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Creating Identity, Retaining Culture

Part 2

The Talking Skull

Traditional folktales, like this one performed by storyteller April Armstrong, might have been told by elders to the children of the enslaved community. In addition to entertainment, these stories were fables, communicating importance advice, instruction, and survival skills to those who heard them.

Figural plaques

16th–17th century


Made in the region now known as Nigeria, these figures show the advanced metalworking skill of Edo craftsman.

British Museum, donated by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

The Old Plantation

c. 1785–1790

John Rose (American, 1752/3–1820)

Details of this image show the transference of West African culture to colonial America, including the use of the banjo.

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, VA.

Musician Bo Diddley



A noted blues musician, Bo Diddley (1928-2008) developed a signature beat, now named after him.

Glasshouse Images / Alamy Stock Photo.

Jitterbugging in Harlem



Taken in dance hall in Harlem, this image captures the exuberance of the jitterbug dancers.

Museum of the City of New York / GRANGER — All rights reserved.

Jitterbug dancing


Alan Fisher (American, active 1938)

This photograph, taken from the balcony overlooking a convention or dance, shows several couples dancing the jitterbug.

New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.


c. 2015


A student created this artwork, a representation of the trickster spider Anansi, a recurring character in West African folklore.

Private collection.

Talking Skull


Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (American, 1877–1968)

African-American artist Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller took inspiration from folktale of The Talking Skull. The Philadelphia-born artist achieved advanced training and recognition in Paris for her sculptures. A friend, noted sociologist and activist W.E.B. Dubois, urged her to draw upon African and African-American themes in her work.

Museum of African American History, Boston and Nantucket.

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