The debates between E. Franklin Frazier and Melville Herskovits of over a quarter of a century ago framed the issues of African survivals. The debates involved much more than a discussion of the prevalence of African survivals, and indeed concerned the emergence from them of a distinctive black culture in America. Their ideas seem to have an uninterrupted continuance in the arguments advanced today by scholars like Andrew Billingsley and Robert Blauner, on the one hand, and Nathan Glazer and Daniel P. Moynihan and Irving Kristol on the other. Like Herskovits, Billingsley and Blauner take the position that in spite of the harshness of slavery and its deliberate efforts to dispossess blacks of their cultural past, a black culture has survived in America.
Much of what has survived originated in an African past. Survivals include family patterns and attitudes, songs, dance, religious practices, superstitions, ways of walking, verbal expressions, orientation toward recreation and pleasure, epicurean traditions, sex-related role expectations, music, given names for children, and traditional foods. Thus Blauner and others advanced the notion that an authentic black culture survived slavery and is to be found today largely in the urban ghettos of black America. That culture has its roots in the parallel institutions that evolved and crystallized social relationships among the members of the black community.
Frazier claims that Herskovits and his followers overstate the case for African survivals and a black culture. He maintains that the black American’s African past was gradually “sloughed off” as a consequence of his experiences in America. Glazer and Moynihan and, to some degree, Kristol extend this theoretical position in their claim that blacks are peculiarly and distinctly American, knowing no culture other than the American culture. The disagreement between Frazier and Herskovits is not so much over kind as degree. The issue is not whether there are any African survivals at all in the United States, but rather the degree to which these survivals persist and whether they persist in sufficient strength to influence current or contemporary patterns of black behavior.
EXCERPT from THE BLACK COMMUNMUNITY: DIVERSITY AND UNITY by JAMES E. BLACKWELL. Copyright (c) 1985 by Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Prepared by Deborah Mercer and Edith Beckett of the New Jersey State Library.
Copyright 2003 © by the New Jersey Historical Commission,
New Jersey Department of State.
All rights reserved.
Please direct questions and comments to Deborah Mercer.
Updated:Thursday, April 24, 2003