"Reconstructing Lost Lives in the Americas: The Story of Alexander and Margaret Chavous Proctor and their Family, 1700-2010"
This book manuscript, which is nearing completion, began as a section of a broad examination of the largely unexplored fact and continuity of African-American exile and emigration in the 19th and 20th centuries. As part of that investigation, I started documenting the lives of selected individuals who, between 1840 and 1940, left the United States for Canada, Haiti, France and Soviet Russia. My original intent was to include these narratives in a single book that would help to define the continuum of exile and emigration that has seen thousands of Americans of African ancestry leave the U.S. in search of a kind of freedom that has been unattainable in their native land. In particular, I wanted to cast some light on the comparative nature of, and responses to, racism and its various discourses in the U.S., in Canada, in France, and in Russia - societies which have produced generations of men and women who claim that the colour line is not a problem in their land. In my recent investigations of one family of Americans, the Proctors and Chavouses, however, I have come to realize that their story must stand on its own. To my surprise (and delight), their history has grown far beyond my initial conception of it; it now stretches backwards into the 17th century and forwards to the present day, raising new and intriguing questions about race and the history of race in the Americas. Just as I returned to Pittsburgh, my birthplace, to complete my book on the steel industry, this project, too, represents an effort to integrate some of the larger themes and problems in the humanities that I have tried to confront over the course of the last 25 years - as a journalist who has covered, and a teacher who has taught, the troubling course of race and race relations in the U.S. In this project, I find myself confronting yet again those questions of community, identity, and social justice that have long preoccupied me.
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