With its legacy of brutality and of the horrific overseas passage, the transatlantic slave trade may be imagined as the kidnapping of Africans without regard to nationality or ethnicity. Based on his research, however, Michael A. Gomez suggests that Africans, upon arriving in America, were dispersed much more closely along ethnic and cultural lines than previously acknowledged. The underlying theme of his provocative work, Exchanging Our Country Marks
, is that while blacks eventually replaced their African ethnic identities with new racial ones after arriving in the American South, they retained much of their original cultures far longer than was originally suspected. Some of his most interesting evidence of this comes in the form of runaway-slave advertisements, which identified the slaves by their ethnic roots ("Dinah, an Ebo wench that speaks very good English"). By scrutinizing ex-slave narratives, stories, music, and even the location and nature of slave rebellions, Gomez pieces together a genealogy of blacks in the American South, attempting to examine their notions of identity. Of course, much is based on significant speculation, a fact that only underscores the difficulty of such scholarship. Gomez manages to present a wide range of information clearly as he expands on a wealth of recent research regarding the slave trade and the history of blacks in America, making Exchanging Our Country Marks
a vast and creative exploration of African identity in the United States from 1526 to 1830.
[T]his book provides a fascinating treatment of the early history of African-American identity, one that should engage Americans of all races and ethnicities, and not just those who can claim this genealogy as an ancestral possession. -- The New York Times Book Review, K. Anthony Appiah