Editorial November/December


The climate is one of the best things about Atlanta, especially for its rapidly growing immigrant communities whose members are from the tropics. Although summers can be unbearably hot in “Hotlanta,” the warm weather that extends well into fall is very much appreciated.

It is conducive to the outdoor gatherings for the many occasions commemorated by the immigrants, from traditional engagements and weddings to child-naming ceremonies, rites of passage and even funerals and other events honoring the dead. I am affiliated with one such community—Sierra Leoneans.

As is typical of the city’s immigrant communities, the past summer months were quite busy in the Atlanta Sierra Leonean community. I attended several events in this West African enclave in the American south.

Most of them, thankfully, were upbeat; but there were a few somber ones, like a funeral I attended in September. The church service was a typical Freetown (Sierra Leone’s capital city) funeral, evoking many songs, rites and rituals of the homeland.

But one of the most glaring things that caught my eye was the title on the funeral program: “HOME GOING CELEBRATION.” Although, admittedly, the concept of “going home” upon death is entrenched in African cultures and societies, the term “home going,” as a label for burial rites instead of, say, “funeral” or “final rites,” is more common among African Americans. Therefore, in some respects, this African immigrant group is using an African American term to articulate a familiar pre-migration phenomenon.

Before this editorial becomes too morbid and dampens the beautiful fall season, let me explain the significance of this example. It is illuminating in what it says about the acculturative transformation of black immigrants and their communities.

It speaks to some of the processes involved in the journey from African to African American or how African ethnicities become “diasporized” in America. Very importantly, it reminds us of the confluences of academic and research fields, for this case, African and African American studies.

Historians and other scholars who study Africans in America in post-slavery must be reasonably conversant with the immigrants’ pre-migration setting. In other words, it helps for such scholars to have some grasp of African history and societies.

Conversely, it is just as deficient when scholars studying African immigrants and their experiences as blacks in the United States have insufficient background in African American studies.

Increasingly, programs which started as either African or African American Studies are reconfiguring variously as Africana, African and African American or Africa and the Diaspora Studies. This is encouraging.

Still, it is necessary for the amalgamation to extend beyond the curriculum. That is where organizations like CAAR play a crucial role as forums for students and scholars to traverse fields, exchange ideas and benefit in ways that better ground their research and teaching in a variety of necessary contexts.

At CAAR conferences and through other CAAR forums like its publications and this website, we have opportunities for Africanists, Afro-Caribbeanists, Afro-Europeanists and African Americanists to discuss their fields and how and where their works intersect.

As usual, Atlanta’s fall season is off to a good start. Temperatures are falling, but the weather is still mild and warm enough for Sierra Leoneans and other Africans in the city to still don their bright, light tropical outfits to their community events.

I still have a few more of these to attend before winter—two school alumni associations’ fundraisers, a “fortieth-day” ceremony for the dead, and a wedding. I am sure that at these events I will continue to glean the implications of certain features and happenings for my ongoing study and teaching of the many complex facets of the black immigrant experience in the United States, as well as new insights into African history, African American history and the history of the African Diaspora.

As I savor the academic and professional benefits of my membership and involvement in one of Atlanta’s immigrant communities, I will continue to make the call: AFRICANISTS, AFRO-CARIBBEANISTS, AFRO-EUROPEANISTS AND AFRICAN AMERICANISTS UNITE!

Regards and best wishes from Atlanta, the home of Martin Luther King, Jnr.

Violet M. Showers Johnson
Agnes Scott College