From Publishers Weekly
As thousands of African-Americans in the Gulf deal with the effects of the oil disaster, Glave documents the bond with nature that has long been part of the black experience. Drawing on Africa and African art, literature, history, and theology, Glave adds texture to her story. Chapters begins with fictional vignettes reflecting the author's own journey through her material, a "quilt work designed from this detective's loving labor to reveal the thoughts of farmers, artists and novelists dotted throughout the South." Passages from Zora Neale Hurston, Frederick Douglass and others gives voice to the community; for Douglass, the ocean signified freedom, despite the many Africans who crossed these waters in conditions unfit for animals. And Anna Comstock, an instructor at Cornell, opened a Nature Study School in 1897 and published her Handbook of Nature Study in 1911, which inspired teachers in the field. Today, Glave points out that First Lady Michelle Obama cultivates a vegetable garden on the grounds of the White House, bringing the stewardship full circle.
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A history of abuse during slavery and sharecropping has bequeathed many African Americans with mixed feeling about things having to do with the earth, the result being a relatively low profile on issues involving the environment. Glave debunks that notion with a history and perspective on an environmental heritage dating back to African religious and cultural traditions through early environmentalists including George Washington Carver. Glave presents the troubled history of environmental exploitation of blacks—many black neighborhoods are often located in polluted environments—against long traditions of nature as a source of sustenance and healing for a people who often had few other resources. Beginning each chapter with a fictionalized vignette to provide historical context, Glave discloses the little-known history of African American involvement in the environment from Atlantic Ocean explorer Abubakari II to Booker T. Washington, who put emphasis on agriculture at Tuskegee Institute. Glave draws on personal perspectives and oral and recorded histories to detail the ways that the history of Africans in America is rooted in the earth. --Vanessa Bush