Before the Africans were kidnapped and brought to America in the 1700’s, many foreign nations with few resources such as Asia, Greece and Northern Europe had tried to invade Africa, but failed.
Africa was known to be a nation of wealthy people whose natural riches were a warm climate, which is conducive to cooperation and sharing, exotic fruits, gold, ivory, diamonds, etc. The Europeans were in awe when they observed such riches. They engaged in all sorts of devious plans in order to obtain such riches for themselves.
Had it not been for the use of guns and trickery, the Europeans would never have been able to take hostage so many black men and women to keep in bondage for centuries.
Such acts have been recorded in history, and are puzzling to many. It has been calculated that slavery in America was not to be compared to slavery elsewhere, since slavery here was the worst.
Actually, in West Africa from which the largest group of Africans were kidnapped, there were three powerful tribal empires namely, Ghana, Mali and Songhay.
The socioeconomic institutions were very complex. “Most of these units had all the appurtenances of the modern state—armies, courts, and internal revenue departments.”
As the anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits has stated, “Not even the kingdoms of Peru and Mexico could mobilize resources and concentrate power more effectively than could these African monarchies, which are more to be compared with Europe of the Middle Ages than referred to the common conception of the primitive state.”
Although Ghana was the closest to the coast line of Africa, the kings, queens, the noblemen and their followers who made up the kingdoms, were safely situated deeply in the inner establishment. The Europeans who invaded Africa were traders, who first met the African fishermen, who lived around the coastline. These Europeans became friendly with the Africans and later settled along the coastline themselves. It was then easy for them to do business with the Africans. These Europeans were Portuguese traders, who did business with the indigenous, in order to learn what the Africans were using for trade. They discovered that the Africans were using gold, ivory, cotton and slaves.
These slaves in Africa were really prisoners of tribal wars. They were captives who later worked for themselves and became a part of the group of tribes who captured them. For example, in the Dahome tribe Dahomean kings were known to choose the sons of slaves to succeed to the throne.
Many slaves were men of accomplishments and learning, and furthermore, African slavery was not based on race. The slavery which existed in Africa in the 1700’s was considered slavery by the Europeans, but in fact, the Africans saw and treated the situation as harboring captives. As early as the 9th century the Ghanaian king was trading slaves to Arab merchants for goods from the Mediterranean and the East.
Prior to the 1700’s blacks were kidnapped from Africa while whites were kidnapped from the streets of London and Bristol. Under this system, thousands of whites who were paupers, ne’erdowells, religious dissenters, waifs (homeless), prisoners, etc., were shipped to the American colonies and sold to the highest bidder.
At that time, racial differences were of no concern to the people who made up three of the races of people placed on this earth.
The American Indians, the Africans, as well as the whites were all referred to as indentured servants. These servants had to work under contract for a certain period of time, after which they were considered to be free. Freedom then, meant that they were later able to purchase land. They also voted, testified in court, and mingled together regardless of race. They even intermarried, as is done today. However, when the Indians, along with the white servants became ill and died under the strain of hard work, the total number of servants was vastly decreased. Such servants were abandoned. Africans were then used as scapegoats.
These were the alternatives: 1. Both whites and blacks could have continued to be indentured servants. 2. Both whites and blacks could have become slaves. 3. The Indians could have been enslaved. 4. A free labor system for blacks and whites, Indians and immigrants could be instituted. The socioeconomic forces selected the blacks because they were the only group of people qualified enough to do the job. Again trickery came into play, and forced slavery resulted. Instead of fair and adequate pay for a job well done, the blacks were forced to use their strengths for confined labor only, rather than for total and successful self development.
Thus the 15th century Portuguese explorers who were the first modern Europeans to reach West Africa by sea, took advantage of the situation and began turning over to the king in Ghana, guns for captives. The slave trade then became a vicious trap. If the African king refused to trade his captives, then his gun supply which he used to defend his country would be discontinued. This was the manner in which the great kingdoms such as the ManiCongo kingdom in Africa were ruined.
At a later date the Europeans became even stronger, since they knew where to find good strong black men whose culture they understood on the surface. The Europeans then abducted all the individuals they could find. The Americans then considered slavery, manpower. No longer were the captured individuals allowed to be independent citizens. They now became a profitable manpower for the new world. The African kings did not expect such a vicious plan.
The black people who were taken from Africa were sent to many different parts of the new world. It takes a bit of time and research to learn how slavery was handled in other parts of the world, but it is always best to learn first about your roots and your home. Our focus here and now, is how slavery in America affected both blacks and whites, the struggles and efforts which occurred, and which should be continued, in order to bring about a brighter and more rewarding future for all our youths.
In order to study this slave system in America, let’s focus our attention on the lives of Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass and Joseph Sengbe (Cinque). The information gathered on these men was obtained from the autobiographies of the first two men, and from the written historical records about Sengbe’s experiences. Sengbe’s historical experiences were taken from old New Haven newspapers and from Yale University magazines. The study of these men will concentrate on those aspects of their lives which will develop self confidence, pride and hope for our youth’s brighter future. The first person to be discussed is Booker T. Washington.
Although Booker T. Washington was a descendant of free Africans who were stolen from their nation, he was brought up in slavery. He was truly ambitious and always wanted to change his life through advancing his knowledge educationally.
Washington was born on a plantation in Franklin County, Virginia in the year 1859. Washington’s mother was a cook at a plantation. He lived with her, and with his brother and sister, in a tiny cabin. The cabin was without glass windows. There were only small holes at the side of the cabin, which allowed light and air to venture. There was a small movable object bearing a resemblance to a door from which they entered and departed when necessary.
The floor was not of wood, but rather of dirt. They had no bed, so they slept on the dirt floor. Said Washington, “Never did my entire family ever sit down to the table together and God’s blessing was asked and the family ate a meal in a civilized manner.”
The children had to obtain their food when and where they could, on their own. In other words, slavery destroyed the black family unit by bringing excruciating pain and torture to black individuals across the land.
For example, Washington’s mother had little time to spend in the training of her children. She was forced to work day and night. She often had to sneak away after 10:00 p.m. to spend time with her son, although it was forbidden. At such an hour, young Washington would either be asleep or drifting off to sleep.
This was one way that a concerned mother could show her love for her offspring. Unfortunately, to avoid being discovered, she had to leave her son before he awoke, so that she could return to work. Washington’s struggle throughout his childhood and during his entire life was one of strife against the hardships and cruelty which slavery inflicted.
Young Washington did not know his father or his father’s relatives. Washington’s father was white, and in those days whites and blacks did not marry. It was against the law. As a result, such a law prevented the white men who had children with black women from caring for their mixed blooded children as they should. Often when they showed favoritism to these children, chastisement would result, as it came from the other whites who saw. Many white fathers of children like Washington had to send such offspring off to live and work within a household where they would be treated considerably better than they would otherwise be treated. These children and their parents were usually separated, as slavery dictated. They were quite miserable and unable to live a life of freedom. Racism which is almost as bad as slavery, carries much more subtle strategies in these days. It is also the infliction of wrong and it demonstrates its share of humiliation and destruction, in areas of growth and advancement on a large scale.
Young Washington observed that slavery was harmful to both the whites and especially the blacks. For example, the Civil War, which would decide whether slavery would continue, brought about great hardships for everyone. Even the whites in the South found it difficult to provide for themselves adequate food or in some cases, minimal food to eat. Due to the good natured slaves who did not harbor hatred toward the whites, but hated in fact what slavery did to them, these whites were being fed by the blacks. The blacks shared with the whites their food, which consisted of corn bread and pork. Foods such as coffee, tea, and sugar were not attainable at that time; therefore, the black people made coffee with parched corn and used a very dark molasses instead of sugar. All these they shared with the whites who were in dire need.
Often the blacks had to assist with the female family members when the male members of the family had to be fighting in the fields. Proper and sincere care went out to these whites from the blacks. Washington recalls knowing of several occurrences where former slave owners had become poor and dependent on their so called slaves. These black men and women supplied them with money and food which they had saved during the war.
This went on for years. This is quite astonishing—to say the least.
As we continue with the hardships which Washington encountered, it is necessary to mention that even as a young child, Washington had to work hard and was not allowed the regular play periods essential for all children. His duties were often too difficult for a child of his age, Washington always had a strong desire to learn. Washington’s mother gave him his first spelling book.
When Washington had saved enough money to attend the Hampton Institute, he began his journey. He had to ride on a stage coach at first and at that time, he ran into a racial problem which he never could erase from his mind. The coach had stopped at an Inn to allow the passengers to rest after a long journey. This was before they had reached the Hampton Institute. He got off the coach with the other passengers and proceeded to the Inn as the other passengers did, but upon entering the Inn he was told by the desk clerk that due to his color, he was not allowed to stay and rest at the Inn. There was no room for him. For hours he walked until he became utterly exhausted. He had no choice but to creep under a portion of a sidewalk and stay there for the night.
That was one of the pinnacles of his humiliation. Washington worked hard to earn his tuition for the Institute, and he taught his brothers to do the same, in order to achieve educationally. He became the Director of the Hampton Institute.
Mr. Washington loved family life. He married three times. Due to the deaths of his first two wives, it was necessary for him to marry again. He had two sons and a daughter. He and his family believed that in order to derive the most value from one’s vocation or career, one should do the type of work one enjoys the most.
After nineteen years of continuous working without ever taking a vacation, friends of Mr. Washington, who felt that he needed one, arranged to give him one as a gift. He and his wife accepted the generous offer, and off they went on a well needed and deserved vacation. Mr. Washington was unaware of his extreme tiredness. During the ten days at sea, he slept for fifteen hours each day.
The Washingtons spent a remarkable vacation which involved receiving superb treatment on the Friesland Ocean Steamer, as well as being warmly accommodated in Europe. Their first hotel faced the public square with refreshing sights of people selling beautiful flowers, going to the cathedral or to church, etc. Riding slowly on a canal boat gave the Washingtons an opportunity of seeing and studying the real people of Holland. The Washingtons remarked about and admired the way in which Holland wasted no land, but rather used their land adequately for the benefit of their people and their animals. For example, they witnessed the vast amount of space which the animals and the people had for themselves. At one time there were four hundred Holstein cows grazing in an intensely enormous green field.
While staying in Holland they visited the battlefield of Waterloo at Brussels, they attended banquets and met an enormous number of dignitaries. Before leaving America, friends had given he and his wife letters of introduction and the natives of the foreign countries were informed of their pending visit. Some of the people whom they met at that time were the American Ambassador, General Horace Parter and his wife, who invited them to a reception at his residence. There he met the United States Supreme Court Justices, Fuller and Harlan. From these people, as well as others, the Washingtons received overall kindness and good will.
While visiting Paris, the Washingtons reacquainted themselves with the American Artist, Mr. Henry C. Tanner, who happened to be black and who was also traveling in Europe during that time. Mr. Tanner was being honored at the Luxembourg Palace in Paris, where his works of art were being displayed.
The Washingtons were truly impressed with the French. They admired their sincerity, the thoroughness in which they went about their daily activities and the fact that they were economical. It was noticed by the Washingtons that the French were merciful and kind to people, as well as to animals.
This was expressed by Mr. Washington himself. The Washingtons who knew the black race of people quite well however, felt that the black race was, nevertheless, ahead of the French by their nature, in such an area.
The Washingtons continued to travel, meeting members of Parliament in London, England and giving speeches which were widely published both in England and in America. The Washingtons also met in England, the well known William Lloyd Garrison, and the Hon. Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists. They met the Duke of Westminster and Mr. Washington was asked to be the principal speaker at the Commencement exercises of the Royal College for the Blind. The exercises were held in the crystal Palace and the residing officer was the late Duke of Westminster, who was at that time considered the richest man in England. Washington and his wife finally met Queen Victoria at the Windsor Castle during a party to which friends had invited them. They had tea with the Queen of England.
Regarding Mr. Washington’s advancement, he was an extremely disadvantaged youngster who moved up from slavery to become a prominent American. Students should learn a great deal from such a man although he no longer lives. Lessons of pride and joy of realizing that no one should give up and be willing to stay enslaved in a pig pen. It should be stressed that life should be devoted to the pursuit of happiness for all. People need people regardless of their origins and their races. This becomes very evident after a serious tornado like the recent one which affected parts of New Haven and Hamden this July, 1989. Members of the Hamden community were seen working together for one cause. It was so evident that people of all races need to interact and bring comfort to one another.
Mr. Booker T. Washington felt that the future of his race depended on whether other races realized that blacks are necessary to the
happiness and wellbeing of the community in which they live.
In my opinion, the blacks have already displayed or convinced
the world of this since they were kidnapped from Africa. Their continuous hard work and sacrifices in America speaks for itself. What
they now need are equal chances, equal education, equal time, void of double standards, plus concessions for centuries of oppression. The daily custom should no longer deal with what the Indians, blacks, whites and orientals are able to do to make this nation greater, but should rather deal with what all the Americans are doing as a group, to improve relations at home, as well as abroad. It appears that this will occur when all Americans begin to work together for human rights for all and for the removal of double standards. As the myths are removed by those who spread the truth, unjust acts will be seen clearly. Hopefully corrections will be made for a major cause.
The second person to be discussed is Frederick Douglass.
Frederick Douglass was an African American who was born in Tuckahoe, Maryland around 1835. This was his estimation, since his parents did not inform him of the correct date, and since the system of slavery caused more confusion and destruction in the minds of even healthy men and women. Douglass’ mother was Harriet Bailey, but similar to Booker T. Washington, Douglass’ father was white, and never made himself known to him.
This was the system of slavery.
As a child Douglass witnessed brutal, cruel acts which slavery inflicted on his people. He was truly affected negatively by this life, because he was often not clothed and was not adequately protected from the raw winter weather. He stated that the cracks on his feet were so deep that a fountain pen could be laid in the gashes.
He worked hard and long, but received no rewards or payment for his labors.
Food for Douglass was the same as food for Washington, and the overall environment was almost the same. Between the ages of seven and eight, Douglass moved away from the plantation on which he had lived. His mother had died, and he was sent to live with a new family—the Auld family. Mrs. Auld was extremely civil and kind to him and even began to teach him to read. She was unfamiliar with the actual practices of slavery and was actually treating him the way any and all humans should justly be treated. When her husband discovered this, however, he was angry and had much to say. Douglass heard Mr. Auld remarking vehemently, that slaves should not be taught to read, but to obey; that reading would cause them to become restless and to feel good about themselves, by desiring to achieve, as other men; and that he desired blacks to remain as slaves. Although Douglass was himself angry to hear this opinion stated so sincerely yet harshly, he began to understand the game of slavery.
He realized that the blacks were only used to do the work which the whites did not want to do for themselves, and that all forms of deceit were being used to oppress blacks.
Douglass used this invaluable insight as the key to the road of knowledge and achievement. He decided that he would learn to read, even if he had to teach himself. He became interested in the schools nearby, although he could not attend them. He inquired from the white students in his neighborhood, who attended such schools, what they were like, and he talked with them about the books they read. As a result, he found an old spelling book and began to study secretly. By age twelve, he was able to read well. He would watch for scraps of newspapers or magazines, hide them and read them when time allowed. He found jobs in the neighborhood and saved his money just to purchase books, which the privileged children had read. One of his favorite books was
a book of speeches about liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Douglass practiced speeches about liberty. He practiced aloud and had fun with them, especially when he came across words, such as, abolitionist. If Douglass came across a word which he did not know, he would check to see if such a word was in the newspaper, since he was able to read the newspaper. He would then understand the meaning in context. Douglass read where some of the slaves who tried to escape to freedom went to the North and some went to Canada, since the Canadian government did not allow slavery. He began to have a strong desire to be free. He finally escaped to the North, since the North had abolished slavery.
Douglass was married to one Anna Murray who was too shy to travel with him during his speeches. When his friends encouraged him to spread the news regarding true slavery as he saw it, she allowed him to go instead of opposing him. While speaking at a rally, thirty men accosted him. Many believed that he had not been a slave. In order to convince them he wrote his autobiography. When the Auld family heard of the book, they demanded his return to the South. Douglass had to immediately escape to England. He was welcomed in England, Scotland and Ireland where large crowds of people gathered to hear his speeches. He did, however, tell them that America was his home, and that although he was so well treated abroad, his desire was to return home. The English collected $700.00 to pay the Auld family for Douglass’ freedom and $2,100.00 to help him with his work.
Two months thereafter, he returned to America as a free man. Douglass became a well known orator himself and made speeches across the North to both white and black audiences. Douglass became very popular indeed.
During the Civil War, Douglass encouraged the government to allow black Americans to fight. He did receive his wish, but when he found out about the double standards, he was extremely angry. The white soldiers were being paid more than the black soldiers for the same job.
The black soldiers at that time received little care and no promotions to better jobs. Douglass immediately went to see President Lincoln about the matter, but soon afterwards President Lincoln died.
Many of Douglass’ friends thought that he would now rest, but he informed them that he was just ready to begin his fight for full citizenship for blacks and the right to vote. He felt that schools and churches along with colleges should open their doors to all people. Some people argued that the black people were not ready for such privileges but Douglass argued that the whites were selfish and not ready for equality.
Douglass and his wife began a printing press. Their daily newspaper was called The North Star. This paper helped all people to fight for equal rights, such as women who could not vote at that time and who could not hold government offices as men could. Of course, the main fight was equal rights for the black race in America. Douglass assisted with the Underground Railroad by making his home a station for the Railroad. After his wife Anna died, he married Helen Pitts. Helen helped her husband with his work when Douglass became the American Ambassador to Haiti. She traveled with him as well.
By this time, Douglass had purchased a twenty room home in Washington, D.C. He now had grandchildren.
His leisure time was devoted to his family, and with entertaining friends. He enjoyed playing the violin, while Helen, his wife, played the piano.
The third person to be discussed is Joseph Sengbe, (Cinque).