Thursday, February 29, 2024

Giving the gift of history and truth

Claytee D. White

BY CLAYTEE D. WHITE

Happy holidays to you as you embark on all your seasonal celebrations! 

If you give gifts as part of your celebrations this season, give a loved one a trip to the new International African American Museum (IAAM) in Charleston, South Carolina. It is the most powerful space this side of the slave castles in Ghana, West Africa. 

This small, compelling, eloquent place does not have to rival the vast reach of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture; it tells the local story with an international reach. I am still in awe. I dream of a Black African American Museum in Las Vegas that is just as formidable, influential, and dramatic. 

The journey, as you know, begins with the early kingdoms in Africa like Mali’s Timbuktu (14th–17th centuries) and Songhai (15th and 16th centuries). Next is the history of the trade in human cargo. Many of these African captives landed in Charleston at Gadsden’s Wharf, where the IAAM is now located. There were 366 years of legal and illegal Transatlantic slave trade from Africa to the Americas between 1501 and 1866. There are 36,000 documented ship voyages packed with approximately 12.5 million men, women, and children. Of this number, about 1.8 million lost their lives during the Middle Passage across the Atlantic Ocean. 

Resistance began on those ships. History classes covered too little about the rebellious nature and continuing efforts for freedom by the enslaved. Onboard the ships, many refused to eat while others drowned themselves, and there were so many attacks on the crews that over the evolution of the trade, ships had to become more heavily armed, cutting into profits. 

After the hellish conditions on the ships, they docked at Gadsden where years in the inferno began as the reality of chattel slavery ensued. The industry of generational enslavement built the new country. The planter class grew wealthy. They educated their sons at the best schools in this country and abroad. They wore the finest European fashions while the enslaved working in the city of Charleston wore small metal badges made of copper on their meager clothing. The IAAM was the first time that I learned about these badges. 

Working in crops like rice and sugar proved brutal beyond one’s imagination. Blacks endured noxious diseases and high mortality rates in rice fields. In South Carolina, brutality and the diseases contracted in the malaria-infested rice crop process caused the mortality rate to exceed the birthrate. In the book, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson, she stated that Hitler used the chattel slavery system in America to design punishments used by Germans during WWII — but some were so brutal that Hitler chose not to use them. 

OK, enough! It’s the holiday season! 

Let’s make a resolution to get involved in Western and national reparations strategy sessions. For Christmas, I want reparations!

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