Slavery, history and distortions

Letters to the editor

6/7/2019, 6 a.m.
Re Column, “Distortions of our history,” Free Press May 30-June 1 edition: In her column, Julianne Malveaux herself distorts the ...

Re Column, “Distortions of our history,” Free Press May 30-June 1 edition:

In her column, Julianne Malveaux herself distorts the history of slavery when she said: “Let’s make it plain: Europeans went to the African continents (sic), kidnapped people (sometimes with African acquiescence), brought them to the Western Hemisphere and sold us.”

The noted African-American anthropologist, Zora Neale Hurston, does not bear out Ms. Malveaux’s assertion that Europeans kidnapped Africans, even with African acquiescence. Ms. Hurston asserts that it was the Africans themselves that kidnapped African slaves and sold them to European and New England slave traders on the coast, who then transported them to the Americas for re-sale to both white and black slave owners.

Ms. Hurston interviewed Cudjo Lewis, who was brought to the United States on the slave ship Clotilda in 1860. In a 1927 interview, he told her his harrowing story of capture by slavers from the Kingdom of Dahomey and which Ms. Hurston relates in her 1942 autobiography, “Dust Tracks on a Road.”

After hearing Mr. Lewis’ story, Ms. Hurston wrote that in spite of the fact that white people had purchased and exploited her people, the “inescapable fact that stuck in my craw, was: my people had sold me and the white people had bought me.” She said it did away with the folklore she had been brought up on — that white people had gone to Africa, lured Africans aboard of the slave ships and then sailed away with them.

Slavery in Africa is as old as Egypt, and according to anthropologist E. Adamson Hoebel in his 1966 text, “Anthropology: The Study of Man,” is still practiced in more than two-thirds of sub-Saharan cultures.

As for Virginia, Ms. Malveaux is correct in that the first African slaves arrived here in 1619. They were originally sold as indentured servants, but the first slave owner in Virginia was a freed African named Anthony Johnson who had worked out his indenture and owned a tobacco plantation and slaves on the Eastern Shore.

His was not an unusual circumstance, even after the Colonial period, although black people were prohibited by law from owning white — or “Christian” — slaves.

According to “Colored Freeman as Slave Owners in Virginia” in the June 1916 edition of The Journal of Negro History, “(S)lave-owning by free Negroes was so common in the period of the Commonwealth as to pass unnoticed and without criticism by those who consciously recorded events of the times.”