African Threads in the American Fabric

Martin Moeller: In what ways have vernacular African building traditions influenced American architecture?

Richard Dozier: Broadly speaking, the major contributions were primarily [in the areas of] response to climate and use of materials. Slaves coming to the New World had a familiarity with natural materials like sun-dried brick and they had exceptional skills at carving wood, making plaster molds, working iron—and these techniques soon had an impact on how everyone was building.

In the South, of course, we can attribute the domestic porch to African influence in response in part to climate [see related article on page 4]. In African village life, shared space—courtyards, etc.—was important. And shelter from the heat was obviously important. In America, these things came together in the porches that we now take for granted.

Africanisms in African-American Material Culture:
An Annotated Bibliography

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.

Black Architect Has A Rich History

On this date, we celebrate African American architecture. Blacks have been involved in building and architecture since the colonial era of America.

The plantation system relied heavily on slave craftsmen imported from Africa. Written records and examination of many of these buildings, such as Magnolia in Plaquemine’s Paris in 1785, the Gippy Plantation, in South Carolina, Windsor Hall in Greenville, Georgia, indicate slave involvement. Some slave artisans were hired out to other owners such as James Bell of Virginia, who was sent to Alabama to construct three spiral staircases for the Watkins-Moore-Grayson mansion.

Read more from National Building Museum

Read more from Indiana University Library

Read more from African American Registry

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