We are connected to a violent American past that few people want to remember: the transatlantic slave trade. America chooses not to atone for slavery or grapple with the lingering question of reparations in the form of land, money, and international healing. When American political, social, and educational leaders disavow the impact of slavery and the depth of contributions African Americans continue to make, black people remain untethered from both Africa and America, and therefore open to manipulation, exploitation, and extinction.
We are connected to the families and villages in Africa who were robbed of skilled laborers and leaders. WE are the descendants of enslaved men and women who were forced by Europeans and other Africans to march across the African continent until they arrived at the Gold Coast (Ghana). First, they were stripped of their humanity and then reduced to a commodity. Slavers didn’t care about their educational status, skills, or the loved ones who would spend centuries mourning them.
For months, the captives resided in dark dungeons overflowing with filth and despair until the ships were filled and ready for the voyage to the Americas. Approximately 15 percent died or threw themselves overboard due to active rebellion to the inhumane conditions, shackles and rotten food. Six million or more enslaved Africans survived the voyages.
We are connected to the men, women, AND children forced to stand on the original slave block in Virginia in 1619 as well as all those who were sold in Charleston, SC during the two hundred plus years of the active slave trade. After being stripped of their native languages and traditions, degraded and dehumanized, they became chattel to create wealth under the total control of the slave master. The clergy used Christianity to justify slavery, preaching that slavery was a progressive institution designed by God to affect the Christianization of Africans. That was a demonic justification for their greed and arrogance.
We are connected to the freedmen whenever they heard Lincoln had freed the slaves (1863 or 1865) — only to learn freedom was an empty phrase designed to save the Union. The promised forty acres never materialized. Slavery morphed into sharecropping and servitude for millions of former enslaved people who were given “freedom” without money, a place to live, or resources to move beyond the plantation owners who had controlled their livelihood through food, clothing and shelter. The government created the Freedman’s Bureau, to assist the “free people”, yet failed to provide the economic resources or protections from the white plantation owners who wanted their chattel returned.
WE ARE CONNECTED to the black men whose marginalized labor developed America until it became a world power. Families banded together and they purchased land, founded towns, and determined to build a stronger fabric for themselves and their descendants. When they were denied access to the white schools and institutions of higher learning, Black schools and colleges sprung up across the south and other parts of the country to educate teachers, doctors, lawyers, and tradespeople.
We are connected by the Civil Rights struggle. Segregationists created laws to restrict access to housing, employment, and education. Plessy v. Ferguson, a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation laws for public facilities– “separate but equal.” It was only fifty-five years ago President Johnson, after confrontations with Martin Luther King and other Civil Rights leaders, signed legislation outlawing segregation in the United States. Consider the disparities in residences, employment, education—even incarceration and negative health indicators that remain. There are still battles to fight and victories to win, which brings us to 2019.
We are connected by the demand for reparations. To those of you who say get over it, I see you squabbling with a grocery store clerk about outdated coupons and demanding to see the manager over an expired fifty-cent coupon. Regardless of those who would turn back the clocks to deny African Americans basic human rights and dignity, who trample hard-won gains and spout a revisionist version of slavery, reconstruction, and Civil Rights, I’ve come too far to turn around. We are connected by the victory of the human spirit.
When you turn on your lights, say thank you to Lewis Latimer. Edison invented the light bulb. A black man, Latimer, developed encasing for the filament, giving it a longer life, making it less expensive and more efficient for home and street use. If nothing else resonates with you, remember we are connected by the victory of the human spirit to continually press forward despite obstacles.
-Joyce A. Brown
Joyce Brown is a motivational speaker and author who uses her creative energy to give voice and meaning to the challenges women face in all walks of life. She grew up in Rockford, Illinois in a household of strong women. She graduated from Bradley University with a B.S. and M.A. Her professional career expanded her reach into Peoria, Illinois; and Battle Creek, Michigan. Joyce obtained a PhD from Western Michigan University.
She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and has served as a direct services worker, executive director, program director for a major foundation, and an entrepreneur. Joyce has experienced many uplifting moments as a professional and as a dedicated parent and strives to bring those events and lessons to life through her characters in the contemporary fiction novels she pens.
Image: Raise Up, a sculpture by Hank Willis Thomas, on the grounds of the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., April 20, 2018. Dedicated to the victims of American white supremacy.