Jacqueline Jones of Slate reviews Ira Berlin's new book The Making of African America. Below is an excerpt of said review
Ira Berlin begins this book by recounting a conversation he had several years ago with a small group of black radio technicians, most of them recent immigrants born in Africa or the Caribbean. He had just been interviewed on a local public radio station on the topic "Who freed the slaves?" Berlin had argued that enslaved Southerners played a significant role in their own liberation. He found that the technicians were "deeply interested" in the events leading up to the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863; yet he was troubled by the fact that they felt these events "had nothing to do with them. Simply put, it was not their history."
In The Making of African America, Berlin aims to reformulate the grand arc of African-American history in a way that is true to the past and at the same time includes this newest generation of immigrants. He highlights the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, arguing that this piece of legislation was just as significant as the 1965 Voting Rights Act in its transformative effects on African America, and on all of American society. For the first time since 1790, when Congress barred the entry of nonwhite people into the United States, substantial numbers of Africans and persons of African descent were allowed to immigrate to this country. Since 1965, the number of black immigrants has become so large—greater even than the total number of Africans forcibly imported during the slave trade—that they account for one-quarter of the growth in the African-American population. In the early 21st century, fully 10 percent of all black Americans are either immigrants or the children of immigrants.
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