The Influence of Black Slave Culture on Early America

The Black slaves of colonial America brought their own culture from Africa to
the new land. Despite their persecution, the "slave culture" has contributed
greatly to the development of America's own music, dance, art, and clothing.


It is understandable that when Africans were torn from their homes and families,
lashed into submission , and forced into lifelong slave labor, they would be, on
the most part, resentful and angry. Various forms of expression, clandestine
yet lucent, developed out of these feelings. One such form was music. Native
African music consisted mainly of wind and string melodies punctuated by hand
clapping, xylophones, and drum beats. Along those lines, an early type of
slave music was the spiritual, which has its roots in Protestant hymns taught to
the slaves. Spirituals were "long thought to be the spontaneous creation of
African-American slaves and the only original folk music of the U.S."
Spirituals told tales of suffering and struggle, but these true meanings were
often hidden. An example is in the song "Gospel Train" with the lyrics, "Get on
board, little children/There's room for many a-more/The gospel train's a-leavin'
..." The "gospel train" of the song likely represented an escape method, such
as the Underground Railroad. Another type of music distinct to African slaves
was gospel. These songs originated in plantation fields as work songs, and were
later sung in churches of Black congregations. They were intended to enliven a
crowd, and employed bright music and joyful lyrics. Gospel music contributed to
the development of musical genres historically considered "white", such as rock'
n'roll and country and western.


Before Blacks came to America, they had their own highly developed
religious beliefs. Most cultures believed in one almighty God, and the ideas of
good and evil. They also practiced "ancestor worship", believing that dead
family members could influence aspects of their lives. A main difference
between African and Christian religions, however, is that Africans did not find
it necessary to convert all other cultures to their religion. Thus Africans
were rather resistant to the preaching of Christian ministers when they came to
America. The Christian ideas they did absorb, however, were indoctrinated into
their lives with the addition of culture such as gospel music (see Music).
Later, a minister of mainly of African-American congregations would use
distinctly "Black" preaching methods, as when "he begins to employ numerous
stock phrases and ideas," and, "Midway in the message the preacher begins to
chant his words rhythmically."


17th-century Africans had art forms that would be considered advanced
even today. Most of their expression was religious in nature. But when they
were brought to the New World, "…[slaves] could not do this because Protestants
had always frowned upon religious imagery in the church as being worldly. Thus,
there was little opportunity for the slave to express his creativity in graphic
and plastic art for the church as he had done in Africa where religion and art
were inseparable. Moreover, the slave was afforded few opportunities to carve
on his own or his master's time."
This repression of the slave's creativity doubtlessly impeded the
development of an African-American art standard. Although slaves could be
trained in the practical arts, such as typesetting or furniture making , they
could really not fully express themselves until released from the bonds of
Incidentally, there was an outpouring of African-American art after
emancipation. This was a time when former slaves could finally put their
creativity to use, and the results were a genre individual in itself, yet
complimentary to American art as a whole. Blacks became sculptors, painters,
block printers, actors, and architects. But it would be a long time yet before
Black art could be fully appreciated, or even accepted as mainstream.


America's earliest African-American scientists and inventors are largely
unknown -- their contributions to America buried in anonymity…While historians
increasingly recognize that blacks had a significant impact on the design and
construction of plantations and public buildings in the South and that rice
farming in the Carolinas might not have been possible without Blacks, the
individuals who spearheaded these accomplishments remain anonymous.
The previous excerpt from The African-American Almanac describes an all
too-common situation in African-American history: the accomplishments of Blacks
are claimed as those of whites, or not recognized at all. Some scientific
discoveries, however, are duly attributed to famous African-Americans.
One such invention was the grain harvester, historically credited to
Cyrus McCormick. Though, as new research tells us, "Jo Anderson, one of
McCormick's slaves, is believed to have played a major role in the creation of
the McCormick harvester…" On the other hand,