Research Update: The African Slave Trade, American Slaves, and the Migration of Black Mythology

by Carley Reinhard
Faculty Mentor: Stephanie Shaw

Professor Stephanie Shaw with Carley Reinhard at the Denman Forum

Having been awarded one of the Global Mobility Project undergraduate research grants, I was afforded the opportunity to conduct research at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. this summer. In the Rare Manuscripts Reading Room at the Library of Congress, I was able to retrieve documents from the Work Project Administration’s Federal

 

Writer’s Project papers, specifically interviews of former slaves completed during the late 1930s. Further, I was able to access secondary literature on both folktales and American slavery. In doing so, I completed the primary background research I needed to begin developing and writing my research paper on the migration of black mythology this fall. Professor Stephanie Shaw, my research advisor, also was able to come to D.C. and work with me for a few days thanks to the Global Mobility Project grant.

My research focuses on the mythology presented in many of these interviews. Hundreds of accounts detail the folktales that slaves grew up hearing in their communities. These folk stories reflect aspects of the larger development of African American culture, as well as how it evolved from the forced migrations of Africans to America and subsequent movement of African American slaves from the Upper-South to the Lower South and Southwest as slavery expanded across the United States. As people voluntarily leave a place or are involuntarily uprooted from their homelands, whether for economic, social political or environmental reasons, they bring their cultural heritage with them. Consequently, where these stories were continuously told and how they were adapted speaks to the survival of African culture in the diaspora as well as the development of African American culture.

Specifically, this research seeks to explore the mythology that traveled with these individuals. A group of these stories focused on the initial capture, the transportation (across the Atlantic), the enslavement, and any subsequent relocations they endured. These stories also focused on deception and power. The deception usually involved having been lured to a slave ship by the display of certain trinkets. Over time and across space, however, these stories changed and evolved based on new circumstances. They not only have survived the forced, transatlantic journey from Africa, but gained new significance and were readapted for new purposes within the United States. My research this summer, working directly with these narratives, laid the groundwork for this project.

 

The Madison Building (LOC) where Carley did the bulk of her research this summer

In September, I was fortunate to be able to present my research thus far at the Fall Denman Poster Forum. I am also applying to present my research at the AHA annual meeting in January, which would be an incredible opportunity to share my research with scholars. I am taking five credit hours in order to continue to develop my research into a paper. Ultimately, myproject will provide a more complete understanding of both the significance of African American folklore and how the international slave trade and subsequent migrations of slaves in the U.S. influenced black mythology across time, oceans, and continents.

 

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