In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience presents a new interpretation of African-American history, one that focuses on the self-motivated activities of peoples of African descent to remake themselves and their worlds. Of the thirteen defining migrations that formed and transformed African America, only the transatlantic slave trade and the domestic slave trades were coerced, the eleven others were voluntary movements of resourceful and creative men and women, risk-takers in an exploitative and hostile environment. Their survival skills, efficient networks, and dynamic culture enabled them to thrive and spread, and to be at the very core of the settlement and development of the Americas. Their hopeful journeys changed not only their world and the fabric of the African Diaspora but also the Western Hemisphere.
These journeys did not originate in the east with the1619 arrival of Africans in Jamestown, Virginia, as is commonly believed, but almost a century earlier, further south. Indeed, African-American history starts in the 1500s with the first Africans coming from Mexico and the Caribbean to the Spanish territories of Florida, Texas, and other parts of the South. And as early as 1526, Africans rebelled and ran away in South Carolina.
These precursors were followed by successive generations of runaways who did not confine themselves to running North and to Canada on the Underground Railroad as traditional history teaches us. With pragmatism and efficiency, they also moved south to Mexico, or took their canoes to the Bahamas. They left the plantations and settled, secretly, in the urban centers of the South or found refuge in the swamps and among Native populations.
The new interpretation of African-American history that we present here also puts the Caribbean, Haitian, and contemporary African immigrations into the unfolding of the African-American migration experience. Peoples of the African Diaspora have contributed immensely to the fabric of African America and the nation. They too, with their specificities, are part of the African-American experience. Whether they came from Saint Domingue in 1791 and settled in Louisiana, left the Bahamas in the nineteenth century to develop Miami and Key West, Florida, or recently moved from Nigeria to Texas.
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