By Rahim Islam
When I look at the timeline of Black people in America beginning in the early 1600’s with the first group of Africans sold into slavery through the tortuous journey that would result in the emancipation in 1865, so much took place. Missing from the discussion and most of the history taught in our schools is the resistance movement undertaken by Blacks.
Our ancestors, Blacks, while enduring tremendous terrorism unleashed, in many ways and by many methods both physically and psychologically, by their captives, never gave up and continued to fight the unjust and inhuman, barbaric system of slavery.
Brothers and sisters, this isn’t hype – you must come to know how brutal this institution of slavery was on our people.
Given how overwhelmed Blacks were being undermanned and completely under-resource, it is my belief, when we come to know our history, we begin to love, respect, and honor the legacy of our ancestors.
If you search hard enough you can see documented efforts of Black resistance that either point directly to an incident where Blacks fought back with some level of success or you see the results of their actions which weakened the system of slavery.
In fact, the resistance by Blacks was so successful that in 1712, the infamous Willie Lynch spoke to a group of white slave owners about the need for a new approach to slavery.
Basically, he told them that their barbaric methods, no matter how brutal, would not “break” the Black slave, but would only result in the loss of more product (i.e. slaves, property, crops, etc.).
If you adhere to what I know, you have to “make” a slave which means that you have to dismantle Blacks core value system and use every difference they have to create distrust amongst each of them (i.e. skin color, age, male and female, servants and overseers, etc.).
In addition, the slave owners were instructed to pay special attention to the Black woman and to get her, and ultimately her children, to trust the slave owner for their very survival and to distrust (not depend) on the Black man.
In an effort to protect her children, the mother was used to reinforce the supremacy of the slave owner and the inferiority of the Black man.
Willie Lynch stated that, if you do it right, it could last a 1,000 years.
While the tactics of Willie Lynch seemed to work, it still didn’t stop the resistance undertaken by both enslaved and free Blacks not only to abolish the institution of slavery but to challenge the hundreds of laws enacted by nearly every state in the Union that legalized slavery and the inferior treatment of Blacks.
These laws governed: The selling of Blacks and their offspring; the ownership of Blacks; the response to runaway slaves; the treatment of slaves as property, the denial of slaves to be able to read and write; the denial of slaves to marry; and laws to protect slave owners when they killed their slaves without cause.
Many Black babies that were fathered by white slave owners were killed by their wives because they couldn’t endure the pain of seeing the infidelity of their husbands on everyday basis.
When indicted by the courts, most were acquitted under the laws that defined slaves as property.
America and other countries prospered so much economically at levels never seen before in world history.
In 1808, after nearly 200 years of the institution of slavery, the Northwest Territory made slavery illegal and shortly thereafter the U.S. Constitution mandated that Congress couldn’t ban slavery until 1808. Why do I refer to slavery as an American Institution?
An institution is any structure or mechanism of social order governing the behavior of a people.
The term “institution” is commonly applied to customs and behavior patterns important to a society, as well as to particular formal organizations of government and public services.
Institutions are also a central concern for law, the formal mechanism for political rule-making and enforcement.
Based on this definition, America has had no bigger institution being nearly 300 years old.
There are a number of key dates that have altered the institution of slavery in America.
While some might have had a positive intent it ultimately would become a negative consequence. In 1808 Congress banned the importation of Africans to be sold into slavery nearly halting the international trading of Blacks as slaves.
American capitalist responded to protect their massive profits by, seems impossible, creating an even worst form of slavery. With nearly 1 million Blacks enslaved counted at that time, the number of enslaved Blacks increased to 4 million by 1860.
It was during this time period that the Black families were absolutely disrupted and their children became more of a traded commodity because Blacks could no longer be imported and enslaved. Also during this period, slavery spread from the string of colonies along the Eastern Seaboard to nine new states and reached more than halfway across the American continent into Texas.
What appeared like a good thing (banning importation of slaves) was catastrophic for the enslaved Blacks.
We all have been taught in American history that in 1861 the Confederacy was founded when the deep South seceded, and the Civil War began.
In 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the Confederate states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
How do you think these enslaved Black people were able to challenge this massive system and win? Blacks didn’t have CNN, MSNBC.
Blacks didn’t have the international human rights organizations that we have today fighting on our behalf.
Blacks didn’t have the internet, cell phones, and 24 hour cable TV.
Do you believe that this was done by the kindness of the slave owner’s heart? Absolutely NOT!
It was done because of the glorious strengths of our ancestors along with many Whites who felt obligated to challenge this most racist and horrific institution.
Ancestors like Nat Turner, an enslaved Black preacher that led the most significant slave uprising in American history.
He and his band of followers launched a short, bloody, rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia. The militia quelled the rebellion, and Turner was eventually hanged.
As a consequence, Virginia instituted much stricter slave laws.
William Lloyd Garrison began publishing the Liberator, a weekly paper that advocated the complete abolition of slavery.
He became one of the most famous figures in the abolitionist movement.
In 1839, 53 African slaves on board the slave ship the Amistad revolted against their captors, killing all but the ship’s navigator, who sailed them to Long Island, N.Y., instead of their intended destination, Africa.
Joseph Cinqué was the group’s leader. The slaves aboard the ship became unwitting symbols for the antislavery movement in pre-Civil War United States.
After several trials in which local and federal courts argued that the slaves were taken as kidnap victims rather than merchandise, the slaves were acquitted.
The former slaves aboard the Spanish vessel Amistad secured passage home to Africa with the help of sympathetic missionary societies in 1842.
I will continue to speak on a regular basis, so get used to it, about the many issues we face as Black people, specifically our history in this country during 300 years of enslavement.
Our history really needs to be examined from so many perspectives as more than an event of the past like a war, a game, an incident.
American slavery was an American Institution that built its economic prowess on the backs of Blacks through barbaric and chattel slavery.
This came at a great cost to Black people that we continue to suffer from today.
In addition to understanding the post-traumatic stress syndrome that currently impacts our behaviors, beliefs, insecurities, and our total outlook on life, we must understand the actions (resistance) and the slave owner’s reaction to any of the gains achieved by the enslaved Blacks including Jim Crow, the KKK, the drug epidemic, and ultimately the mass incarceration of our Black men under the war on crime (Slavery by Another Name).
I do this not to romanticize about our problems or to put our people down. I constantly speak our issues for several reasons, including but not limited to the following:
Truth – Speak the Truth as to how bad things really are. Being truthful is always the best policy even if it’s scary and/or alarming.
A myth perpetrated by the media (this could be true but I don’t believe it) is that Black people “can’t handle the truth.”
Root – Discuss not just the fruit (symptoms), but the root (causes). We continue to isolate the outcomes and develop strategies to address them; rarely do we address the real causes of the problems.
Why? Because this would require a more heavier and weighty response.
Multiple Risk Factors – Today, Blacks have “multiple risk factors” which requires a different approach.
Most of our issues are interconnected (i.e. employment and poverty, etc.) and the solution will require a comprehensive approach in addition to examining both the “inputs” and just the “outputs.”
Legacy of Slavery – Every issue we face as a people can be traced back to our beginnings in this country; in our inability to embrace, teach, and celebrate our past.
In addition to the structural challenges we face, the post-traumatic stress syndrome has been much more damaging than we realize and until we can embrace this it will be hard to prosper in America.
A key psychological chain that remains with Blacks today is the belief of Black inferiority and Black self-hate which was constantly reinforced through the institution of slavery and currently magnified by our current reality.
Our fight is not externally but it’s internally amongst ourselves.
I continue to say that it’s not what they’re doing to us, it’s what we’re not doing – what we’re not doing is fighting back. Just like every gain made during our history in this country, there has been a fight to not only roll the gains back, but not allow us to build further on those gains. While we are not still in physical chains, as a people, were in a terrible funk.
Today, in spite of the overwhelming and disproportionate level of disparities that Blacks in America face, nearly every gain won during the Civil Rights era is being reversed.
The slavery we face today is different than what our ancestors dealt with, but just as lethal and we must FIGHT BACK AGAINST THE BELIEF IN BLACK INFERIORITY AND BLACK SELF HATE – NO EXCUSES!!!!!