During this season of reflection, please remember that contrary to what you may believe or have been taught, the history of the Africans in America does not begin with slavery. In addition, the continent of Africa is not the “dark continent” and Africans are not pagans or heathens. Africans are not a people without a god, a culture, knowledge, intelligence or an intellectual heritage.
In fact, Africa is known as the “Cradle of Civilization” because it is the birthplace of humankind and humanity. African people gave birth to all others on this planet; evidence of this has been found in Ethiopia with the discovery of the remains of Dinkenesh, “you are beautiful” or “you are wonderful” as she is known in the Ethiopian language (Amharic). These human bones date back some 4.4 million years.
The concept of race is not “natural” or “real.” It was created by Europeans for the justification of slavery: To be Black meant to be non-human, enslaved; to be White meant to be free and human. The Bible was used as evidence that the God-given fate of Black people was to be slaves of the Europeans.
Originally called the “Varna system,” the concept of race dates to about 2300 B.C.E. First instituted by Europeans in India, the system entailed a social hierarchy whereby the darker-skinned people were deemed “untouchable” and belonged to the lowest and most detested class. It was this concept on which the American slave system was built and allowed to flourish for 400 years.
The following is a chronology of some important events in the history of Africans in America and throughout the African world. This chronology is in no way complete or exhaustive. It has been created simply to inspire you to investigate the ways in which history has shaped our collective disconnected sense of self. The more you know about your history and culture, the better care you give to yourself, your children, and your people.
1523: First African captives to be taken directly across the Atlantic and sold into slavery.
1619: First 17 Africans to be documented in the New World. Of them, Isabella and Antoney are the most commonly known; in 1632, this couple gave birth to the first African child born in the colonies. This child’s name was William, and he was baptized by the Church of England.
1644: Some 18 years after their arrival, the “Dutch Negroes,” as they were called, filed a petition for freedom — the first Black protest in America.
1660: Virginia passes a law forbidding interracial marriage between Blacks and Whites in order to prevent intermarriage.
1705: Law passes declaring all Negroes and mulatto “slaves” to be real estate. This law was passed so that any slave owner could pass slaves along through his family like property, as well as use them to repay debt.
1843: Concept of Jim Crow emerges out of minstrel shows in which White males with black-painted faces became popular. Eventually, Thomas “Dirty Rice” Dartmouth creates a show in which he mimics an African American elder. His show becomes popular in New York, and his character becomes known as Jim Crow.
1849: Harriet Tubman escapes north to begin her legacy as the conductor of the Underground Railroad that started in 1838. She makes 19 trips and frees upwards of 300 people, including her own parents in 1857.
1863: Emancipation Proclamation passed by Abraham Lincoln to free all enslaved people.
1875: Civil Rights Act gives Blacks equal rights to public accommodations.
1964: Civil Rights Act passed and was the most comprehensive law in support of equal rights for Blacks; it sought to protect Blacks against discrimination and segregation. It established the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and authorized financial aid to assist communities in the desegregation of schools.
Over a period lasting more than 400 years, at least 12 million Africans were sold into slavery. However, some reports say that the slave trade from Africa uprooted as many as 20 million people from their homes. Senegal, Guinea, Ghana, Benin and Angola, as well as the Niger Delta states, became major sources of wealth for Europeans engaged in trafficking human flesh.
The west coast of Africa became known among Europeans as the “Slave Coast” due to the innumerable Africans extracted from that region, including Yoruba, Ibo, Efik, Krus, Fanti, Ashanti, Dahomey, Bini (Edo) and Senegal to name a few.
During this season of deep reflection and praise, giving thanks, mourning our losses, and connecting to the birth of our favorite teachers who bring miraculous love and peace, let us also celebrate life and living for Black survivors of this awful terror.
Thank you, community, for joining the movement of teaching our own heritage and our history.
Atum Azzahir is the elder and founder of the Cultural Wellness Center in Minneapolis. Those interested in more information are invited to contact Atum or Akhmiri @ppcwc.org or call 612-721-5745.