Literacy & Art: The Story behind the Quilt
Your feedback is important to us!
After viewing our curriculum units, please take a few minutes to help us understand how the units, which were created by public school teachers, may be useful to others.
Africans: Enslaved in America
The slave trade changed the lives of many western Africans forever. Tribes, who were at war with each other, were encouraged by European traders to capture and sell people as slaves. Families were separated, entire villages were destroyed, and the long cruel journey from freedom to slavery began.
Slave ships, crammed with human cargo, made the six-week voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to America. Many of these people came from royal ancestry in their native land but here on these ships they received treatment unfit for animals. Africans who survived the mid-Atlantic voyage were sold on the slave markets of the United States, Trinidad, Brazil, Cuba, and a host of other countries. In America, this "cargo" was stripped of its humanity and traded on the same trading block as household items, guns, gold, and animals.
Those Africans who survived the lack of food, sunshine, and water during the mid-Atlantic voyage found conditions even worse upon arrival in America. Upon arrival, they were sold to plantation owners who used whips, hanging, and brutal floggings to force them to work their fields. The annals of history record hundred of years of the entrapment, beating, and selling of African people so that plantation owners in America could produce and sell the sugar, cotton, rice, and tobacco grown by their captive laborers. They were required to labor from sun up to sunset in the sun with insufficient food, clothing, or shelter from the hot, blistering sun. Many died from exhaustion or from disease contacted from the Europeans.
In America, Africans were forced to adapt to this hostile environment and to learn new ways to survive and express themselves. Cultural bonds and traditional means of communication were forbidden and all connections to their homeland were forever severed. Slaves were confused and disheartened by the harsh treatment received at the hands of these strange people.
Amateur storytellers and trained narrators in Africa had used tales, proverbs, and riddles to preserve and transmit African literature from one generation to another. The "groit" acted as the repository of the customs, histories, and traditions of the African community and was responsible for the preservation of past events and the re-creation of community traditions. He led the tribe in celebration, appreciation, and reflection of tribal customs. When Africans stepped upon the shores of America these rich oral styles of historical and cultural transmissions emerged with them.
White slave owners in American prized the literary transmission of knowledge and histories, and they frowned upon these Africianisms. They could not understand the customs of these people and banned anything that might lead to rebellions or insurrections. The African had to develop a system of communication that the slave owners could not recognize. Plantation owners however, kept erecting barriers in order to complicate and discourage communication among slaves.
Laws were passed prohibiting slaves from learning to read or write. Slave owners understood that slaves who could read and write would have open channels of communications that could possibly lead to the spreading of discontentment throughout the plantations. The African found themselves facing a "Tower of Babel" experience as people from tribes using different dialects were inter-mixed in an attempt to completely eradicate any chance of communication.
Slave owners used the scriptures to further their hold on the minds of the African slaves. Slaves were taught that they were created inferior and that God expected them to obey the commands and dictates of the superior race the slave owners. The slave heard in these stories, however, the hope of deliverance and incorporated these beliefs into songs of encouragement and as a means of communication.
Loneliness, misery, and fear were constant companions for the African in America. Many slaves found refuge in the stories and songs of the Bible. These songs and stories could be heard resounding through the fields as the slave toiled under the heat of the southern sun. One such person was Harriet Powers who told her story in what was then and is still considered to be a masterpiece, The Bible Quilt.