I remember the first day of kindergarten I was five years old, diminutive and socially awkward. I had no friends, but this was a new setting.
I adapt effortlessly to situations although I can be shy at first, I tend to make the first move if the other person has not done so already. My mother had just left, and I was standing in the front of the class by myself. I made it just in time for playtime. In my head, I was redundantly rationalizing, “what if no one likes me?” I tend to (always) overthink in certain (every) situation, that time was no different. Someone ended up coming to me; I’ll never forget the day I made a new friend, arguably my only but none the less. Her name was Elizabeth; she lured me in with a rhetorical question, “Do you want to play with me?” of course I did, she took my hand. The rest is history.
Now you are probably wondering “Why did Chloe just tell me that?” Well, when I was doing research on Women of Colour I came upon a research paper by Tiffany Francois, a student at High Point University. The Paper titled “How the Portrayal of Black Women has shifted from Slavery times to Blaxploitation films in American Society”. A fascinating piece it was, as I started to read the paper, it brought back my love for the history of American slavery. The reason I shared that story is because if American slavery was still around I do not think I would have met Elizabeth or my biggest problem would not have been rationalizing “what if no one likes me?” I did not learn about American slavery until middle school if I did anytime before then it was not that significant to remember. Even when they taught us about American slavery, it was watered down and made minuscule to how bad it was.
I do recall learning about the Holocaust and how significant it was. Unlike American slavery they ostracised the teaching of it. Labeled inhumane and a tragedy in history till this day. I felt sympathy for Jewish people because I saw what they went through and how bad the circumstances were. I thought “wow nobody could have gone through anything as horrific as this”, I was wrong. I was having a debate with someone about the Holocaust, and how it was terrible and what obstacles Jewish people had to overcome. Then they said something that changed me from that point on. “You are black,” they said, “If anything black people went through hell and back and still you are viewed as disheartened in society. Plus, you have to work harder than the next just to be short of good enough.”
After that, I took it upon myself to learn more about American slavery and segregation. I was disgusted and humiliated. I cried a few times and unlike the Holocaust I felt empathy and sadness all wrapped in one. I experienced what it felt like to be deprived of the only history my people know. More importantly the history only some of my people know. I watched a four-part documentary titled “A Journey Through Slavery”, in these videos it mentioned the foundation of this article and how informational I want this to be. Open your eyes and learn something.
In the video Terrible Transformation, the one of opening lines starts off with Historian Deborah Gray White saying, “slavery is not a southern institution it is an American institution.” Those words stuck with me because if you think about it, people had slaves throughout history but most of the time slaves were people of your background. Plus they were released in a reasonable amount of time but it took Americans four-hundred years to emancipate African “Americans”. The Africans at first were just like the regular Englishmen “purchased as ‘servants’ for a limited amount of years” with contracts stating the start and finish of their time as a servant. Ironically “colony builders initially were going to rely almost exclusively on white indigent servants as a labor force to cultivate crops that were being grown.”(Thelma Foote, Historian) In 1641, Massachusets was the first state to recognize and legalize slavery and only isolated “Africans” in this category. The mission to capture Africans and sell them into slavery became a very high demanding job. Different tribes would go to war, and the winning tribe would sell the losing one. People even started kidnapping children, adults and any form of African human being that could be profitable in this slave exchange. One child, in particular, was kidnapped. Olaudah Equiano was a SouthEastern Nigerian, who resided in Igboland, he was kidnapped at age eleven. Like Olaudah, more than 20 million people were sold into slavery, and most would stay slaves until they died.
The Revolution video focuses on how Africans and Englishmen were both trying to gain their freedom. Englishmen from Britain and Africans from Englishmen. At this point, religion was a big factor in the Black community. It was the one fundamental next to family that slaves instilled in their children. Once more and more people became familiar with the Bible and were able to read they understood that what Englishmen were doing was not just at all. American leaders started comparing themselves to being slaves of Britan while the true slaves themselves were displeased. Considering these white men were not treated nearly as bad as they were. The video focuses on one man who was brought to America at a young age; Venture Smith. Because Venture grew outstandingly tall and brolic in size, he was seen as a threat to white slave owners. He was sold continuously because he often had a reputation for defending himself. After more than three slave masters, Venture bought his way out of slavery at the age of thirty-one. Although there were few free black men and women, they had strict rules they had to live by. They had a curfew of nine pm, they were not allowed to let other blacks or Native Indian tribe members into their homes, and they were not allowed to walk around with canes nor sticks unless they could prove they needed it. There was also a strong chance they could be kidnapped and sold back into slavery.
The video Brotherly Love concentrates how America has gained their freedom, yet “the most conspicuous contradiction to [freedom] was slavery.” Slavery was such an important piece of the industrialization in America; the Constitution prohibited any vote to end slavery. Of course in 1808 that changed. Thomas Jefferson was aware that slavery was unequal and very wrong but much like other Englishmen the free labor was hard to oblige. Jefferson often contradicted himself and made the excuse that the reason slavery was okay is due to the fact Africans and their “descendants” (primates) were “biologically inferior” to the white man. Thus making them unstable to live in a free world, much less society. Contrary to many beliefs slaves were on an uprise. They were aware of what was happening to them and were entirely fed up. Many slaves would revolt and try to imitate the outbreak of slaves attacking their masters in Saint-Domingue, now the Independent country of Haiti. Haitian governer Toussaint Louverture declared an abolishment of slavery in Saint-Domingue. He succeeds and was on the path to gain Haiti its independence but due to his deportation to jail in France, he was unable to fulfil his dream. He later died in France leaving his lieutenant, Jean-Jacques Dessalines to finish the fight for independence. A year after on January first, 1804, Haiti was independent. Americans leaders were livid with the success of Haiti and if Haiti was not such a profitable trade country America would have cut them off completely. The independence of Haiti was a pinnacle of black freedom.
The Judgement Day video depicts America towards the ending of slavery. Slavery was a well-invested capital in America it was said that “in 1830 two million African Americans were enslaved in the United States and worth over a billion dollars to their owners”, this was made possible because of the cotton being produced and picked. Margret Washington states that “ it goes to show that African American enslavement is a part of the progress of America..white America.” In retrospect, Eric Foner compares what America and slaves were to cotton is what “Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are to oil.” In the process of expanding America then president, Andrew Jackson, seized twenty-five million acres of ancestral land that belonged to inhabiting Indian tribes. This was made so that they could expand westward to make room for more cotton plantations. The video then gives background on the notorious and wealthy plantation, Butler Island. Butler Island was home to seven-hundred and thirty slaves who grew sea cotton. The owner of this plantation was Pierce Butler. He inherited it from his grandfather, signer of the Declaration of Independence, Major Peirce Butler. Historian, James O. Horton brings up a very controversial point. He says although slavery had a very significant effect on African Americans “white children were also traumatized. Their surrogate mothers would become their property, their best friends whom they grew up with would become their property.” This is fascinating if you think about it because of the psychological trauma that both parties were facing during this time. Towards the ending of slavery two-hundred thousand abolitionists, blacks and whites came together, sending a galore of petitions demanding the abolishment of slavery. They boycotted slave-grown rice, sugar and cotton.The civil war ended slavery. Over six-hundred thousand people died fighting for slavery to end. New amendments to the constitution were promised that no American would be denied citizenship by race. Four million enslaved Americans were set free in 1865.
At the beginning of the series, it was quoted that when they first started to enslave Africans Thomas Jefferson wrote “if there is a just God, we are going to pay for this.” That stood out to me. Nearly four hundred years later the people who were enslaved were set free. These documentaries taught me something as I was watching them, coming from a home with two immigrant parents one of them, my father, being Haitian and my mother Jamaican. It made me realize I have so much more culture than I could imagine. While I was doing research for this article, I called my dad and was basically telling him what I was writing about. He was happy considering he is Haitian, and Haitians had a very influential role in why African-Americans became free. He brought up Christopher Columbus and how he was honestly just trying to make a new life for the prisoners in Spain. He brought them to America, and they found the Native Indians. He said, “Christopher Columbus left and when he did that is when the prisoners took the land and raped the women. Now I do not know if that is what he intended to do, but it happened. We cannot change history. We can only learn from it.” That made me think; black people suffered for so long. Why? We may never know but all the odds are against us and not everything is in our favor. We sit here and fight against one another and wonder why were are losing. Every ethnic group works as a unit. They succeed together, win together and lose together. Maybe when we do this we will be the group that everyone was so envious to enslave, maybe we will see the power in us everyone saw but we still cannot see. “If we pull in life against each other, we will fail, but if we pull together, we will succeed.” (Venture Smith)
By Chloe Ridore