Tangled Roots

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Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition

About the Project

The documents on the site are material for learning about individual leaders, historical events, economic, political and social factors and cultural achievements. There are several ways to access the documents.

Searching the documents:

The documents on the site are classified by category: Displacement, Oppression, Discrimination and Acceptance and by subject: e.g. Anti-Slavery Debates, Jim Crow Laws, Catholic Emancipation.

For first time users of the site, it might be useful to begin with Getting Started. In the section, there are ten questions about some of the history of African and Irish Americans. The answers to each question provide a link to documents. The links show how anyone can begin to explore the overlapping history.

Making Connections shows ways of linking the documents to each other and has links to documents in Time Lines, and Voices. Barrier Breakers has information about Irish and African American leaders and links to Internet web sites.

Links to Internet web sites are in Online Resources.

Resources in Print:

Information about print resources are in Contemporary Access Roads and in Sources. Contemporary Access Routes is a list of books about race and ethnicity, published since 1990. Sources is a bibliography of material used in researching the project.

The story of African American and Irish Americans is often a shared narrative. This is a project of recovery rather than discovery. All of this history of African and Irish Americans has been recovered separately. The culture has celebrated these distinct heritages. Ironically, what’s been lost in celebrating the cultures separately is the common path of the two cultures. The purpose of this project is to look at common path shared by African and Irish Americans and to locate their common roots.

Digging into the shared history will give the reader insight into tangled historical and sociological issues. The reader will understand the dramatic demographic impact of two events that had seemed to occur separately: the arrival of Famine immigrants and the emancipation of African slaves. As Tangled Roots examines the effects of these two events, the reader will learn that they jointly caused enormous pressure on urban services, housing and jobs. By learning that Irish immigrants and emancipated Africans both suffered a lack of job skills and economic opportunity, the reader will see that Irish and Africans shared a common sense of isolation from established American society. In their individual struggles to become accepted, Irish and African Americans frequently shared tangled lives. The reader will learn that there is a rich history of interaction between individual African and Irish leaders, and between groups of both in economic and social situations and specific historical moments when the two groups clashed. These stories will leave the reader wondering why the two groups didn’t join hands and unite in their struggle for acceptance. Was there a natural antipathy between the two groups or were there other circumstances that contributed to their separation? Was more emphasis given to their differences than their similarities?

Tangled Roots looks at the effect of politics, religion and social standards of the period as influences on assimilation. The reader will see that political parties wanted to attract new voters to support their goals, religious leaders wanted to preserve and increase their congregations of believers and social leaders wanted to maintain the perceived standard of how citizens should look and behave. This tangle of goals and beliefs will be familiar to present day Americans as the same interest groups continue to effect our modern multicultural society. The reader will be able to use this history as a way to look at how these influences impact multicultural unity.

The work tells what happened to Irish and African Americans in the twentieth century and evaluates the different rates of assimilation for each group. By learning the story of Irish and African American acceptance, readers can consider its application to the current and future American story.

Tangled Roots shows that both Irish and African Americans were remarkably successful as artists, soldiers and workers. Using examples from literary and political history, the work shows a continuing intersection between the groups and their influence upon each other. The reader learns that leaders of each group continued to work together successfully even as some Irish and African Americans shared violent confrontations. As in its presentation of earlier history Tangled Roots examines the political, social and religious factors which influenced unity and conflicts.

One of the disparities in the history of Irish and African Americans is the difference is the number of years each group spent struggling for acceptance. Tangled Roots questions the reasons for this disparity. The work shows that political power, economic strength and skin color, were all factors that influenced the time difference. Understanding the importance of these factors can help the reader comprehend the complexity of racial questions in America today.