Slavery Was Undeniably Real: We Are It's Inheritors. The 1619 Project Reveals It.
As-Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu
May the Peace, Mercy and Blessings of Allah (God) Be Upon You
Image above is of Cape Coast Castle's Door of No Return in Ghana, Africa
As Black History Month draws to a close today, February 29, 2020 in an auspicious leap year in which its start was manifested with challenges of an amplitude that perhaps have not been known to exist at the same time in the past, I recall last year's 400th anniversary of the arrival of ships bearing the first African slaves brought to America’s shores in 1619. To be accurate, not the first arrival of Africans or people who are now unified for the most part to call themselves "Black" after having been, and many remain African-American; formerly Afro-American, Negro, Colored and in the historical records of this nation a lot of pejorative i.e., negative terms that will not be stated here beyond what is referred to and still used as the "N-word," which means different things to different people. For this writer, it brings to mind dark thoughts of "Strange Fruit" as sung by Billie Holiday that harrowingly depicts the horrific crime of lynching people of African ancestry not in just the South as may be mistakenly believed, but anywhere in America between the 17th and 20th centuries. The pictures of lynched black people in which crowds of happy, excited white people act as if they are attending a party are doubly disturbing in that they expose how disposable the lives of black people were in their defective minds. Or, if not a race hatred driven murder by rope-- rather, a "noose" hanging from a tree, it was by a noose tied around the neck and being dragged behind a car as in the murder of James Byrd, Jr. in 1998 by three white supremacist in East Texas. Just this week, after 100 years of trying, it is reported, the US House of Representatives passed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act that makes it a federal hate crime. Emmett Till was a 14 year old visitor from Chicago to a small town in Mississippi when he was brutally killed by two white residents after being accused of whistling at a white woman. The men were not convicted at their trial for Till's brutal killing in 1955 that made international headlines, however a year after the trial they confessed it in Look Magazine. They were never brought to justice.
Being of African heritage has changed in meaning and scope in American history, but it does not mean the open killing of black people is not occurring still at the hands of white people. The meaning and scope of white supremacy and supremacists has also changed; it has expanded. In some states it is through the advent of laws such as Stand Your Ground that has been used mostly in altercations between white and black people. In 2020, the cloths and hoods are gone and the rage of some with hate for Black people, Africans, and people of color from all places around the world in which people of color are in fact the majority of people in the world, is spoken openly and freely with claims of 1st amendment rights. It would be remiss not to include that a lot of people asserting their "rights" in this regard wear MAGA caps.
It must be acknowledged that from the view of Black people, not much has really changed about racists attitudes and disparities of how Black and people of color are treated when juxtaposed to how white people people are treated in the US, locally and institutionally. Our insecurity is reflected in how Black people kill each other at increasing rates. The breakthrough research of Dr. Joy Degruy, whose theory of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome remains relevant and can serve as a means to understand the enduring pain, harm and injury Black people are experiencing to this day from our historical legacy of slavery combined with institutionalized racism and practiced policies that denigrate Black people as human beings. We can thank God for the fortification and protection He provides that allows for enough of us to continue the struggle with resilience and love for who we are as a people. By the Grace of God, the majority of Black people live in this space of consciousness and not in one in which we are debilitated by the behavior of others to us. In the Qur'an it is stated in Chapter 5, Al-Maidah (The table Spread with Food):8 "O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah (God), as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do." In the end, God will not abandon His creation. As we say, He is Always on Time in His protection of the conditions that are Unseen. We have the obligation to act with consciousness for His sake and His Love for that we see and can effect for the change we need. We are reminded that "Allah (God) will not change the condition of a people until they change what is within themselves." Holy Qur'an, 13:11
A truth of history is the existence of slavery. Not just in America but let's start with America. America as we know it i.e., a formed sovereign entity did not occur until July 2, 1776 when the name "United Colonies" disassociated the nation from Britain followed two days later with the Declaration of Independence on July 4th. On September 9, 1776, the nation was renamed the "United States of America." However, Africans had been in the hemisphere and on this land long before this. The first "recorded" Africans from the annals of American history were reported having arrived here in 1619. Some Africans were with the Spanish in North America dating back to as early or earlier than 1526.
The history of Africa, the birthplace of mankind will always be grand-glorious as a continent and as a resource rich home for millions of Black people. Of all of the resources in the world, Africa can claim 30% of them. The soil is rich as are the souls of those who walk upon it, in a birthplace for growth that transpires from the nature that envelopes it or is within in it, as Africa has always been. Africa is rich in diamonds, sugar, salt, gold, iron, cobalt, uranium, copper, bauxite, silver, wood, petroleum and cocoa beans. This is what is known besides the wealth of the people in culture, manners, language and numerous skills found in an intelligent society. The first Africans recorded to have arrived in America, from the vantage point of the European narratives, were from West Africa. Many of them were Muslims. Many of them called Mali home, a nation that to this date is recognized for its great leader and Emperor of the Malian Empire, Mansa Musa. The richest man to have ever lived in the world, many claim even to the present, he was described as a traditionalist Muslim. The Malian Empire was vast: 2,000 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Chad and included all or parts of the modern nations of Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Chad. In these lands, peace and prosperity was ensured throughout decades in all of Western Africa. We hear about and see those listed in Forbes, magazine annually as the wealthiest persons in the world. They do not compare to this African leader whose wealth eclipses any known so far. And what did he do? He spent his riches on the people. He was the first African Muslim ruler to make the journey from Mali to Mecca in 1324. It was planned and executed with the help of the people along the 4,000 mile journey. Many went with him. Mansa, meaning "King" was generous to the poor and to organizations that assisted them. He gave to the rulers of the lands he traversed on his journey. While stopping in Cairo, Egypt, he gave and gifted out so much gold to the people that a decline in its value resulted. The economy took almost a decade for gold to recover and return to its former value. When he returned from Mecca (Makkah), he brought Islamic scholars with him and over time the grand mosques, institutions and city of Timbuktu emerged as even greater institutions of learning during his lifetime and through his vision. Having provided this perspective of the land from which the "slaves" that arrived in Jamestown in 1619 originated, it is not a leap to understand they were from an educated, industrious and cultured society. They were not the heathen-like muted Africans that were depicted in America's Tarzan movies, nor were they the ancestors of those of African lineage so negatively portrayed in Birth of a Nation. For an exceptional accounting and the most profound research on African Muslims arrival and their lives in America before it was America as slaves, one must read Servants of Allah by Sulviaine A. Diouf.
The University at Timbuktu, the first and oldest University in Africa established in 982.
The lack of Africa being included, in depth, in the curricula of America's public education system from the earliest years of schooling in a nation in which its descendants are so primary to its growth and development remains to be both a 20th and 21st century ethical and moral crime. With the invention of Common Core State Standards in 2009-2010, Africa is included in some of the materials for World History. Given that teachers have little freedom to select what is important within individual states, then within local schools themselves, it is recommended and encouraged that readers with young children, all of whom race unrelated should learn about Africa, emphasize to your school administrators to ensure that Africa be introduced and discussed positively in terms of its history in your children's class. Then, look for the homework to verify it is happening at school. From an Afrocentric cultural dimension, learning about Africa is a study of the world and not simply that of a people who amazingly gave birth to all of the races in the world. Is that truly amazing or what-- so much so that it is to be hidden? It belies the constructed histories that involve white supremacist narratives about Africa's poor and inferior standing in the world among nations and that skews the impression that America and European countries are more important. Are you aware that maps of Africa are often inaccurately depicting it as much smaller than it truly is in size? Moreover, persons of African descent throughout the diaspora should provide this introduction to Africa at home to build a positive relationship with the original homeland not just of African Americans-- it is the homeland of all people, in reality-- though the majority of white people will deny and disclaim this indisputable fact borne out by documented scientific study.
The religion of Islam, in its guidance to All Mankind available in the Holy Qur'an, provides this framework (from scripture) for viewing all people: "And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge. (30:22)" The meaning and reference is that we would know or get to know one another as similar by God's creation. Further, from the words of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), to whom the religion of Islam was revealed more than 1400 years ago, it was shared in his last sermon before dying at the age of 63, as a truth and as a caution for this Ummah (community) that “All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; a white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over a white; except by piety and good action."
Muslims throughout the world know the story of Bilal ibn (son of) Rabah, one of the most illustrious names in Islamic history, who was the son of enslaved parents from Ethiopia i.e., Africa and a slave himself during the time of the advent of Islam. A man, Umayyah ibn Khalaf, known to his Lady owner was filled with rage when he heard that Bilal had converted to Islam, which at the time was perceived as a threat to the order of Meccan society. He tortured Bilal brutally for it, but Bilal would not renounce his faith repeating over and over while suffering in pain "Ahad! which means "One God." Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), heard of Bilal's plight and sent a companion Abu Bakr, one of the wealthiest adherents of the faith, to purchase him from his lady owner. He was bought and he was promptly freed from the bondage of slavery. Bilal became a trusted companion to Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and the first Muezzin, a title for the appointed individual who calls the Adhan, the call to prayer. Bilal was such a faithful believer that he was told by Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) that he knew that his faith was intense and asked him: “O Bilal, what special deeds you have done that I heard sounds of your walking steps ahead of me in Paradise?” The first African in history to be known to have accepted Islam as his faith and through his profound example, Bilal ibn Rabah became among its most beloved early adherents, providing a sense of pride and a strong connection with the religion of Al-Islam for Africans and African-Americans, albeit his actions in the company of the Prophet were recorded and took place more than 1400 years ago. As such, Bilal's life has relevance to us all as an example of racial equality and sincere faith. It is believed that Islam, which means "peace", has always existed among all of the Prophets of God. Although some know the Abrahamic faiths by different names, they stem from the same root as monotheistic faiths that believe in One God, though He is called by different names. When all of the labels are discarded, worshiping God alone and living a righteous life is the message of all divine scripture. Bilal, our esteemed African Brother is but one example of the ability of man (and women) to live a righteous life that comes from sincere and devoted belief in the Lord of All of the World.
Muslims arriving in America after traveling through the horrific Middle Passage, stolen or sold before being forced into chattel slavery, likely would have had their first contact with formerly European white people who did not look like them, if not on the ship, as soon as they stepped off of it. They would have known these people were not better than they were. They would have been in a state of shock and fear given the experience of their torturous journey from Ghana or some other African port, the separation from all that they knew except one another from the same or similar speaking villages, about which they were separated when sold to this or that white person in this new and strange land. They had not been slaves before. These slave auctions and sales occurred mostly in Southern states where cotton was the primary commodity of value besides slaves who were considered an investment, but were also held in New York City along the East River on Wall Street between Pearl and Water Streets at a "slave market" that opened in 1711. Within 20 years, 42 percent of the population owned slaves, a higher percentage than in any other city in the country except Charleston, South Carolina. The enslaved population of New York City — which ranged between 15 and 20 percent of the total such that almost 1 in 5 individuals was a slave— literally built the city and was the engine that made its economy run. Not just this city, of course but the whole of the America economy!
A published advertisement for the sale of a young black woman, 1789.
Slavery has a miserable history in America and anywhere it has existed. While referred to as one of America's original sins, and its biggest, slavery has been a stain on humanity for many people of different nations at different times in history! There are verified claims that slavery presently exist in Libya, an African nation that has suffered greatly from instability since its downfall in 2011 about which the US was directly involved. We have minimally addressed slavery in other cultures. We have focused upon a little of the history of slavery in the lands of Africa and in some Arab nations in times long ago.
The history of the Children of Israel including an account of their enslavement in Egypt by Pharaoh, is a story that is well known by Muslims. It is conveyed explicitly in the Holy Qur'an in the telling of the story of Prophet Musa (Moses; Peace be upon him). The Old Testament and the Holy Qur'an attest to some of Abraham's aka Ibrahim's (Peace be upon him) life and journeys as one who was Pure of Faith, between Canaan and many parts of what was called Mesopotamia and Babylonia (Iraq) and to Mecca (Makkah, then was called Bekkah) among other places. It also presents Abraham's (Peace be upon him) relationship with Hajarah aka Hagar referred to as his concubine, handmaid and in some literature as one of Sarah's Egyptian slaves given Abraham was already married to Sarah. Having more than one wife was not uncommon in that era and Sarah put the two of them together so Hajarah could bear a child to be Abraham's heir. Hajarah was African from what would have been Abyssinia at that time, today's Ethiopia. The followers of Abraham's (Peace be upon him) kin, declared to be "Hebrews" subsequently, arrived in Egypt as a result of a famine in Canaan. While in Egypt they were enslaved, towards the end of it, by a haughty Pharaoh, who did not accept Moses' (Peace be upon him) believing in any deity but himself. What did Moses (Peace be upon him) do? He proved the existence of the One God after which the Pharaoh agreed to let Moses (Peace be upon him) lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt. History records they had by then been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. Pharaoh, an Egyptian i.e., an African, lost his life when he reneged on his decision to let Moses depart with the once, but no longer, Hebrew slaves. Pharaoh was drowned when the parted Red Sea took him and his men (parted or a torrential high tide came back in-- the Bible and Qur'an attest to it). The Qur'an includes that Pharaoh acknowledged the One God at the point of death, but his repentance was not accepted. Where did these critical points of history occur? In Africa. Egypt, a country, is on the African continent and all of the maps cannot hide or disguise this fact. Africa is obviously relevant to our various religious foundations in addition to being the birthplace of humanity, but you would not know this in America or in today's western culture/civilization unless you sought out people who have learned the history. It is not just the history of slavery and Africa's stolen people that is ignored, the illustrious history of Africa is often ignored or given short shrift as if it has no relevance to science, architecture, etc. by aligning these achievements with Egypt as if it were not in Africa. When something is so hidden, it is proof of the great importance and significance of it, otherwise why is what would be commonplace and evident knowledge be so obscured?. How Africa has been exploited for its riches that little is to be known of, is likely the deliberate rationale, besides that white supremacy actively engages in diminishing any and everything associated with Black i.e., African people. True African history in all of its depth, undermines white supremacist ideology that is little more than 400 years old, and turns it on its head.
Slavery is an oppressive act of man's inhumanity to man. It is not even politely spoken about due to its horrendous premise. It is not a casual discussion had by adults. Researchers still explore it so as to attempt to explain it. Schools have trouble discussing it. It is often absent altogether in the review of American history. Neither is it in standardized textbooks in more than several states in America. Slavery has an undeniable relationship and connection with Africa in that those who came to America and stepped off of ships on the shores of one or another Caribbean Island were carried there by force. African-Americans are in America as a result of a system that sought the free labor of Africans to provide the economic backbone of a system of wealth to which they would have no claim.
Today, there are repeated calls for reparations, a claim to former work without payment and other losses to the extent that 2020 democratic presidential candidates are either speaking or are being asked about their support for some payment of a debt to African Americans. The call to establish reparations for the descendants of America's slaves as well as those in the Caribbean has grown in intensity, some of it led by the scholarship of Sir. Hilary Beckles, Professor at the University of the West Indies among his other titles. The economic benefits from slavery that have only been accessible to the offenders of it more than a century and a half ago, and who still remain its beneficiaries while African Americans experience poverty, imprisonment and other injustices in 2020 like it is still 1968 or 1868 is a social injustice of serious magnitude delayed. Slavery continued with intensity after America's independence in 1776. It is the United States, that is accountable for the crimes of slavery that occurred more than 200 years ago and in whose banks are profits paid for with the lives of Black people. Slaves were "emancipated" during the civil war that had been incited around the question of eliminating slavery. Freedom was eventually granted by a proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1962. The offer at slavery's and the Civil War's end was for 40 acres and a mule to be provided to freed slave families upon the order of General Sherman. The civil war concluded on April 9, 1965 and President Lincoln was assassinated two days later on April 11, 1865. Upon Lincoln's assassination, however the order was quickly rescinded. Was this a demonstration that America does not deliver on its stated principles or promises? The inability to acknowledge a problem or honor a promise inherently limits the opportunities for its potential resolution. Acknowledging a problem is how change and healing starts. It might well also start with an official apology as has happened for other races and ethnicities dealt with unjustly by the United States of America. With all of the events of the end of the war, the end of Lincoln's presidency, etc., how was it that some slaves in some parts of the country remained uninformed about the end of slavery until June 19, 1865? Did anyone apologize for the oversight? The 19th of June is recognized annually as a day of celebration called Juneteenth in African American communities in the US.
While it was a meaningful film, 12 Years a Slave's nine Academy nominations and three actual Oscars that were awarded in 2014, was a hard story-telling of American slavery to watch. The ending resolved the plight of one freed man's ominous and horrendous experience to regain his freedom. Slavery lived on how much longer for how many others who had never had a taste of freedom? Nate Parker's 2016 Birth of a Nation, a very different telling of the 1915 abominable original racist screed mentioned earlier about which a link is not being provided i.e., it is that offensive, depicts the efforts of Nat Turner to be free and free others. The early century block buster film was responsible for the resurgence of the KKK in American and some claim heightened national polarization that played some role in the 1921 destruction of Black Wall Street in Greenwood aka Tulsa, Oklahoma. Yet, Birth of A Nation was reviewed as an unimportant work of art and a movie that did not meet expectations. A truth that America does not want to explore about its history of slavery and the brutality that occurred not just to slaves but to some of the slave owners.
Mt. Zion Church on fire in Tulsa Oklahoma in 1921.
And, so here we are back in 2020 at the very end of Black History Month that was originally established in 1926 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the son of formerly enslaved parents, as Black History Week by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. It was held for many decades in the second week of February until 1976 when it became a month full of recognition of the accomplishments of Black people throughout the African diaspora.
In a remarkable feat, Nikole Hannah-Jones, an African American writer for The New York Times, persuaded the renowned paper to put its resources, prestige, and platform behind the audacious endeavor of redefining “the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.”
The 1619 Project is a wide-ranging published editorial that includes essays, images, and reported stories and one poem, that challenge the idea that “slavery was a long time ago." The contributions to the project from a variety of Black essayists and photographers connect today's societal problems and inequalities to the treatment of black people.in America that dates back to the history of enslaved Black people. Persistent and profound racial and economic inequality, is evident throughout the readings. The White House’s aggressive championing of white supremacy and white nationalist views are expanding divisiveness between white and black people and undermining what understanding Black Americans can believe about democracy and it relevance to African Americans. The scholarly essays each expound a reality from then to now concerning slavery's impact on the nation and the consciousness of all Americans, but primarily upon the lives and sensibilities of Black people. It is a lot of reading but reading well worth it. To get you started, each topic and its author are listed below. Scroll thorough if you want to be selective or take the journey from start to finish by clicking here. Not making a claim that all that is written is or will be agreeable to everyone, yet these are perspectives shared that were not necessarily in the mainstream. They are now. I am still reading them; some a second time.
The project is introduced, as follows:
In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed. In the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully.
- Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true. Nikole Hannah Jones
- If you want to understand the brutality of American capitalism you have to start at the plantation. Matthew Desmond
- America holds onto an undemocratic assumption from its founding: that some people deserve more power than others. Jamelle Bouie
- For centuries, black music has been the sound of artistic freedom. No wonder everybody’s always stealing it. Wesley Morris
- I slide my ring finger from Senegal to South Carolina and feel the ocean separate a million families. A poem about the Middle Passage by Clint Smith
- What does a traffic jam in Atlanta have to do with segregation? Quite a lot. Kevin Kruse
- Why doesn’t the United States have universal health care? The answer begins with policies enacted after the Civil War. Jeneen Interlandi
- Slavery gave America a fear of black people and a taste for violent punishment. Both still define our prison system. Bryan Stevenson
- The Sugar that saturates the American diet has a barbaric history as the "white gold" that fueled slavery. Khalil Gibran Muhammad
- A vast wealth gap, driven by segregation, redlining, evictions and exclusion, separates black and white America. Trymaine Lee
- Their ancestors were enslaved by law. Today they are graduates of Howard Law School. Photographs by Djeneba Aduayom; Text by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Wadzanai Mhute
- A re-education is necessary. Most Americans still don’t know the full story of slavery. This is the history you didn’t learn in school. Mary Elliott and Jazmine Hughes
- ‘We are committing educational malpractice’: Why slavery is mistaught — and worse — in American schools. Nikita Stewart
And there is more. Visit the website of the 1619 Project for podcasts, videos and instructional materials.
We offer our contribution from our beloved Brother and Martyr Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz aka Malcolm X in his own words, right to the point: It is after all, Black History Month.
”It’s just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too black, which means it’s too strong. What do you do? You integrate it with cream, you make it weak. But if you pour too much cream in it, you won’t even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it puts you to sleep.” — Malcolm X
In closing, every Black History Month is a time in which the history, lives, challenges and the accomplishments of people from the African diaspora and Africans who are dislocated, in some sense in America, can reflect on a journey that is not over.
May the One God make our difficulties easy for us. "So, verily with every difficulty, there is relief." Holy Qur'an, 94:5
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