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February 13th, 2013

How and where did it begin for my people after Africa?

Lillie Howard

Black people have been present in the western hemisphere for more than five centuries, virtually as long as white people have. After Spain permitted Blacks to enter the New World in 1501, most of the major expeditions of the conquistadors included them. The most famous of these early Black explorers, Estevanico, penetrated deep into what is now the southwestern states of Arizona and New Mexico. Shortly afterward, Spain’s great rival, Portugal, introduced the first few Black slaves into Brazil, a number that swelled to more than half the population of that colony by the end of the eighteenth century. In French America, Blacks helped to explore and settle the Mississippi River Valley in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. One of these settlers was Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, who established in 1779 a trading post on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, a settlement that eventually became the city of Chicago.

Thus the famous "twenty Negars" brought by a Dutch vessel to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 (quite literally "before the Mayflower") - the first Black people in the first British colony on the mainland of North America - were part of a larger Black presence that by the end of the seventeenth century could be found in the Canadian forests, in the Mississippi River Valley, in the West Indies, in Mexico and Central America, and in all the colonies of South America, as well as on the Atlantic Seaboard of North America. However diverse in culture, language, or condition, these Black people shared two common characteristics - African origin and subordination to white people.

The circumstances of slavery are crucial to an understanding of its early effect of divesting Africans of a substantial portion of their own culture. Though the extent of survival of African culture in the New World is a matter of considerable scholarly dispute, it is clear that whatever literature survived the traumatic experiences of enslavement, the middle passage on crowded slave ships, and the brutal oppression and forced labor in America was oral in nature, not written. Indeed, the African literary tradition was mainly oral. When Afro-Americans began to write in the eighteenth century, their language and literary models were English, not African, even though the two most important of these writers, Phillis Wheatley and Olaudah Equiano, were African by birth.

Not only did the agents of slavery attempt, often quite systematically, to obliterate the sense of culture and personality out of which literature usually grows, but slavery by its very nature as an economic institution largely denied Blacks the opportunity and the occasion to create written literature. The vast majority of both slaves and free Blacks in colonial and revolutionary America were illiterate, prevented by custom and by expediency (later by law) from learning even the barest rudiments. The old Greco-Roman tradition of the erudite slave was never followed in British America. After all, the rationale went, Blacks were to supply physical labor under the system of slavery; their white masters would contribute whatever mental exertion was required. With education monopolized by whites, it is not surprising that Black literature in the early period is sparse. The wonder, rather, is that anything got written at all.

This information is from the book, "Black Writers of America: A Comprehensive Anthology" written by Richard Barksdale and Keneth Kinnamon, that my son William had while he was at Hofstra University 32 years ago.

My people deserve serious accolades for being able to survive despite the horrible treatment they received. The educational systems in this nation should be required to include all of this information within their books so that the true stories can be revealed.

America wants to project my people as criminals, but who are the real thieves? Who robbed my people of their names, their culture, their rights of liberty and justice for all? This is why they don’t want this history revealed - it will give the correct answers to those questions. People need to know about this history for it will give a clearer picture as to what is really going on in this country regarding the treatment of African Americans. We’re no longer needed, therefore plans have been put in place to try to obliterate us from America. They have new slaves that are willing to work for less than the minimum wage without complaining. How sad! Don’t they realize their turn will come when they are no longer needed?

The rich will always have a new slave, and once they are no longer needed they will be ushered into the criminal justice system and shipped out to the prisons. Wow! Wake up! This is Lillie’s Point of View!

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