Black History Reading Blog (2)

Chapter two, of the book Creating Black Americans, was another fascinating read in regards to black history. And, furthermore, this week in my African American History class was equally thrilling.

I chose this painting to represent the middle passage so many African American migrants                                   experienced forcefully during the Atlantic Slave Trade.                                            A painting by the artist Childe Hassam, Seascape-Isle of Shoals, on an oil campus. 1902. (Wikimedia commons)

“Captives Transported” was the title of chapter two. A “minimum of ten million Africans,” writes Painter, were transferred from their homelands to the New World. Yet, astoundingly, this information was widely ignored or unknown to mainstream historians, artists, and educators. It was not until quite recently that the liberal arts faculty started to pay serious scholarly or artistic attention to this importantly significant event.  “In the 1990s activists introduced a new word, Maafa, to describe the black Holocaust of the slave trade, enslavement, and colonization. Maafa is a Kiswahili word meaning “disaster.””(23 emphasis hers).

The book then continues to talk about types of immigration of Africans to the American continent. There were few Africans who settled in the New World by choice. Among these were the twenty or so men and women aboard the Sao Joao Bautista. These men and women were headed for Vera Cruz, Mexico but was attacked by a nearby shipped so they were forced to Virginia. These type of immigration stories were not typical to Africans traveling to the New World. Instead, as we will see, there is a much different, more familiar story we will hear.

A portrait of Ayuba Diallo called Job Ben Solomen with African dress and a Qu’ran around his neck. (Wikimedia Commons)

Ayuba Suleiman Diallo was captured by the European kidnappers and almost escaped because of a wealthy family member who did not receive Ayuba’s message in time. Instead of enjoying freedom like any other normal African at the time, he was shipped across the Atlantic, or middle passage, to serve as a slave. When arriving to the New World, he worked hard for two years. Ayuba, however, was not used to such strenuous work, so he fell ill and, like most slaves, he ran away. Unfortunately, however, he was recaptured. For a time, however, due to his higher education, he served as the Kent County courthouse. He was discovered by an educated man of business named Thomas Bluett. Bluett discovered Ayuba’s educational background, and was impressed by his gentlemanly demeanor. Ayuba was purchased and sent to England where he delighted in the company of royals. He later gained his freedom, learned English, went to his homeland and took up slaves for himself.

Description of a slave ship carved from wood by an anonymous author. (Wikimedia commons)

While Ayuba’s story is significant for historians and interesting to read, his story isn’t like that of Olaudah Equiano, who’s experience was much more typical to the American slave narrative. Equiano, a child at the time he was kidnapped, was taken by European slavers, separated from his family and sister whom he would never see again. After that night, Equiano was sold several times during the his time throughout his life. Of the year 1756, he was one of 50,000 Africans sent across the middle passage. Equiano was fortunate enough to save his money to buy his freedom. He had been enslaved for ten years.

Title page of “The Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African” published by Isaac Knapp of Boston, USA. (Wikimedia Commons)

Reading through the book, I was a bit surprised to read that Africans were just as involved with the enslavement of Africans to their European counterparts. For instance, “Africans had organized and controlled the seizure and delivery of captives to European shippers on the coast.” (Painter 32). I also found the sexism of the day disheartening, although a reality. “Because Africans preferred to keep women captives, they delivered many more men than women for shipment across the Atlantic.”

The section of the chapter regarding art and the Atlantic Slave Trade was both remarkable and unsurprising. Because mainstream historians often ignored or were unaware of the forced mass migration, people in general were not aware of its horrors. Although Equiano’s slave narrative is well known today by many historians, it was likely that this book was circling around the slave plantations filling slaves with hopes and aspirations. When scholarly history about this subject was being discovered by African American artists, only then would they be depicted during the middle of the 20th century, long after the Atlantic Slave Trade was made illegal in 1808.

The chapter concludes that “African Americans became the most Westernized of African-descended people. But their Westernization occurred by default.”

Personal Experience with the Text

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Hand-drawn illustration of a Mormon elder being hanged, labeled “A Charitable hint to Mormons.” (Courtesy of the LDS Church History Library)

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Hand-drawn illustration of a Mormon elder being hanged, labeled “A Charitable hint to Mormons.” Undated note delivered to John Morgan while he served as a missionary in Georgis in the late 1870’s. John Morgan Correspondence, 1863-1881. Courtesy of the Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah. Also found in “The Mormon Menace” by Patrick Mason. pg 138.

Again, I found myself to be moved by the authors recognition of perusal of scholarly material and its influence on American art and thought on black Americans and non-black Americans as a whole. I too, feel misrepresented by the media and people in general for my religious affiliation. Although we too have our own history of prejudice against minority groups (a history that I’m not particularly proud of, I might add), Mormons, too, have often experienced a form of racialization. I can recall my grandmother explaining to me that young children used to touch her head. A surprised look would fill the child’s eyes when they discovered that she didn’t have any horns. When I was younger and attended Wrestling Camp through my high school, I recall some of the other boys teasing me for being a Mormon. My very own grandmother scolded me and my family for joining the Mormon Church and called on friends in an effort to get me to “wake-up.” Still today, one could visit any Christian book store and find a book about Mormons in the “cult” section even though mainstream scholars have written extensive works on Mormon Christianity. My own cousin assumed that I was a “racist” and still to this day asks me when I plan on leaving that horrible “cult.” It was, however, completely understandable that he thought that (and still does think that), since I became familiar with some of the prejudice attitudes from past Church leaders towards black people. But from my perspective, having had black leaders, black friends, and a number of other black people who considered themselves to be Mormon, this idea of a history of prejudice among the Mormon Church was foreign to me. A friend of mine who, just the other day, created a blog where she shared an experience on the street. A mother passes with her children and whispered into the child’s ear,”Cuidado, te va a llevar ella” (Translation: Careful, they are going to take you). One professional anti-Mormon has noted that Ed Decker’s sensationalistic campaigns in the late 1980’s against the Mormons “may have been partially responsible for the continual bombings of Mormon churches by political extremists in Chile.” Thereby acknowledging that prejudice activity against a religious minority places Latter-day Saint missionaries, and Latter-day Saints, at serious physical risk. And, I imagine, the same is true for African Americans all over the united states.

Seeing the betterment of African American position gives me hope for the future of my religious affiliation. Don’t get me wrong, however. In no way shape or form am I arguing that Mormons have had it harder, or even just as hard, as African Americans have had it. Indeed, the amount of racial prejudice that African Americans have endured is a mountain to what the Mormons have endured. But in the effort for better representation of one another, I am reminded of a quote stated by the influential pastor Martin Niemoller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

How can we stick up for our neighbors in an effort to better represent them? Clearly, Africans have been, and still are to a great deal, misrepresented and slandered in the media. Mormons are often misrepresented too. How can we join together in one voice in unison and call for fair representation of our own people? Reaching out in understanding, reading scholarly works, and communicated with those who feel misrepresented, of course, is the first step towards better understanding and mutual respect for one another.

Three Memorable Quotations

“The passage from ordinary life o Africa to enslavement in the Americas consisted of three phases: first, the capture and march to the Atlantic coast; second, the ocean voyage from Africa to the Americas; and third, transfer from the initial American point of disembarkation to the workplace.” (34)

“A staggering number of Africans-ten million and more-were uprooted from their homes and forcibly transported to the New World, to be bought and sold as units of work and chattel property.” (43)

“By the sixteenth century, Africans had organized and controlled the seizure and delivery of captives to European shippers on the coast.” (32)

I chose these quotes, not because it has any interesting relations to myself, but because I found the history to be both shocking and fascinating. The unplanned journey for the average African man or women, amounting to over ten million people, forced into slavery by Europeans and their own government. A tragic story, indeed, but a true one that must be told-and never forgotten.

(About 1,600 words)


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