HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS: TWENTIETH CENTURY BLACK AMERICAN TRAVEL NARRATIVES ABOUT AFRICA
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This dissertation argues that black American travel narratives about Africa reflect the authors' perception of their identity at particular moments in history. It suggests that these perceptions are informed by historical, political, economic, and social circumstances. Specifically, it demonstrates how associations with Africa--real and imagined--have evolved over time due to black Americans' shifting social and political status in the United States. Black American travel narratives about Africa written during the second half of the twentieth century are the focus of this study. This period is marked by drastic political and social changes taking place both in Africa and the United States including decolonization, independence, and the aftermath of apartheid and the Cold War in Africa as well as the Civil Rights movement, desegregation, and integration in the United States. Although Africa and the politics therein are the narratives' purported theme, I argue that their primary focus is black American identity. My dissertation demonstrates how black American travel writers have used their narratives about Africa to define black American identity and to clarify the relationship between black Americans and Africa. At the heart of this dissertation is an interest in these relationships and a concern about the "baggage" that black Americans bring to perceptions of their identity and relationship with Africa, particularly their historical experiences as Americans, their knowledge and understanding of Africa and its history and how that "baggage" colors their perceptions of their relationship to the continent and its people. This "baggage" includes many factors including class, gender, personal history, as well as notions of race and nationalism. Texts in this study include Richard Wright's Black Power (1954), Era Bell Thompson's Africa, Land of My Fathers (1954), Maya Angelou's The Heart of a Woman (1981) and All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986), Marita Golden's Migrations of the Heart (1983), Eddy L. Harris's Native Stranger (1992), Keith Richburg's Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa (1997) and Lynne Duke's Mandela, Mobutu, and Me (2003).