Big Houses and African Villages:
The Plantation Melting Pot

Tuesday, January 17, 2012
7:00–8:30 p.m. (EST) Enter Classroom Enter Forum


Heather Williams
Professor of History
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
National Humanities Center Fellow

About the Seminar

When we speak of the American melting pot, we tend to think of nineteenth-century cities where many ethnicities blended to form hybrid cultures. But was there an earlier melting pot, rural and agricultural rather than urban and industrial?

The slave plantation brought together not only the blacks of the quarters and the whites of the big house but also people from different parts of Africa, from what today are nations like Ghana, Senegal, and Mali. What culture emerged from this melting pot, and how is it still with us?

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Assigned Readings

  1. The Interesting Life of Olaudah Equiano, by Olaudah Equiano, 1789 (excerpt)
  2. Film segment: “Liberty in the Air” (12:00–13:52), scene from Slavery and the Making of America, a documentary film from PBS
  3. Smyth’s Travels in Virginia, 1773 (excerpt)
  4. How Slavery Affected African American Families,” by Heather Andrea Williams
  5. Film segment: “Wade in the Water,” Alvin Ailey Dancers
  6. Film segment: Praise House and Ring Shout (2:45–5:47)
  7. Film segment: Gullah Geechie Language (2:00–3:05)

Suggested Additional Resources

  1. From Freedom’s Story, “Rooted in Africa, Raised in America: The Traditional Arts and Crafts of African-Americans Across Five Centuries,” by John Michael Vlach
  2. From Freedom’s Story, “Beyond the Written Document: Looking for Africa in African American Culture,” by Paulla A. Ebron

Seminar Recording