May 04, 2005

To Be A Slave


It has been a month or more since a brother handed me a little book entitled “To Be A SLAVE”. I get handed lots of reading material, so I did not think anything of this little book beyond the fact that it was an old book, (it has a copyright date of 1968). This past Sunday, I finally got around to reading it and found myself completely emerged in it. This little book is a book of narratives dictated by African men and women enslaved in America. This book chronicles our story, “the African story” as spoken by African men and women from the time we were kidnapped from our homeland, to the treatment and conditions on the slave ship on through the subsequent treatment and condition we lived with as an enslaved people here in America.

In the early 19th century abolitionist took down the stories of enslaved African men and women who escaped to the north, our stories became a literary genre and provided fuel for the anti-slavery movements in the north. The stories told by those who escaped to the north were stored “at the Archive of Folksong at the Library of Congress” and it was here where the Author of this little book Julius Lester found them in 1963 and after reading through these narratives he decided to publish a book and “To Be A SLAVE” is what came out of his readings.

“To Be a SLAVE” is one of those books that will send the reader on an emotional roller coaster. Some of the narratives will make the reader angry, some will make the reader cry, others will make the reader take pride in being the descendant of a people who endured so much and as Antwon Fisher said of himself “we still standing, we still strong”.

The Book opens up with tales of how African men and women were captured and the trickery used to capture them. There are narratives of the fights that took place between the European invader and the African fighting for his life and right to self determination. One narrative speaks of an African Village being woken up;

“by the horrible uproar caused by mingled shouts of men and blows given with heavy sticks, upon large wooden drums. The village was surrounded by enemies, who attacked us with clubs, long wooden spears and bows and arrows”.

Those that did not escape or were not killed were shackled and chained and forced to walk for three weeks to the “Slave Ships” that would ultimately be the death of some of them. Among those that survived the walk were women who carried their babies with them. The narrative says of these mothers and their children;

“The men who fastened the irons on these mothers took the children out of their hands and threw them over the side of the ship into the water. When this was done, two of the women leaped overboard after the children”

The book offers narratives that detail the breaking down of the African and the resistance the African put forth and how in many instances our ancestors believed death to be a better alternative than living as a slave. In reading these narratives and seeing the enslaved African refer to himself and his people as “Niggers” one get the notion that the African did not know that the word “Nigger” was a demeaning word, and there are narratives that chronicle the enslaved men and women taking the word “Nigger” and trying to put a positive spin on it as is done today by many of our young folk.

There are narratives that mentioned the way Religion was used to institutionalize the slave mentality and how when an African overseer was entrusted with transporting enslaved men and women over a thousand miles from their enslaver plantation to Kentucky, they came in contact with free Black men and women alone the way who said to them, they did not have to report to their new enslaver, they are free, they can get off where they were and live as free men and women. The overseer felt obligated based on what he had been taught by white preachers to deliver the men and women he traveled with to their new enslaver. The overseer said in regards to running away or freeing those with him;

“The duties of a the slave to his master as appointed over him in the Lord, I had ever heard urged by ministers and religious men, it seemed like outright stealing”

There are quite a few narratives that will make the reader laugh, especially knowing how we as a people today still manage to find something to laugh about regardless of our condition. There was an instance where one enslaved African convinced his enslaver he “was nearly blind and therefore unfit to work, After the civil war he was freed and once free he proceeded to become one of the best farmers in the area, Freedom having miraculously restored his sight.”

All in all this is a book that should be in every Black home, it offers so much and it allows us a real peak into how we became who we are today and the tools used by the enemy of our freedom to enslave us, keep us enslaved and so mentally destroyed that once freed we remained mentally shackled. The book offers insight into the thinking of those Black men and women that have switched sides and now serve the enemy of our freedom based on rewards offered to him or her for his or her service. Yesterday’s overseers are no different than today’s overseers.

One of my favorite narratives is the narrative about those enslaved men and who were not born in America and still remembered their homeland. Of them it is said;

“The native African are revengeful, and unforgiving in their tempers, easily provoked and cruel in their designs. They generally place little, or even no value upon the fine houses and superb furniture of their masters; and discover no beauty in the fair complexions and delicate form of their mistresses. (mistresses is the word used in reference to white women, specifically the enslavers wife) They feel indignant at the servitude that is imposed upon them and only want power to inflict the most cruel retribution upon their oppressors, but they desire only the means of subsistence and temporary gratification in this country during their abode here.

They are universally of the opinion and this opinion is founded in their religion, that after death they shall return to their own country and rejoin their former companions and friends in some happy region, in which they will be provided with plenty of food and beautiful women from the lovely daughters of their native land”.

Oh, how far we have fallen from what our ancestors believe to now. Many of us believe and will spend our life defending a white God with hopes that when we die we go in the sky to meet that white God. Pick up this book if you have not read it, it sells for less that seven dollars.


At 5:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ending slavery by Thomas Sowell

To me the most staggering thing about the long history of slavery — which encompassed the entire world and every race in it — is that nowhere before the 18th century was there any serious question raised about whether slavery was right or wrong. In the late 18th century, that question arose in Western civilization, but nowhere else.

It seems so obvious today that, as Lincoln said, if slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong. But no country anywhere believed that three centuries ago.

A very readable and remarkable new book that has just been published — "Bury the Chains" by Adam Hochschild — traces the history of the world's first anti-slavery movement, which began with a meeting of 12 "deeply religious" men in London in 1787.

The book re-creates the very different world of that time, in which slavery was so much taken for granted that most people simply did not think about it, one way or the other. Nor did the leading intellectuals, political leaders, or religious leaders in Britain or anywhere else in the world.

The dozen men who formed the world's first anti-slavery movement saw their task as getting their fellow Englishmen to think about slavery — about the brutal facts and about the moral implications of those facts.

Their conviction that this would be enough to turn the British public, and ultimately the British Empire, against slavery might seem naive, except that this is precisely what happened. It did not happen quickly and it did not happen without encountering bitter opposition, for the British were at the time the world's biggest slave traders and this created wealthy and politically powerful special interests defending slavery.

The anti-slavery movement nevertheless persisted through decades of struggles and defeats in Parliament until eventually they secured a ban on the international slave trade, and ultimately a ban on slavery itself throughout the British Empire.

Even more remarkable, Britain took it upon itself, as the leading naval power of the world, to police the ban on slave trading against other nations. Intercepting and boarding other countries' ships on the high seas to look for slaves, the British became and remained for more than a century the world's policeman when it came to stopping the slave trade.

"Bury the Chains" carries this incredible story forward only to the time of the banning of slavery in the British Empire. One can only hope that either Adam Hochschild or someone else writes an equally dramatic and compelling book on the saga of the worldwide struggle against slavery.

Chances do not look good. The anti-slavery movement was spearheaded by people who would today be called "the religious right" and its organization was created by conservative businessmen. Moreover, what destroyed slavery in the non-Western world was Western imperialism.

Nothing could be more jolting and discordant with the vision of today's intellectuals than the fact that it was businessmen, devout religious leaders and Western imperialists who together destroyed slavery around the world. And if it doesn't fit their vision, it is the same to them as if it never happened.

As anti-slavery ideas eventually spread throughout Western civilization, a worldwide struggle pitted the West against Africans, Arabs, Asians and virtually the entire non-Western world, which still saw nothing wrong with slavery. But Western imperialists had gunpowder weapons first and that enabled the West to stamp out slavery in other societies as well as in its own.

The review of "Bury the Chains" in the New York Times tried to suggest that the ban against the international slave trade somehow served British self-interest. But John Stuart Mill, who lived in those times, said that the British "for the last half-century have spent annual sums equal to the revenue of a small kingdom in blockading the Africa coast, for a cause in which we not only had no interest, but which was contrary to our pecuniary interest."

It was a worldwide epic struggle, full of dramatic and sometimes violent episodes, along with inspiring stories of courage and dedication. But do not expect Hollywood to make a movie about anything so contrary to their vision of the world.

At 5:41 PM, Blogger Faheem said...

Well now that we know what Sowell have to say; what is your opinion? And don't hide behind the anonymous posting. The only reason I did not delete the above post is because we know who words they are, unfortunately Sowell will not be here to defend what he has written so I will not waste any time piecing it apart, however if you have any thoughts of your own, I would love to read them.

At 8:12 PM, Blogger NmagiNATE said...


Have you read much on African Muslim who were enslaved and how they were more educated and more apt to rebell?

What part did indigenous religions play in rebellions? Do the narratives in this book you've talked about shed any light on that?

At 7:22 AM, Blogger Faheem said...

The religion practiced by those who were most rebellious is not mentioned by name but it was a big part of why they rebelled and what fueled their rebellion. There is so much I did not mention in this piece that could have been mentioned. There are plenty of songs in the book that were sung by African men and women to convey messages amongst themselves. The only religion mentioned by name is Christianity and it is mentioned because it was the religion of the enslaver and the religion he used to justify his crimes against humanity.


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