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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