MPCPMP Quarterly Newsletter: January – March 2017

During this quarter, Project efforts focused primarily on networking, grant solicitation, and preparing for marker installations in Camden, NJ; Galveston, TX; and Boston, MA.

  • In January, MPCPMP made a presentation at the quarterly meeting of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission in St. Augustine, FL, and a formal submission for partnership with the Commission. One third of the documented US Middle Passage arrival sites are located within the Corridor.
  • The College of Charleston accepted a panel proposal, “The Public History of the Middle Passage,” for its conference, Transforming Public History from Charleston to the Atlantic World scheduled for June 14-17. Panelists include Gene Tinnie (Dos Amigos/Fair Rosamond Slave Ship Project), Eurica Huggins-Axum (African Diaspora Ancestral Commemoration Institute), and Ann Chinn (Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project). The panel is scheduled for June 15, 2017, at 10:00 am.
  • Continued efforts are being made to include the 48 documented arrival sites in the UN Slave Trade Route Project. Discussion has begun with Professor Jane Landers, newly appointed US representative on the trade route committee. To date, no US or North American sites are included.
  • MPCPMP completed and published a primer, The Middle Passage: Remembering Ancestors, and a booklet of the Project’s chronological record (2012-2016) of ceremonies and These will be used as educational and promotional materials as we address the remaining unmarked sites.
  • On March 29th, MPCPMP presented at a graduate seminar on Public History at Northeastern University.

Connecticut: After extended discussions with state representatives, the Executive Board agreed that work in the state will reorganize and specifically address Middletown and New London as locales with documented Middle Passage history rather than include New Haven (which has not been documented). A new state committee must be formed.

Louisiana: The New Orleans committee is working on the text for two markers related to the human trade: international and domestic. Presently, they are researching a marker manufacturer. The installation and commemoration activities are planned as part of the city’s tricentennial observance in 2018-19.

Maryland: On March 2nd, state committee members introduced the Project to the MD Assembly’s Legislative Black Caucus. Materials were provided to all members with a request for a formal letter of support to acknowledge the role the state of Maryland played in the enslavement of Africans and to facilitate the installation of the public history markers at the remaining unmarked arrival sites in the state: Annapolis, Baltimore, and Oxford. Regina Hartfield is a new co-Chair of the MD committee, replacing Stephanie Franklin. The website is under construction and the Facebook page is operational at: Maryland Middle Passage Committee.

Massachusetts: Members of the committee continue to work on the logistics related to marker text and design. In the effort to identify hosting for the Boston Middle Passage website, the committee has begun outreach to Northeastern University.

New Jersey: Camden completed the text for 3 markers scheduled for installation in mid-2017. The date has not been confirmed.

Perth Amboy will schedule a date for an MPCPMP presentation to the City Council that will include a request for a Middle Passage marker once Camden determines the date for its installation.

North Carolina: Weather and politics have so far prevented any further development in organizing to address the state’s five documented Middle Passage sites.

Rhode Island: Progress continues at the four Middle Passage arrival sites in the state. A major focus has been on lectures at several universities that discuss the history of slavery and the trade to Rhode Island.

Texas: As part of the annual Juneteenth celebration, the Middle Passage marker will be installed on June 10th (fittingly, the initial day of a week-long observance of emancipation history) at the seaport museum in Galveston.

As always, thank you for your support and interest in this effort to affirm the value and importance of ancestors and history – Black Lives Matter: Past, Present, and Future.

 

Website:  www.middlepassageproject.org

Facebook: The Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project

Email:  middlepassagemarkers@gmail.com

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End of Year 2016

Four years ago, when this blog started, MPCPMP provided a quarterly reading list for those who were interested in delving deeper into the background of issues related to the posts. Unfortunately, that practice fell by the wayside as demands to implement the mission increased over the years. As an attempt, limited as it is, to revive that practice of suggested readings, the works that had significant impact on our sense of history and the value of memory over the past year include:

Stamped from the Beginning; The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, Ibram X. Kendi

Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation, Nicholas Guyatt

White Trash: The 400 -Year History of Class in America, Nancy Isenberg

New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America, Wendy Warren

The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America, Gerald Home

It is refreshing to have available scholarship and analyses that expand beyond previously accepted approaches to the study of US history. These also are easy to read, so enjoy.

Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project wishes everyone a happy and fulfilling holiday season and new year.

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Historical Parallels: Déjà Vu

Post-election texts, emails, and conversations are filled with anger, angst, disbelief, and finger pointing. How did this happen? How did Donald J. Trump — crude and inexperienced, arrogant and uninformed — become the 45th President of the United States? For certain, the analysis of those who never saw this coming, including those we call “pundits,” will continue for decades.

“Make America Great Again” means different things to different people. Once again, even though there is no easy analysis of the rise of Donald Trump, history can teach some valuable lessons. This latest presidential campaign neatly parallels a much-overlooked phase of national history, namely the years following the Civil War — a brief period of Reconstruction — and the collapse of protections that followed. Within a period of 12 years (1865-1877) the enslaved had been emancipated, and all males had been granted citizenship. During Reconstruction, communities of freed people blossomed economically and socially across the land, with universal education as the underpinning. The federal government provided limited protections, too, in the form of Freedmen’s Bureau and the presence of US troops. However, with the election of Rutherford B. Hayes, these measures were systematically dismantled. The era is aptly-named the “Redemption” by some describing those Post-Reconstruction years when White rule across the board was restored, frequently with the help of Ku Klux Klan terrorism and shortly after, the birth of Jim Crow.

Similar to the Reconstruction years, from 2008-16, in spite of an obstructionist Congress, President Obama reversed a severe economic recession, reduced unemployment to an all-time low, enabled the passing of a national health insurance program, brought the majority of internationally deployed troops home, brokered an accord with Iran on nuclear weapons, advanced the cause of environmental protection, and ended his term with one of the highest approval ratings ever for an incumbent President. These are stellar accomplishments. Yet for half of those who voted, as a Black man he was a threat to the established order of things and, therefore, an aberration of American ideals.

Looking back over time, African Americans have seen it all. We have been discouraged, been disenchanted, been disillusioned, and experienced injustices, all the while continuing to pledge allegiance to a nation where a significant number of its people perceive Black people as the “other,” as thugs, as unemployed, as criminals, as ignorant. When addressing African Americans he regards as dysfunctional, Candidate Donald Trump asked, “What have you got to lose?” by endorsing him. He obviously does not know US history – we most certainly have a lot to lose. Have we not come a long way, or have we forgotten? Do some of us not know our history, or maybe some of us are new immigrants, or perhaps some of us have been disenfranchised through the criminal justice system, or some of us have received inadequate education, or some of us think this is all a sham anyway – no matter what we do.

To some of us, this is a country designed to continuously protect the privileged and entitled. It often seems to be a nation operating under 18th century social codes, where a constitutional mechanism systematically protects a few and excludes many others. Is this nation of 300 million too unwieldly to continue under a two-party system? Can it even be called a representative democracy?

The question now becomes what we should tackle if “Black Lives Matter.” What are the priorities? In two years, Congressional seats will be up for election. If we begin now, we can stack the deck by placing representatives who answer our needs and wants. Democracy works best on the local level – school boards, city councils, state legislatures, governorships. Make this presidential election a rude wake-up call for real change. Get active. Whether it’s LGBTQ, enfranchising ex-offenders, quality education, street cleaning, and/or providing appropriate job skills education — become committed. That’s our responsibility as citizens.

We do need to redeem ourselves! Every day is an opportunity to get it right. We must organize and take action to make life better for each and every one of us. This is as much about class as race, about immigration as national security, about individual choice as religious freedom, about civil rights as law and order. The issues are clearly before us. Since Black people have always borne the heavier part of re-shaping this society, the question may not be what to do. It may be, “Will you pitch in and help?”

As encouragement, remember the rallying cry from decades past, “Come too far to turn back now.”

 

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From Independence Day to “We the People”

This is the traditional season to celebrate U.S. patriotism. Many people have been taught the nation’s history in the ringing phrases and the lofty ideals of colonial documents we memorized in parts as school children, for example, from the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal . . .” Following the War of Independence, “We the People” established a Constitution to “. . . secure the Blessings of Liberty to Ourselves and Our Posterity.” That same Constitution established a way to account for the enslaved at the margins of society: three-fifths of a person for purposes of both taxation and representation.

This is also a season of looking at the reality of colonial life and history. Recently, a Princeton scholar expanded the account of early American life by including the lives of enslaved Africans. In New England Bound: Colonization and Slavery in Early America, Wendy Warren concludes that to understand race-based slavery in the British colonies, including all of North America and the Caribbean, one must also understand how slavery developed and functioned in New England; their interests and very survival were inextricably connected. That is, New England is where the mechanisms of oppression and exclusion of the “other” from government, the economy, culture, and laws were developed. From the beginning, whatever popular concepts grew from that base, including ideas of freedom, justice, religion, capitalism, and protection — all were established as a very narrow framework favoring a select few at the expense of others.

Warren’s work is not the only alternate interpretation of colonial history. Last August, at a commemoration of African ancestors at Faneuil Hall, State Representative Byron Rushing pointed out that New Englanders are fond of citing their history as abolitionists, but not so much as prime profiteers from the transatlantic trade. That assertion is taken up in Logbooks, an account by Ann Farrow of the selective memories of colonials in Connecticut and the construction of a historical amnesia. And many years ago, Lorenzo Greene documented in great detail the profitability of slavery in his germinal work, The Negro in Colonial New England.

But in this season, patriotic flag-waving can be balanced by the reality of several other voices. On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass gave a powerful denunciation of Independence Day from the perspective of one who had been enslaved. His address entitled “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” is notable for the comparisons it draws between the freedom vaunted for those unlike himself and for those in bondage. Douglass poses his question and answers it. “. . . To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages . . .”

So today, when the presumptive Republican candidate, himself a second generation immigrant, talks about “making America great again,” those of us who are not of European descent, wealthy, or male are alarmed, even threatened. There is a sense that the definition of “we” will be restricted once again as it has been over centuries. This is especially important today as we grapple with the definition of citizenship. It is appropriate that as July 4th approaches we understand that “we the people” did not apply universally but only to a very select and limited group of persons in the United States. For the past 231 years, various groups of residents have been challenging and expanding that definition of who “we” are – women, Asians, African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Jews, lesbians, gays, the transgendered, the poor, convicted felons, and so forth. The purpose of the Constitution was to accommodate change, and it has been necessary to amend the document as the nation evolved. There is nothing sacred about our laws. Their application and interpretation – some of them have been absolutely unjust – vary in the context of who the “we” is at any given point in time. Let inclusion of all truly make America as great as it has the potential to be.

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Trace

Periodically we respond or address issues that surface from our reading. Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape is a recently published work by Mount Holyoke earth science professor Lauret Savoy that merits attention. Her writing is lyrical and thought-provoking. Geographical landscapes and language related to memory and history are her references as she places those living in the present in a broader historical context. Even the meaning of the word used in the title, trace, reinforces the theme: pattern, path, remnant. Employing Savoy’s approach, the reader discovers how miniscule we are in time, how ingrained is the past, and what our potential relevance and responsibilities are in creating the future. Her use of memory as applied to the nation’s history is intriguing, particularly for the MPCPMP’s need to present an alternate or little-known perspective of African American history. Savoy states that since the initiation of European territorial conquest in America there has been a concerted effort to dis-member non-European cultures and societies by war, by occupation, by name, and by appearance; yet, traces remain. She beautifully advocates for a re-membering of these forgotten or unfamiliar places and people. Her scholarship includes examples ranging from the Grand Canyon and mesas in the West to burial grounds and place names in the South.

Trace provides the reader with an opportunity to view this country with another assessment and scale – certainly a more textured ecological and environmental analysis of time and habitation — from the Ice Age, to the present, and into the future. In all the research related to the MPCPMP, we are drawn to that which states that we are directly influenced by the past and that we determine the blueprint of the future – as we breathe.  The values and principles we select do affect other people and our physical world in ways that are unknown to us but can be traced by future generations. That boils down to a responsibility to live consciously within a global community.

Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project encourages you to read this book. It may result in a determination to better define self and life goals – to walk a clearer path.

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Birth of a Nation: Another Creation Angle

From time to time those of us working with the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project (MPCPMP) find ourselves re-emphasizing several points about U.S. history as the country addresses the day’s pertinent issues. These themes bear repeating:

  • The nation’s “Creation Story” normally taught in schools is incomplete and often inaccurate.
  • In order to understand what we are presently experiencing in our society, citizens must know the details of birthing this country.
  • No matter which European country claimed a territory or region in the Western Hemisphere, within the first 20 years of that colony or state’s creation, Africans and their descendants were integral to its development – economically, culturally, and socially.

Our research informs us that if history is only presented from a Euro-centric perspective, it is lopsided, unbalanced. There were many people from various parts of the world who influenced the products and the process of westward expansion. Metaphorically and literally for many, the birthing was a breach of justice, status, identity, and community.

The current example of a limited interpretation and perspective on the country’s history is the issue of the right to bear arms and the push back against control of them. President Obama’s recent modest proposals to regulate the sale of guns have revved up much hoopla around the 2nd Amendment once again. If a complete narrative is presented, it is worth noting that there have always been gun control and exceptions to the right to bear arms based upon need or perceived threat by those in power. Consistently, after the first thanksgiving and welcome was extended by Native people it was soon discovered that the European invaders were permanent. These new settlers’ guns would become the means of their expansion, oppression, and defense.

As American settlers’ objections to English economic control mounted, especially through taxation and on colonial production, the British instituted gun control to restrict armed protest in the American colonies. This was a direct trigger for the conflicts at Concord and Lexington. The right to bear arms, however, was also quickly denied in most of these same colonies to Native people and to enslaved Africans based upon their anticipated threat to colonial and national security. On the other hand, when White colonists defended themselves against Native attack in particular, African-descended people were temporarily allowed to use guns to protect households and settlements. Understandably, gun control was incorporated into the “Slave Codes” and Black Codes throughout this nation in order to thwart Black rebellion and resistance to the unequal status quo.

In the South, where enslaved Black people routinely outnumbered whites, fear of armed Black people went hand in hand in determining weapon use policy until the Civil War. Historically, European Americans have been the only group for whom access to arms has seldom been restricted or regulated. Not until after the Civil War was any limitation placed upon White Americans (Confederates), and for the first time Black people as newly-constituted citizens were permitted in some cases to own and use firearms for daily survival and protection against hate groups.

Access to firearms for non-Whites and the White push back against it has been illustrated time and again. Throughout our national history from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War, there has been a reluctance to allow armed Black soldiers in any military undertaking within U.S. borders until desperation left no other choice. There was less resistance to Black armed men fighting for U.S. interests outside of the country. Teddy Roosevelt included Buffalo soldiers from Western Indian territories in the Spanish American War in Cuba; W. E. B. DuBois advocated for the inclusion of Black troops in World War I; and certainly during the 20th and 21st centuries Black soldiers have been major participants in military campaigns in Europe, Asia, Arabia, and the Middle East. The issue was always their return to a segregated and racist country as trained gunmen. In 1919, returning Black soldiers across the nation were met with fierce White resistance – lynchings and sometimes in the form of race riots. Washington, DC in the late 20th century (1975) became the first major city to experience a Congressional universal gun control measure. Many believed that the root impetus for such a drastic action was the city’s Black majority. The rise of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense pushed the button in Oakland, CA. Images of Black people with weapons in public was viewed as dangerous, while a White person in the same stance would be accepted as a citizen’s right to bear arms. There is frequently a racial aspect to this issue as well as an urban/rural dimension. Witness the current standoff in Oregon as armed White farmers and ranchers are holding the federal government at bay and preventing an order to call off their protest on grazing policy. We wonder if the government response would be the same if the farmers and ranchers were non-White.

Violence is as American as apple pie, and regulating the purchase and use of firearms is necessary in a nation where there are as many guns as people. Regulating who can sell, purchase, and own guns with stiff penalties imposed is critical as the nation comes to grips with this matter. The Second Amendment was implemented in the 18th Century when a single-shot long rifle, complete with powder and musket ball, was the weapon of choice in basically a rural environment. The feature film The Revenant illustrates how essential that weapon was in extending the reach of Europeans over indigenous people. The right to bear arms did not anticipate modern devices with magazines containing multiple rounds that could rip off dozens of shots in seconds. To some of us in the MPCPMP, resistance to gun control is rooted in the long-standard perception of unfettered access to weapons by a protected class of people. Even as gun killings fill the daily news, as the profits of arms manufacturers continue to increase exponentially since the inauguration of a Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President, as campaigns against gun regulation are disparaged as unconstitutional, we wonder where the cries of “foul” come from. After all, in reality limits on guns are nothing new in this nation.

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Chipping Away

We have reached the final month of another year. For the past four years, ours has been a small attempt to redefine and expand the narrative of US American history to include Africans and their descendants as principal and crucial agents in the country’s creation. At times, many in fact, this work has been difficult. MPCPMP repeatedly has found itself in the position of explaining and justifying our mission to people who do not have a clue, who do not see the point, who have their own agendas, who feel threatened, or who are in “head in the sand” denial.

Fortunately, however, we continue also to find those who share our interest in presenting a more complete history of the United States. Recently at ASALH’s Annual Conference in Atlanta, we learned of Anne Farrow’s research of Connecticut’s human trade history (The Logbooks: Connecticut Slave Ships and Human Memory)and in September of this year Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s African American Trail sponsors contacted us requesting inclusion in the MPCPMP. Upon reflection, this helps balance the resistance we have faced. Also rewarding is the fact that people with whom we have worked for a couple of years turn around and “get it” — that the mission of MPCPMP is not about slavery; it is about honoring the enslaved – African men, women, and children, and their descendants who arrived on these shores, helped build the physical and economic foundation of this nation, and contributed to US values and culture.

To say the work is frustrating when we’re in the fray is to understate our experiences. Just this year we were challenged: “Who documented this? “But it was only one ship to this port!” “We can only allow members of the Judeo-Christian faiths to participate.” “Slavery wasn’t the same as in the South on plantations.” “What did Africans do here?” “Why can’t this be an exclusively Black event?” There is frequently the attempt to question our focus, purpose, historical accuracy, and approach — adamant at first and gradually less resistant as we explain the reasons for why we are committed to this mission.

During 2015, as we presented the Project in different venues, we came with a Power Point, one that illustrates how routinely Africans and their descendants have been omitted, limited, and defined almost exclusively by slavery in US history. Two national icons, including their historical background and relation to African Americans, are in the presentation – the Statue of Freedom on the Capitol dome and the Statue of Liberty. Ironically, they both represent national ideals so often denied legally and socially to Black people. A portion of our mandate is to chip away at the current prevailing practice of assigning insignificant and minor roles to non-Europeans in building this nation. We are determined to not repeat the wrongs perpetuated against Africans and their descendants over centuries. Instead of denial and exclusion, we encourage the participation of all people and all faiths in the ancestral remembrance ceremonies in which we are involved. We are focused on humanity, not exclusively Black people. A lot of healing has to take place.

I am reminded of Vincent Harding’s statement in Atlanta during an evening meal. He said that we had no idea how huge an undertaking this Project would be. That was three years ago, and how right he was. It has been encouraging that the spirits of ancestors have helped “make a way.” Somehow, in some fashion, through the efforts of many in the diaspora, half of the 42 US arrival sites have held remembrance ceremonies and some have installed public markers to commemorate the lives of Africans. As we forge ahead in 2016, another four or five Middle Passage ports will do the same, chipping away and mending the broken circle. Thank you for all your contributions that have made this possible. Even on a shoestring budget a lot has been accomplished. We look forward to your support and to completion by 2020.

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Bubbling to the Surface – Coincidence?

Summer is cooling into recent memory, but an article in the New York Times Magazine by historian Douglas Egerton provided important background information on Emmanuel AME Church in North Charleston, SC, where nine people were murdered almost three months ago. This church’s history includes Denmark Vesey and the killing of SC state representative Reverend Benjamin Randolph during Reconstruction – both of whom challenged the status quo of slavery and white oppression, and paid with their lives. Professor Egerton reminds us that the date on which these horrific murders occurred in 2015, was the anniversary of Vesey’s unsuccessful uprising. Is it coincidental that Roof acted on this particular day and in this historic place? Probably not.

Murder, violence, in any venue is despicable. Many are outraged because it took place in a church, at a prayer meeting, in a place of worship. For them that was the last straw eliciting outrage and sympathetic response. There were others who indicated their disgust with an interview in SC when a Black person stated that Dylan Roof is forgiven. Roof’s supporters are paying into a defense fund. Around the country, especially in the South, there were rallies to support the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern heritage, while others demand that the stars and bars – a war flag of Virginia – be removed from all public grounds and buildings. Unfortunately in America violence is a powerful catalyst – at times it makes us “do right.” The human response is to strike back (fight), remove oneself (flight), or develop a strategy to make change – the 1960s Southern civil rights movement is a prime example. Our ancestors used all of the above at various points in this nation. Now we need to figure out what we are going to do.

For those of us working with the MPCPMP, it is another indication that history is important. The back story, the why, informs us. We need to make sense of what is happening today. Hatred and fear are fueling responses on both sides. That this should bubble to the surface repeatedly across the nation during the tenure of a Black president is not unexpected. An entire way of life is being challenged and the standard advice offered is to pray, to be patient, and to proceed within the boundaries of lawful activity. Someone asked is there a Mau Mau group in the U.S. In the direction we are heading that may be an eventuality. If systemic change cannot take place, peacefully or violently, within or outside of legal constraints, then the nation is doomed. For us to vent and then do nothing enables this hatred and viciousness to continue and spread. We have been basically spectators and observers, not actors. Each side will become more desperate unless we act for change that improves all of us – jobs, education, health care, and decent neighborhoods. We all know what is needed, yet we allow our politicians in Congress and others to posture, pontificate, and spout ideologies that restrict options to improve the country’s quality of life and extend social benefits to everyone. It is easier to dramatically address and spend resources on terrorists than infrastructure, jobs, and education. Simply listen as the various candidates ramp up for the 2016 election.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in his ruling on gay marriage and the civil rights of a specific group of citizens stated that slaves and people placed in internment camps during World Ware II are examples of persons who lost their liberty but not their dignity. He argues that it is inappropriate to assign to government the role of change agent. He went on to state that slaves did not lose their dignity or humanity because the government allowed them to be enslaved. WHAT! Who and what does he define as “government?” The Preamble of the Constitution clearly states, “We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union….” Let’s get to work, folks, and come as close to perfect as we can. Get the back story first and then get to stepping! “Coincidence” occurs when we don’t have the full picture. History will repeat itself. Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is detrimental to our very existence.

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Black Enslavement and Emancipation – How Long

In an address given on August 23, 2015, to an audience gathered at Faneuil Hall in Boston, Massachusetts, for an ancestral remembrance ceremony to commemorate enslaved Africans, Massachusetts State Representative Byron Rushing made a remark that struck a chord – that sanctioned enslavement existed in the United States over a longer period than there has been emancipation. In his speech, Rushing marked 1619 as the starting point, but to be accurate when referencing the United States of America we have to begin the timeline from 1513, with the arrival of the Spanish in Florida.

Institutional enslavement of Africans, slavery sanctioned by state and church, arrived on European ships and flourished for more than three centuries, from 1513 to 1865 (352 years), and it will not be until 2217 that national emancipation, which began in 1863, will equal that length of time. What does it mean when measured in time to be not even halfway into freedom and full citizenship for Black people? This prolonged history may explain the continued legacy of racism and prejudice, certainly, and the constant effort required to recognize and push against these vestiges of slavery that are experienced daily. To reverse the attitudes and habits that maintained this level of injustice and inhumanity will mean that each of us will have to raise our personal awareness of this history and its ramifications.

There are young people today who would state that they are not racist and that they are living in a post racial society. There are people who emphatically argue that in no way are they attached to or responsible for enslavement. If, as Ta Nehisi Coates and others contend, racism is part of the very fabric of our national identity, then reparation and healing will require more extensive methods than simply good intention and legislation. As a nation, we have to examine how we got here and where we want to go, especially with regard to economic, social, and cultural structures.

The nation is one year away from another presidential election, and already the candidate getting the most media attention is the one who espouses racist views. Little or no critical analysis is even taking place in the public forum, Many are actually enjoying the entertainment while others are disgusted. For the majority of US citizens there is a wait and see posture, as if someone, some external power force, will decide what the issues are and which candidates we should seriously consider. It is all too passive. There is a saying that all that is needed for evil to triumph is for us to do nothing. Nationally this appears to be the common stance.

It is inhuman that across this country Black and Brown lives continue to be endangered or unjustly ended, but once we understand that we are not that far removed from America’s history of enslavement, it is not surprising. The phrase “the struggle continues” is not a cliche. After all, not until 2217, if all remains the same, can our descendants draw a line in the sand and honestly declare that efforts to nationally repair and heal the wrongs resulting from Black enslavement have failed, because that is when the number of years Africans and their descendants were enslaved equals the number of years we have been free. Unfortunately, the nation may run out of time before that.

Where to start? Learn your national and local history. Visit the places where it all began. Over the next five years cities are celebrating their colonial “births,” and in each of these places Blacks made contributions – from the beginning. There are 41 documented African arrival sites in the United States from New Hampshire to Texas. Are the African presence and contributions publicly recognized; where and how are they acknowledged; and what is the general status of people of color in each of these places? That should at least point us in the general direction of how to proceed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fantasy

If I am not who you say I am then you are not who you think you are.

Whenever observance for July 4th approaches, historical reflection is appropriate. This year, 2015, has been a time when chickens came home to roost. The racism and prejudice fostered in this nation for centuries have triggered events that we Americans are confronting and hopefully have the will to change.

Recently, on the suggestion of New Orleans National Park Service Superintendent Lance Hatten I read Soul by Soul by Walter Johnson (1999) which focuses primarily on African enslavement and the domestic human trade. Very clearly the author presented how enslavement functioned and how slavery created identity – white, black, inferior, superior, power, wealth – on not simply falsehoods but pure fantasy. Johnson writes that since its beginning, this nation has believed in a fantasy and developed laws, a culture, and institutions that supported and sustained it. Today we are not dealing with only the vestiges of illusion and self-deception but its legacy of privilege and disadvantage. We have to rethink who we are.

We are not referring to mythology, all nations have their heroes and usually they are based upon some portion of historical reality. This American fantasy of race and belief in the inferiority of non-white or non-European descended people was totally fabricated for purposes of sustaining human oppression and rationalizing territorial expansion. To heighten the issue is the contradiction perpetuated from the beginning of enslavement with the country’s stated ideals of each person’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Non-white people bought into these national ideals lock, stock, and barrel; and for good measure they added equality. This struggle has been ongoing for more than 450 years. Whether you mark the country’s beginning in 1513 (Spanish), in 1607 (English), or in 1776 (U.S.) the issue persists. Over a period of time by legalizing slavery and defining people as inferior and unequal to the power holders a fantasy, a political “Disney World,” was deliberately constructed. Inevitably fantasies, like sand castles, crumble. They cannot be permanent.

And so, this year the product of that racism resulted in multiple killings of Black people across the nation and the decision to remove the Confederate flag from government grounds. President Obama as a Black Man in the White House has elicited vitriolic response and irrational unprecedented disrespect from some citizens. These all are connected. The fantasy is very slowly being dismantled and discarded as we challenge ourselves to redefine who we are as a nation. The question is what do we see our selves becoming? Who are was as Americans? What ideals do we want to nurture? Change is never easy.

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense once hate is gone they will be forced to deal with pain.

The Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project has assumed the responsibility of physically marking the places in the United States where the price of this fantasy became the reality of captive Africans. This effort cannot be restricted to descendants of the enslaved because everyone was involved. It will take great effort to heal from this history.

The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.

The three quotes in bold italics in this post are by author James Baldwin.

Posted in African American History, African American literature, American legal system, American politics, ancestors, captured Africans, descendants of slaves, Slave economy, slavery, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Fantasy