Published Date

May 21, 2016

Resource Type

AHA Resource, For the Classroom, Video


African American, Cultural, Indigenous, Labor, Legal, Political, Slavery, Social

AHA Topics

K–12 Education, Teaching & Learning, Undergraduate Education


United States

This event was part of the May 2016 conference The Future of the African American Past, co-hosted by the American Historical Association and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“Who is Black America?” explores the various forms of diversity that have existed within African American communities from the earliest days of enslavement into the modern day. Historical changes to the meaning of “Black” culture and identity are examined through the lenses of class difference, religion, social movements, and other topics.



Speakers and Contents

  • 00:12 – Introduction by Lonnie Bunch (NMAAHC) and Jim Grossman (AHA)
  • 03:51 – Panel chair Ira Berlin (University of Maryland, College Park) describes how the common perception of a singular “Blackness” arose when Africans of highly varied cultural and geographic backgrounds were forced into the shared experience of slavery.
  • 09:26 – Elsa Barkley Brown (University of Maryland, College Park) explains how she uses the medium of film to teach “silent” or suppressed histories in introductory undergraduate classes on African American history.
  • 16:37 – Tiya Miles (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor) discusses the ways in which African American and Native American communities forged transformative relationships under conditions of exploitation.
  • 27:29 – Dylan C. Penningroth (University of California, Berkeley) describes how many African Americans became fluent in legal procedure via the process of establishing churches, and how they began to apply this knowledge to struggles against racial injustice.
  • 38:05 – Deborah Gray White (Rutgers University, New Brunswick) considers the evolution of Black identities within the context of the New Negro Movement of the early 20th-century and newer conceptions of “postmodernity.”