The last few days of 2006 are marked by the execution of Saddam Hussein on the day of Eid, the last day of Islam's Ramadan. "Eid is a time to come together as a community and to renew friendship and family ties. This is a time for peace for all Muslims in the world to devote to prayers and mutual well-being." Interestingly, Britain will commemorate 200 years since the abolition of slavery in July 2007. Both these events remind me of the cry of the androids in the American TV series, Lost in Space; "Crush, Kill, Destroy".
I submit an 'internal memo' passed to me a few months ago. I'm biased because I was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone - the first country to be 'freed' from slavery. Three hundred years of free labour ending in the deaths of 10 million Africans (an 'African Holocaust'?) was a pretty good headstart for the British & American economies. With air and sea attacks planned for Iran in 2007, the atrocities of 9/11, and the 'Allied' response with Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, renditions, torture, depleted uranium, and the continuing prosecution of "the war on terror", you decide if this (Crush, Kill, Destroy) mentality still exists in the British and American psyche.
The article ends with; "Specifically, it was the church's missionary arm, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, whose governing board included the Regius Professors of Divinity at Oxford and Cambridge and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The estate's brand, burned onto the chests of African people with a red-hot iron, was 'SOCIETY'. Whilst the average life span of a male slave on plantations elsewhere could be up to nine years, the average at Codrington was just over three. The Church literally worked people to death."
The Slave Trade or ‘Maafa’ - In the
The term "Maafa" ( a kiswahili word for "disaster") is the term used by increasingly by people of African descent to reclaim their right to tell of their own history of abolition and experience of enslavement and legacy. Black audiences in particular feel that the story of slavery has been told by white historians with a vested interest in ramping up the role of the English in Abolition and downplaying the role of the English in the transatlantic slave trade.
1441 - The Portuguese Trade
In 1441 Portuguese sailors started to explore and undertake raids on the coast of West Africa and to ship enslaved Africans to Europe. The Portuguese also enslaved African people on sugar plantations that they established on islands off the coast of West Africa. At the same time they had started up colonies developments in the Americas, and needed labour to work on plantations there.
1492 The Pope sanctions
On 8 January, 1455, Pope Nicholas V in his Papal Bull or Charter titled "Romanus Pontifex" authorized the Portuguese "to subject to servitude all infidel peoples." In other words, Roman Catholic Church legalized, authorized and sanctioned the European Slave Trade and the enslavement of African people.
1492 The Europeans join the slave
Years later in 1492 the Italian adventurer Christopher Columbus made the first of his visits to the Caribbean, arriving somewhere near the Bahamas. His aim was to gain wealth for himself and his patrons, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain. In 1518 the first slaves were dispatched across the Atlantic.
Soon Britain, the Netherlands and France were competing with Spain and Portugal for a share of the profits of exploitation. Along the West African coast, European merchants established forts and trading posts - known as "factories" or "castles" - to serve as centres for collecting slaves.
The beginning of mass commercial enslavement of Africans via the trans-Atlantic slave trade was very different from the kind of slavery that had existed before.
Triangular Trade: A Business unlike any other Before
The sale the enslaved at auctions of was one element of a three-part economic cycle—the Triangular Trade and its infamous Middle Passage. Ships would leave Britain with cargo of cheap manufactured goods from Liverpool and Bristol and travel to West Africa where they would be exchanged for ‘black cargo’. The enslaved Africans were then taken to the Caribbean (across the Atlantic – the Middle Passage) where they were exchanged for sugar coffee, cotton, and tobacco that was then brought back to Europe and sold for a very large profit.
The huge monetary gain made sure slavers were not overly concerned with the humanitarian aspect of the enterprise or even the ethical issues. They were making money that would enable them to buy more ships, build and sustain grand lifestyles and advance their interests in cultural, social and political spheres of influence and power.
Passage, the Journey.
The Middle Passage was a huge endurance test. To maximize their profits slavers carried as many Africans as was physically possible on their ships. The captive children, men and women were packed into every little space on the slave deck of the ships spending up to 6 to 8 weeks in this position which was usually the time it took to complete the journey.
During this journey many Africans died. A large number of slaves suffered from diseases such as smallpox and dysentery, while others just went completely insane. Many of the enslaved were crippled for life as a consequence of the way they were chained up on the ship. Also, on many occasions there were revolts on board, where the Africans overpowered their captors. A popular example of this is told in the Amistad story about a revolt by enslaved African on a slavers ship
Expanding European empires in North and South America and the Caribbean lacked one major resource -- a work force. In most cases the indigenous peoples had proved unreliable (most of them were dying from diseases brought over from Europe), and Europeans were unsuited to the climate and suffered under tropical diseases.
African slaves were cheaper and more readily available than white indentured labourers from Britain and Ireland, and because they already had some immunity to European diseases. Africans were also less likely to die from those diseases than were Native Americans. Second, slavers feared for their own safety if the were freed rather than captive in the demanding regime of the plantation.
Africans were considered by slavers as excellent workers: they often had experience of agriculture and keeping cattle. The plantation owners profited from the considerable agricultural knowledge extracted from captive Africans.
Between 1607 and 1783 over a quarter million "white" indentured servants arrived in the British colonies alone where they were set to work in the agricultural and industrial processes of the time. The shipping companies, ports, and trading routes established for the transport of the poor and criminal of European society were to form the backbone of the future slave trade of Africans.
Young Irish peasants were hunted down as men hunt down game, and were forcibly put aboard ship, and sold to plantations in Barbados. Henry Cromwell, Oliver's son, seized a thousand "Irish wenches" to sell to Barbados. Henry justified the action by saying, "Although we must use force in taking them up, it is so much for their own good and likely to be of so great an advantage to the public." He also suggested that 2,000 Irish boys of 12 to 14 years of age could be seized for the same purpose: "Who knows but it might be a means to make them Englishmen."
It was racism that made Englishmen see the Indians and the Irish servants as useful for enslavement and exploitation. It was racism, class and colour consciousness that demanded that white people be released from this type of bondage and black people remain it.
A World of
The beliefs of racial hierarchy had been introduced by numerous Europeans as a way of explaining difference, even difference between Europeans, prior to the height of the European enslavement business.
After the 18th century
the arguments were used to explain and justify the mass enslavement of Africans.
10 million Africans?
With the approval of Queen Elizabeth I, John Hawkins became the first English merchant slaver to inaugurate the British venture into enslavement of Africans and the economic development of imperial interests.
Taken into account numerous sources of data some 10 to 12 million Africans were taken from Africa to Europe, North, Central and South America and the Caribbean Islands by European colonial/imperial powers. Some estimates suggest that up to two million of these where white indentured servants. Between 1701 and up until the 1807 Act of Abolition British ports transported into bondage over 2.8 million people. At a peak 45,000 Africans are transported annually on British slavers ships, leading the world in the trafficking of ‘black gold’.
The English Royal families have had a long connection with enslavement. Elizabeth I. The Duke of York used to get his initials, 'DY', branded onto the left buttock or breast of each of the 3000 captive slaves. Now his branded property they were then shipped out to the Caribbean.
In 1672 King Charles II’s Charter of the Royal Africa Company of England (RACE) ensured that London would be the only City to profit from the slave trade. By 1680, the Royal African Company, transported 5000 African captives annually but rival English merchants were not happy. It gave the company’s 250 London-based trustees and members great powers and influence. Between 1660 and 1690, 15 Lord Mayors of London, 25 sheriffs and 38 aldermen of the City of London were shareholders in RACE. The company’s logo was an elephant with a castle on its back.
In 1698, Parliament yielded to their demands and opened the slave trade to all. With the end of the monopoly, the number of slaves transported on English ships would increase dramatically.
Many well-known and respected British institutions including banks, insurance companies were either founded or built from the proceeds of the African holocaust. One bank that provided credit to slave traders was run by Alexander and David Barclay and carries their family name. Another was Barings Bank, whose founder Sir Francis Baring is alleged to have made his fortune as a 16-year-old slave dealer. John Julius Angerstein, one of the founders of Lloyds Bank and the National Gallery, bought and sold slaves, provided insurance for slavers and owned estates in Grenada.
Humphrey Morice, the Governor of the Bank of England between 1716 and 1729, owned six slave ships. Sir Richard Neave, who held similar positions to Morice at the bank, was chairman of the Society of West Indian Merchants. Familial and other ties connected these people to fruits of African enslavement. In this elite world, Africans were sold on the London Royal Exchange - many of them young people.
The legality of
British slavers in the Americas were dependent upon the enslaved to ensure high profitability. In Britain, 18th-century laws were designed to reinforce the commercial exploitation were again sanctioned by the king and parliament. A decision by the Solicitor General stated that 'Negroes' ought to be 'esteemed goods and commodities within the Trade and Navigation Acts'. Such a ruling permitted slavers to use property law with regard to the enslaved 'to recover goods wrongfully detained, lost or damaged' as they would any other property. As chattel slaves had the same rights as animals - no rights!
The use of property law meant that the enslaved were considered not humans, but commodities that could be bought and sold and disposed of when necessary. The historian James Walvin concluded that 'the State, as an institution, dehumanized African men, women and children for its own ends'.
Britain’s Ports: Trafficking Human Cargo
Initially the Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch were the main slave traders but by the 1730s the British Atlantic slave trade was in full swing.
British traders by far were the most important suppliers of enslaved Africans for the entire Caribbean zone. London was the leading British slaving port in the 17th century, with control over the trade until 1698. Bristol overtook London in the 1730s. The supremacy of London and Bristol ports was soon to be superseded by Liverpool. These three ports are the ones commonly associated with the slave trade, but many of the smaller ports around Britain also joined in. Between 1750 and 1780 almost three-quarters of the British slave trade was financed by Liverpool merchants.
Of the 27,000 slave trading voyages, about 11,000 were British (or British colonial) and of those almost 6,000 originated from Liverpool, by then the largest slave trading port in the world.
Seasoning the Captives
The captive workforce were herded
into "Seasoning Camps" located throughout the Caribbean. Jamaica had one of the
most brutal of these camps operated by the British. Before being shipped off to
the mainland or even local plantations on the islands, the slaves were tortured
into submission in an attempt to break the will to
The Christian Church:
The Christian church's main justification of the concept of slavery was based on the "curse of Ham (or Canaan)" which appears in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) in Genesis 9:25-27. "Cursed be Canaan (Ham)! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers. He also said, 'Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. Christians at the time believed that Canaan also know as Ham settled in Africa and that his descendents were black.
Many slavers legitimised the commerce using this biblical justification.
Many Church of England (CofE) Bishops of the time were slavers themselves. The missionary wing of the CofE, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), was a major slave plantation owner in Barbados in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
The Codrington plantation on the island of Barbados, operated by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, exemplifies the somewhat hypocritical attitude of the Church. Slaves were kept compliant and submissive through systematic semi-starvation and a harsh routine of brute tasks. The landlord was the Church of England. Specifically, it was the church's missionary arm, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, whose governing board included the Regius Professors of Divinity at Oxford and Cambridge and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The estate's brand, burned onto the chests of African people with a red-hot iron, was 'SOCIETY'.
Whilst the average life span of a male slave on plantations elsewhere could be up to nine years, the average at Codrington was just over three. The Church literally worked people to death.
Plus c'est la meme chose, plus ça change" which translates as "The more things change, the more things stay the same". A French phrase, partially assimilated into English.
It's often used in a cynical sense to imply that although the
outside surface appearance of things may appear to differ, underneath
the system is basically the same.
Update: A post to an email group from Arnold Gordon;
So much of our history is lost to us because we often don't write the history books, don't film the documentaries, or don't pass the accounts down from generation to generation. One documentary now touring the film festival circuit, telling us to "Always Remember" is "Black Survivors of the Holocaust" (1997). Outside the U.S., the film is entitled "Hitler's Forgotten Victims" (Afro-Wisdom Productions). It codifies another dimension to the "Never Forget" Holocaust story--our dimension.
Did you know that in the 1920's, there were 24,000 Blacks living in Germany? Neither did I. Here's how it happened, and how many of them were eventually caught unaware by the events of the Holocaust. Like most West European nations, Germany established colonies in Africa in the late 1800's in what later became Togo, Cameroon, Namibia, and Tanzania. German genetic experiments began there, most notably involving prisoners taken from the 1904 Heroro Massacre th at left 60,000 Africans dead, following a 4-year revolt against German colonization. After the shellacking Germany received in World War I, it was stripped of its African colonies in 1918.
As a spoil of war, the French were allowed to occupy Germany in the Rhineland--a bitter piece of real estate that has gone back and forth between the two nations for centuries. The French willfully deployed their own colonized African soldiers as the occupying force. Germans viewed this as the final insult of World War I, and soon thereafter, 92% of them voted in the Nazi party. Hundreds of the African
Rhineland-based soldiers intermarried with German women and raised their children as Black Germans. In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote about his plans for these "Rhineland Bastards". When he came to power, one of his first directives was aimed at these mixed-race children. Underscoring Hitler's obsession with racial purity, by 1937, every identified mixed-race child in the Rhineland had been forcibly sterilized, in order to prevent further "race polluting", as Hitler termed it.
Hans Hauck, a Black Holocaust survivor and a victim of Hitler's mandatory sterilization program, explained in the film "Hitler's Forgotten Victims" that, when he was forced to undergo sterilization as a teenager, he was given no anesthetic. Once he received his sterilization certificate, he was "free to go", as long as he agreed to have no sexual relations whatsoever with Germans. Although most Black
Germans attempted to escape their fatherland, heading for France where people like Josephine Baker were steadily aiding and supporting the French Underground, many still encountered problems elsewhere. Nations shut their doors to Germans, including the Black ones. Some Black Germans were able to eke out a living during Hitler's reign of terror by performing in Vaudeville shows, but many Blacks, steadfast in their belief that they were German first, Black second, opted to remain in Germany. Some fought with the Nazis (a few even became Lut waffe pilots)! Unfortunately, many Black Germans were arrested, charged with treason, and shipped in cattle cars to concentration camps. Often these trains were so packed with people and (equipped with no bathroom facilities or food), that, after the four-day journey, box car doors were opened to piles of the dead and dying.
Once inside the concentration camps, Blacks were given the worst jobs conceivable. Some Black American soldiers, who were captured and held as prisoners of war, recounted that, while they were being starved and forced into dangerous labor (violating the Geneva Convention), they were still better off than Black German concentration camp detainees, who were forced to do the unthinkable--man the crematoriums and work in labs where genetic experiments were being conducted. As a final sacrifice, these Blacks were killed every three months so that they would never be able to reveal the inner workings of the "Final Solution". In every story of Black oppression, no matter how we were enslaved, shackled or beaten, we always found a way to survive and to rescue others. As a case in point, consider Johnny Voste, a Belgian resistance fighter who was arrested in 1942 for alleged sabotage and then shipped to Dachau. One of his jobs was stacking vitamin crates. Risking his own life, Voste distributed hundreds of vitamins to camp detainees, which saved the lives of many who were starving, weak and ill--conditions exacerbated by extreme vitamin deficiencies. His motto was "No, you can't have my life; I will fight for it."
According to Essex University's Delroy Constantine-Simms, there were Black Germans who resisted Nazi Germany, such as Lari Gilges, who founded the Northwest Rann--an organization of entertainers that fought the Nazis in his home town of Dusseldorf--and who was murdered by the SS in 1933, the year that Hitler came into power. Little information remains about the numbers of Black Germans held in the camps or killed under the Nazi regime. Some victims of the Nazi sterilization project and Black survivors of the Holocaust are still alive and telling their story in films such as "Black Survivors of the Nazi Holocaust", but they must also speak out for justice, not just history.
Unlike Jews (in Israel and in Germany), Black Germans receive no war reparations because their German citizenship was revoked (even though they were German-born). The only pension they get is from those of us who are willing to tell the world their stories and continue their battle for recognition and compensation.
After the war, scores of Blacks who had somehow managed to survive the Nazi regime, were rounded up and tried as war criminals. Talk about the final insult! There are thousands of Black Holocaust stories, from the triangle trade, to slavery in America, to the gas ovens in Germany.
We often shy away from hearing about our historical past because so much of it is painful; however, we are in this struggle together for rights, dignity, and, yes, reparations for wrongs done to us through the centuries. We need to always remember so that we can take steps to ensure that these atrocities never happen again.
For further information, read: Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany, by Hans J. Massaquoi.