Campus: CSU Bakersfield -- May 31, 2002

CSU Bakersfield Professor Examines How the Struggle for African liberation Influenced Black Americans in the mid-20th century

Race, civil rights, anti-colonialism and the Cold War were leading issues of the 20th century and the topic of "Proudly We Can Be Africans, Black Americans and Africa, 1935-1961," a book recently published by California State University, Bakersfield professor James H. Meriwether.

In a transnational historical context, Meriwether examines how the struggles for African liberation influenced black Americans in the mid-20th century. Using the black press, personal correspondence and oral histories, Meriwether looks at how African-American's responses and
attitudes towards Africa's fight for freedom influenced their intellectual, political and social lives.

Meriwether said that from 1935 to 1961 national and international events taking place on both sides of the Atlantic positively influenced African-American's images of their native homeland and cultural roots.

"The theme of this book fundamentally changed black America's views of Africa," Meriwether said. "Until this point, the dominant image about Africa that had been fed to African-Americans since the early 1800's was negative. They were taught that this was a continent of savages who cooked missionaries in pots. For a group of people who were struggling to overcome racism and prejudice, this wasn't something they wanted to associate with. Whereas Africa's liberation - black heroic men and women struggling against supremacy and defeating it - changed their view of Africa. It gave them pride."

Meriwether added that not all events surrounding Africa's liberation positively impacted black America. But in many cases, African-Americans were incited at home and on the international front and the era saw black Americans reform their bonds with Africa.

Meriwether is a former Fulbright scholar. He completed his undergraduate work at Duke University and received his master's and doctorate degrees in history from the University of California, Los Angeles. He served in the Peace Corps in Botswana and lectured at the University of Zimbabwe. He is currently an assistant professor of history at CSUB.

While at Duke, African American history legend John Hope Franklin influenced Meriwether's interest in the African influence on American history. "Proudly We can Be Africans" is part of the John Hope Franklin series in African-American history and culture published by The University
of North Carolina Press. It will be available at the CSUB Runner Bookstore in June.

Meriwether's book is a significant contribution to 20th century American history.

"Scholarship has been moving towards more of a transnational historical context," he said. "This book touches on many of the main themes of the 20th century but allows us to look at American history in a broader, more international context. This book does that and I think that's a very important thing."

Contact: Becky Zelinski, 661/664-2138,
or Mike Stepanovich, 661/664-2456,

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