The contribution of African Americans to this country has been enormous and rather it be writers like Olaudah Equiano who wrote of the struggles of slaves and fought to change it after becoming free or Ralph Ellison who centuries later wrote of the linger effects of slavery and the ongoing struggle of the descendants of those slaves for social, political, and economic equality.
The real power of the many prominent African American writers, poets, screenwriters, and novelist is their ability to provide insight into the world of black people and show it to people who may not be aware of issues facing the African American community. This gain knowledge is very often the catalyst that can and often brings about change. The first published work by an African American author came in the 18th century.
A narrative of the conditions of slavery is believed to be the first published author of African descent. Olaudah Equiano wrote of his experience as a kidnapped child sold into slavery. He provides the reader with a first-hand perspective of what it was like to be snatched from freedom and thrown into bondage. He writes of the culture shock, the horrors, and the experience of being treated as a thing and not a person.
He gives us a glimpse of the horrors he experienced, “When I looked round the ship too and saw a large furnace or copper boiling, and a multitude of black people of every description chained together, every one of their countenances expressing dejection and sorrow, I no longer doubted of my fate; and, quite overpowered with horror and anguish, I fell motionless on the deck and fainted” (Equiano).
This narrative and the many slave narratives that came after it was instrumental in giving a face to the victims of the horrible institution of slavery. Fredrick Douglas’s an autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845), immediately sold thousands of copies. In the period immediately before the Civil War, historians estimate that the book may have sold about 30,000 copies.
Another important author who wrote of her experience as a slave and the violence she endured was Harriet Jacobs. These narratives help large portions of society who may not have thought much about slavery one way or the other see the cruelty of the system.
These authors and many like them were the pioneers of many of the social conscious African Americans who came after them rather it be authors like Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois who wrote about issues pertaining to African American access to education and equal rights. Washington’s “Up From Slavery” (1901) appeared in close proximity to DuBois’s “Souls of Black Folk” (1903), both of which have become canonical in tracing the literary and political histories of African American thinkers.
In addition to being socially conscious, the early part of the 20th century also saw the dawning of prominent black poets and fiction writers who used their voice in a more artistic way to speak of the social conditions of blacks during their time. Modern poet Claude McKay notable poem “If We Must Die,” spoke the system racial discrimination and Jim Crow laws.
An important figure during the Harlem Renaissance which gave brought us prominent black voices like Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and May Miller the most widely published female playwright of the Harlem Renaissance.
African American’s have contributed to this country rather it is by the sweat of their brow or the swap of the pen, their contributions have been many and are undeniable.