The Shaping of Black Literature and Culture


Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés, or Plácido, as he preferred to be called.

Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés, or Plácido, as he preferred to be called.

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg or Arthur Schomburg, as he was known on the mainland.

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg or Arthur Schomburg, as he was known on the mainland.

The academic community in most countries of the Americas continues to shy away from integrating into their universal educational systems or even their Institutes of Black or Ethnic Studies, such studies that would make up the core curriculum of disciplines that would inform and shape their students regarding the distinctiveness of people of color and their cultures in the world. To even dream of the day when the old school of tenured professors would see in their given disciplines a change of view that would correct the idea that people of color are today viable citizens and, contrary to their fixed notions, are no longer the former “slave class,” seems to be too much to ask.

Although there is more and more evidence and literature available to warrant this change in perception, we must remember that the shaping of Black Culture in the United States and even in the Caribbean and in South America began much earlier than the year 1969, the year I’ve been using as a benchmark. In virtually all the languages inherited by the people of color on the continent there is a wealth of literature available to serve as proof that our culture had started to take shape much earlier in the 19th century when the Westindian Blacks braved adversities and differences and sought to be involved in such projects as the Panama Railroad and the construction of the Panama Canal.

Language has never really been a barrier particularly for outstanding cultural icons such as Edward W. Blyden, Marcus Garvey, and Arthur Schomburg.  Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, for example, was a humble merchant marine by profession who used his time and travel to make every stop that his ship made an occasion to add to his special library and archives, thus amassing a wealth of knowledge on the culture of the people of African descent.

And yet, in my opinion, these absolutely dedicated individuals continue to be excluded from the annals of historical legitimacy although they remain key figures who have shaped our cultural trajectory in a Western society that still prides itself on its historical accounts of wars that bench marked their culture and lifestyle.

Were it not for the poet laureate Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés or, as he preferred to be called, Plácido, Black literature of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, which also suffers from an agonizing dearth of what I would call Estudios Afro-Hispanos in their universities, would be unheard of.

Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés lived during a time when slavery in the 19th century was still a strong institutional barrier to Blacks of the Spanish Americas. Born a free mulatto and versed in the art of writing he published his Black poetry and freely read at café’s and other places where he was invited. In 1844 Plácido was arrested during a period of political repressions fomented by the Spanish Governor O’Donnell.  He was then wrongly accused of seditious behavior, taken before a firing squad and summarily executed.

This series continues.

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