themcglynn.com

17 Jan

The 1619 Project examines the legacy of slavery in America.

The 1619 Project examines the legacy of slavery in America.

Four hundred years after enslaved Africans were first brought to Virginia, most Americans still don’t know the full story of slavery.

The McGlynn:

On the first page of The Slave Route Project you will find this quote:

‘We acknowledge that slavery and the slave trade, including the transatlantic slave trade, were appalling tragedies in the history of humanity not only because of their abhorrent barbarism but also in terms of their magnitude, organized nature and especially their negation of the essence of the victims, and further acknowledge that slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity, Declaration of the World Conference against Racism (Durban, 2001, Paragraph 13).

This remarkable work tells a transparent and truthful history of the transatlantic slave trade. It brings to light the memory, shared history and heritage of slavery. And today, in the Age of Trump the Dump,  it is indeed needed.

And, for me, it brings a hope for a culture of peace and a much needed intercultural dialogue.

 

The broadside pictured above advertised a slave auction at the St. Louis Hotel in New Orleans on March 25, 1858. Eighteen people were for sale, including a family of six whose youngest child was 1. The artifact is part of the collection of The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Its curator of American Slavery, Mary Elliott, cowrote the history of slavery below — told primarily through objects in the museum’s collection.

Sometime in 1619, a Portuguese slave ship, the São João Bautista, traveled across the Atlantic Ocean with a hull filled with human cargo: captive Africans from Angola, in southwestern Africa. The men, women and children, most likely from the kingdoms of Ndongo and Kongo, endured the horrific journey, bound for a life of enslavement in Mexico. Almost half the captives had died by the time the ship was seized by two English pirate ships; the remaining Africans were taken to Point Comfort, a port near Jamestown, the capital of the English colony of Virginia, which the Virginia Company of London had established 12 years earlier. The colonist John Rolfe wrote to Sir Edwin Sandys, of the Virginia Company, that in August 1619, a “Dutch man of war” arrived in the colony and “brought not anything but 20 and odd Negroes, which the governor and cape merchant bought for victuals.” The Africans were most likely put to work in the tobacco fields that had recently been established in the area.

[Read our essay on why American schools can’t teach slavery right.]

Forced labor was not uncommon — Africans and Europeans had been trading goods and people across the Mediterranean for centuries — but enslavement had not been based on race. The trans-Atlantic slave trade, which began as early as the 15th century, introduced a system of slavery that was commercialized, racialized and inherited. Enslaved people were seen not as people at all but as commodities to be bought, sold and exploited. Though people of African descent — free and enslaved — were present in North America as early as the 1500s, the sale of the “20 and odd” African people set the course for what would become slavery in the United States.

In the 15th century, the Roman Catholic Church divided the world in half, granting Portugal a monopoly on trade in West Africa and Spain the right to colonize the New World in its quest for land and gold. Pope Nicholas V buoyed Portuguese efforts and issued the Romanus Pontifex of 1455, which affirmed Portugal’s exclusive rights to territories it claimed along the West African coast and the trade from those areas. It granted the right to invade, plunder and “reduce their persons to perpetual slavery.” Queen Isabella invested in Christopher Columbus’s exploration to increase her wealth and ultimately rejected the enslavement of Native Americans, claiming that they were Spanish subjects. Spain established an asiento, or contract, that authorized the direct shipment of captive Africans for trade as human commodities in the Spanish colonies in the Americas. Eventually other European nation-states — the Netherlands, France, Denmark and England — seeking similar economic and geopolitical power joined in the trade, exchanging goods and people with leaders along the West African coast, who ran self-sustaining societies known for their mineral-rich land and wealth in gold and other trade goods. They competed to secure the asiento and colonize the New World. With these efforts, a new form of slavery came into being. It was endorsed by the European nation-states and based on race, and it resulted in the largest forced migration in the world: Some 12.5 million men, women and children of African descent were forced into the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The sale of their bodies and the product of their labor brought the Atlantic world into being, including colonial North America. In the colonies, status began to be defined by race and class, and whether by custom, case law or statute, freedom was limited to maintain the enterprise of slavery and ensure power.

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