What the Year 1619 Means to Me


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Lithogram diagram of a slave ship hold. Image by Andrew Hull Foote, via Wikimedia Commons.

I have very mixed feelings about the 400th anniversary of the arrival of African slaves, my ancestors, to Jamestown, Virginia. It is because I know well American history, and it is because while a visiting scholar at James Madison University in Virginia earlier this year, I decided to make my first trip to Jamestown. I know what I had been taught from grade through high school about this momentous date. I barely was taught anything else about slavery, how my ancestors had been stolen from Africa, stripped of their names, languages, cultures, identities.

But I knew, minimally, they were not “indentured servants,” as there was never a choice to not be a slave. I knew that from 1619 to 1865, 246 long and soul-stripping years, they were beaten, raped, terrorized, reduced to human property, and killed as they, these profoundly wounded persons, literally built the economic infrastructure of America for free.

As I walked through that Jamestown settlement, I could feel the energy of those first slaves. I struggled to read the history the way it was told in parts, as if slavery was not so bad. Yes it was so bad, as we still deal with the legacy of it in America. Many of the founding fathers were slave owners even as they were declaring all were created equal.

Several of the early presidents of the United States participated in slavery. Much of what slaves were taught continue to trigger Blacks, from divisive conflicts around skin color, to our diets, born of necessity and desperation on those plantations, which wreak havoc on our health.

Frederick Warren
9/7/2019 12:14:14 AM

Born to white privilege, I want to hear and see more from my black brights and sisters

Thomas Prentice
9/6/2019 2:07:46 PM

How we think about the term 'enslaved' matters Tell that to Dr. Nell Irvin Painter who seems to think that "thinking" about the word "enslaved" matters because it turns the 1619 kidnapped Africans into indentured servants ... from the UK Guardian: 400 years ago, the first Africans who came to America were not ‘enslaved’, they were indentured – and this makes a crucial difference when we think about the meanings of our past https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/aug/14/slavery-in-america-1619-first-ships-jamestown

8/27/2019 1:12:38 AM

Thank you for referring to the book by Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, They Came Before Columbus, which I only just recently stumbled upon, literally by accident, during a visit to the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. Published in 1976, it has been kept confidential for too long. It should be required reading for every high-school student in America.

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