“With elegant prose, analytic precision, and archival depth, In Search of Brightest Africa forcefully pushes us beyond the enduring image of the Dark Continent. Jones persuasively demonstrates how little-known images and ideas about a ‘Brightest Africa’ were central to the American imagination as the country was making itself over as modern. The stories here of naturalists and environmentalists, Pan-Africanists and anti-imperialists, also tell us why Africa stays on our mind not just as a record of imperial pasts but also as a haunting yet hopeful recognition of possible global futures.”
—Davarian L. Baldwin, author of Chicago’s New Negroes
Jones skillfully weaves disparate strands of turn-of-the-century society and culture to expose a vivid trend of cultural engagement that involved both critique and activism. Filmmakers spoke out against the depiction of “savage” Africa in the mass media while also initiating a countertradition of ethnographic documentaries. Early environmentalists celebrated Africa as a pristine continent while lamenting that its unsullied landscape was “vanishing.” New Negro political thinkers also wanted to “save” Africa but saw its fragility in terms of imperiled human promise. Jones illuminates both the optimism about Africa underlying these concerns and the racist and colonial interests these agents often nevertheless served. The book contributes to a growing literature on the ongoing role of global exchange in shaping the African American experience as well as debates about the cultural place of Africa in American thought.
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