In today’s column, I will prove to you with the following three facts that the history of Black folks didn’t begin with slavery and that our history is much, much, much bigger than slavery.
But first, because this article is being published in the Aug. 25 Sunday edition of The Tribune, I must discuss the significance of that date.
The first documented arrival of enslaved Africans in British colonial America was on August 25, 1619- hence, as of August 25, 2019, “American slavery” is exactly 400 years old.
Here’s the background. Near the end of August 1619, as documented in a letter from English settler John Rolfe, a rich tobacco planter, to Sir Edwin Sandys of the Royal Virginia Colony, “… there came a Dutch man of warre [i.e., an English pirate ship] that sold us twenty and odd Negroes” in the Virginia Colony at Old Point Comfort (now Fort Comfort in Hampton).
Following raids in southern Africa by Luis Mendes de Vasconcellos and his Portuguese troops beginning in 1617, two years later he invaded the village of Ndongo in Luanda, Angola and loaded 350 of those Kimbundu-speaking human beings aboard the “slave” ship Sao Joao Bautista before ordering it sent to Vera Cruz, Mexico, a Spanish colony. After setting sail, that ship, while in the Gulf of Mexico, encountered two English pirate ships, one called the Treasurer and the other called the White Lion. Together, they attacked and boarded the Bautista before kidnapping 50-60 of the Angolans. Approximately less than 30 (which is why the archaic “twenty and odd” phrase was used) of the kidnapped 50-60 were loaded onto the White Lion. The other captives were forced onto the Treasurer.
The “twenty and odd Negroes” who arrived aboard the White Lion on August 25 were traded, sold, and forced to labor at plantations along the nearby James River in what would become Charles City. The Treasurer docked at Old Point Comfort a few days later and, as historical records indicate, possibly sold seven-to-nine of those 20-30 human beings and the remaining captives were transported to Bermuda for enslavement in that English colony.
Based on recently disclosed archival evidence publicized by Project 1619, an “organization whose mission is to promote the arrival of the first Africans in America to be brought ashore on English occupied territory at Point Comfort, today’s Fort Monroe in Hampton,” the public finally knows the precise date of the 1619 birth of what became American slavery. Many persons, including most historians, had previously been citing August 20 based on the only records available at that time. But as recently written by Calvin Pearson, founder and president of Project 1619, “On August 25, 1619, the White Lion entered from the Chesapeake Bay and arrived at Point Comfort, an English settlement... at the mouth of the harbor, 20 nautical miles downstream from Jamestown.”
By the way, that August 25, 1619 date is confirmed by primary source documents in “Voyages: The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database,” compiled from 40 years of archival records by the National Endowment for Humanities as well as by other similar documents in the inimitable Archivo General de Indias library and museum in Seville, Andalusia, Spain.
Now that we know the history and beginning of Black enslavement on this land, allow me to provide the following three facts proving that our history didn’t begin with slavery and is much, much, much bigger than slavery:
1. The first human beings (i.e., anatomically modern Homo sapiens) on the planet were in the Nile Valley region of Eastern and Southern Africa at least 200,000 years ago. The “Caucasian/European” didn’t come into existence until around 30,000-40,000 years ago.
2. Even before the emergence of those Black humans 200,000 years ago were hominids in Africa who initiated bipedal locomotion (i.e., walking upright as opposed to walking on all fours). Many reputable anthropologists believe these hominids existed anywhere from five-to-ten million years ago. And it was four million years ago that australopithecine hominids in Southern, Eastern, and Central Africa began making and using tools.
3. Africa is not only the cradle of humankind. It’s also the cradle of civilization. More specifically, it is where writing (i.e., hieroglyphs/medu neter) around 4000 BC, mathematics around 3000 BC, medicine in 2680 BC, calculus in 1820 BC, algebra in 1550 BC, and geometry around 1500 BC were created and/or invented. Furthermore, northern Africa, primarily Egypt/Kemet and Sudan/Kush, is where some of the world’s first great empires originated around 4000 BC.
It’s very important to discuss slavery for two reasons: One- We must “Never forget and always avenge” the 12.5 million Africans stolen from the Motherland and the four million enslaved prior to the Civil War. Two- Slavery explains why Black people are at the bottom of every economic, educational, and social category in America today because from slavery came the Redemption Era, the Black Codes, sharecropping, convict leasing, peonage labor, Jim Crow, gerrymandering, redlining, mis-education, unemployment, mass incarceration, etc.
But it’s even more important to realize that the history of Black folks didn’t begin with slavery and that our grand and glorious history is much, much, much bigger than slavery.