Islands of Memory: The Sea Islands, Black Women Artists, and the Promise of Home Open Access

Alao, Folashade (2009)

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This study examines the development and construction of the Sea Islands as a significant cultural landscape in the black imagination and historicizes the processes informing the Sea Islands' contemporary emergence as a site of memory. The coalescence of cultural and academic interests, the publication of new research materials on the Sea Islands, and the discovery and republication of old works, such as Drums and Shadows, during the 1970's enabled the Sea Islands to emerge in the national black imagination in new ways that black visual artists and writers would illuminate. The movement of Gullah culture into the mainstream and the elevation of the Sea Islands as a site of memory were aided particularly by literary, dramatic, musical, and visual arts and the sustained interests and creative expressions of different groups of artists.

This study focuses on the particular visualizations of the Sea Islands in Paule Marshall's Praisesong for the Widow (1983), Gloria Naylor's Mama Day (1988), and Julie Dash's film Daughters of the Dust (1991) and novel Daughters of the Dust (1997). Specifically, I underscore the sources they draw upon to construct their visions; the voices, images, and histories they challenge; the functions they hope such a vision will hold for their readers; and their works' place within the Sea Islands Cultural Renaissance which surrounds their publication. Marshall, Naylor, and Dash's works capture and respond to a transforming relationship between African Americans and their African ancestry as well as to the southern landscape, both of which resulted from the social and political struggles of the 1960s and 1970s and a shift in black migratory patterns in the 1970s. Marshall, Naylor, and Dash's works also reflect a renewed critical study of African American origins and genealogy, and the increasing concerns surrounding the transformations of black urban and rural life. The Sea Islands, in these works, emerge as a site of intersections, continuity, and reconnections with southern homeplaces, distant African memories, submerged oral histories, and neglected cultural traditions.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Introduction 5

Chapter 1
"A Sacred Place:" Understanding the Social, Cultural, 34
and Demographic History of the Sea Islands

Chapter 2
Paule Marshall's Search for Home(s): 65
Return Migration in Praisesong for the Widow

Chapter 3
"More than a family . . . a history:" The Sea Islands as 119
a cultural landscape in Mama Day

Chapter 4
"We are as two people in one body:" Migration(s) 165
and Recollection in Julie Dash's film Daughters of the Dust

Chapter 5
"I want to know what it is:" Folk Narratives, Flying Africans 210
and Folk Beliefs in Daughters of the Dust (1997)

Conclusion 253

Bibliography 263

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