One of the guiding questions for the African American literature course is how the diaspora and literacy laws impacted the development of the American literary tradition. Students study the oral tradition; narrative writing; musical genres such as spirituals, gospels, rhythm and blues, and folk songs; and visual folk arts such as quilting, which can be used to tell stories and send messages.
Students also studied the history of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), or Black (vernacular) English, including isolated dialects of traditional folk communities such as the Gullah Geechee people. The convergence of the students' interest in visual and oral literature and their desire to better understand traditional folk-communities, which can be vulnerable populations, led them to apply their learning to our local culture, in particular the celebrated Mardi Gras Indians or Black Masking Indians.
Students researched the history of the Indian traditions, the lexicon and language of the culture, and how different tribes are represented or misrepresented in popular culture.
Mr. Steven Juluke, an MCA parent, spoke to the class about the process of suit making and other important traditions handed down within the Mardi Gras Indian culture.
Students discovered that, much like the oral tradition of literature we studied in class, Mardi Gras Indian culture preserves social values and the collective memory of an important community in our city.