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Racial Identity and Modern Day Slavery in August Wilson’s <i>Gem of the Ocean</i>, Joe Turner’s <i>Come and Gone</i>, and Ma Rainey’s <i>Black Bottom</i>

OO Otu
O Udumukwu


Race has dominated American cultural discourse for almost four hundred years, and yet it has not ceased to be topical. Racism in its crudest and most savage form, slavery, manifested its capacity to dehumanize both the slave and the slaveholder (including the society). Although the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery formerly ended in 1808 and 1865 respectively, they left an ugly and monstrous legacy that has continually threatened the peace, stability, unity, security and prosperity of America. African Americans bear the brunt of race-related discrimination. Slavery denied blacks dignity and economic empowerment by not granting them access to the free market economy (owning properties and businesses), and opportunities for self-improvement through education and socio-cultural and political participation. This study reveals that when slavery was abolished in principle in 1863, the spirit of slavery was kept alive through various means by which the rights, privileges and opportunities that are natural entitlements and inalienable rights of citizens were still withheld from Negroes. The three plays under study namely, Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom dramatize discrimination and exclusion of African Americans from the mainstream of American socio-economic and political life as a historical continuum of slavery. Using New Historicism as its theoretical framework, this study concludes that racial discrimination, abuse and denial of opportunities are subtle means of reinventing, reinstituting and perpetuating slavery.