portrait of an African American Quilter. Harriet Powers was born into slavery in 1837, and she died in 1911. Her two known surviving quilts are owned by the Smithsonian Institution.

Fry's research also documents the contributions of slave women to textile production. Their contributions were essential for the maintenance of the big house and the slave quarters. Fry concentrates more on quilting, sewing, and knitting as crafts, giving special attention to the quality of the pieces she found in private collections and museums around the country. Fry also recognizes that color preferences and techniques were remembered from Africa, but the act of creation offered an opportunity for the women to leave a "powerful record - a hidden history, of their humiliation and tragedy, the milestones of their time and of their own lives." (p. 83)

Profusely illustrated with color and black and white photographs and daguerrotypes from southern university archives and color prints of quilts from American museums, the Smithsonian and private collections. Table of contents, Notes, and Bibliography but no index.

Leon, Eli. Cut It Down the Middle and Send It to the Other Side: Improvisational Technique in African-American Quilts. Threads Magazine. Vol.19. October/November, 1988, 70-75 p.
Leon uses terms like, improvisation, flexible and restructuring, to describe African American quilt making. The African American quilts maker "delights in the unplanned". Many prefer scraps over new material.
"Although black quiltmaking emerged in a context of poverty, where recycling cloth made good sense, the exhilarating quilts crafted by African-Americans result from a dovetailing of economic and aesthetic considerations." "…..some of these free hand quilters remember that their mothers and grandmothers worked with templates. The tradition of approximately measured pieces and the accommodation of various sizes may well stem from African culture to the African-American slave culture." This manner of quilting is called improvisation, a term most often used to describe the playing style of African-American jazz musicians. An example of flexible patterning is using rectangles instead of squares. These styles occur in the context of a tradition that is pervasive throughout black Africa.
This six page article has a number of beautiful color photographs of quilts and quiltmakers . Good descriptive information is under each photograph or clearly directed towards the appropriate pictures.
Peterkin, Julia Mood. Black April. Brown Thrasher Book. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1988.
The setting of this novel is a coastal South Carolina plantation called Blue Brook. Because of an agricaultural depression which drove all the white people away, and left "a settlement of African American to shift for themselves." Blue Brook is an all black town, comparable, for some critics to Zora Heale Hurston's famous Eatonville.

Peterkin, a descendant of South Carolina's slaveholding aristocracy had first hand knowledge of daily activities and routines of the several hundred black tenant farmers who lived in the slave quarter at Lang Syne. Lang Syne was the cotton plantation woned by Peterkin and her husband. (p. 159 - 179)

Chapter 13, "The Quilting" describes slave women's preparation of food, selection of the right cabin, even a listing of all the dishes served, how they were cooked at the fireplace. Peterkin writes, "The choosing went on until eight women were picked for each quilt, four to a side. Then the race began. The two quilt linings, made out of unbleached homespun were spread on the bare clean floor and covered with a layer of cotton. Two quilting poles were carefull rolled on the poles and the pole-ends fastened with strong cords to the side-walls. She describes the quilting as a contest between the two groups who called themselves "Christians" and "sinners". These quilting activities, eating, pipe smoking and gossip are much like reports given to Gladys-Mary Fry.

Tobin, Jacqueline and Raymond G. Dobard. "The Fabric of Our Heritage". American Visions, Vol. 15, No. 7 (2000) 16-21p.
In this excerpt from Hidden in Plain View: The Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad (1999) the authors, Tobin and Dobard explain how they analyzed quilt patterns to reveal the ways in which simple bedcovers, so openly displayed, were also used as road maps to the direct the steps of blacks escaping from slavery. (p. 19) Essentially a bibliographic essay, this article notes the thesis of the most notable research on American quilts, particularly African-American quilts and their relationship to African fabrics.

Tobin and Dobard ask questions about colors, for example the combination of blue and white is said to represent the Yoruba god of the storm Shango. For the Mende and Ibo, the combination of blue and white is thought to be protective. Is it not conceivable that these colors whether in textiles/quilts, clothing or even in architecture, would have been used to signal safety on the Underground Railroad? The authors ask a number of questions, but they concede that some answers will come with continued research. Even Gladys-Mary Fry has some unresolved questions about the slaves use of the color red in her study of slave quilts and other clothing.

Twining, Mary. Black American Quilts an Artist Craft". Jamaica Journal. Vol. 16, No. 7 (1983): 66-77p.
It is the tops of the quilts that really reflect the cloth making traditions of the Ashanti and Ewe Kente cloth in the quilts made by Afro-Carolinian and Afro-Georgian quilters. These quilts are made from rectangular pieces of cloth sewn together, by hand or machine, into "long wavy strips sometimes running the whole length of the quilt, except for the borders." This style is analogous to Kente cloth woven on belt looms in strips. The strips, in rectangular units, are then sewn together, edge to edge. Twining gives information about the significance of colors selected by quiltmakers. Further, she includes information about the "cross" design found in the quilts made by women of the Caribbean and South America "where re-affirmations of West African culture are stronger and more obvious."
Note: Some of the information for this bibliography was gathered during a sabbatical leave, with web design funded by The Herbert S. and Virginia White Professional Development Award, "in recognition for outstanding individual professional development by the librarians at the Indiana University Librarians."
Last updated by lcalvert on 01/11/2010