The River Flows On: Black Resistance, Culture, and Identity Formation in Early America

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The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution officially prohibited slavery and all its forms on the 6th December 1865. The United States will soon mark 150 years since the abolishment of its “peculiar institution”, and yet, historians are still struggling to establish a collective version of the events that led to its development and continued significance throughout the 18th and 19th centuries . As a result of this, the study of slavery has produced one of the richest and most varied historiographies in all of American history. Walter Rucker’s The River Flows On: Black Resistance, Culture, and Identity Formation in Early America’s unique contribution to this existing literature, in my opinion, means it should be widely read by scholars and students alike.
The River Flows On: Black Resistance, Culture and Identity Formation in Early America is a fascinating consideration of African culture and its effect on the history of slave resistance in North America. Walter Rucker seeks to establish that the effect was extensive; furthermore, he claims it to have been essential in the creation of a communal consciousness among enslaved peoples. One of his main objectives appears to be to impress upon his reader the important advancements that could continue to be made if greater significance was placed on slaves’ African roots. In doing so, he claims, one could “better grasp the convoluted complexities of slave life” . Not unlike the work of Michael Gomez, in which Rucker places great significance, The River Flows On rejects an “Americanist” approach to the study of slave culture in favour of one that embraces a unique African-American identity . Of those historians who take an “African-Americanist” position on the subject, R...

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...netheless it is still an advancement and one that historians should take note of for the future.

Works Cited

Allison, R. J., review of M. A. Gomez, Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identity in the Colonial and Antebellum South, 1526-1830. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998. In Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 30:3 (1999), pp. 475-481.

Creel, M. W., review of S. Stuckey, Slave Culture: Nationalist Theory and the Foundations of Black America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. In Journal of American History, 75:4 (1989), pp. 1281-1283.

Rucker, W. C., The River Flows On: Black Resistance, Culture, and Identity Formation in Early America. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006.

Stampp, K. M., The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South, 2nd ed. New York: Alfred. A. Knopf, 1961.
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