Local view: Black History Month deserves background on racial problems
I write this at the end of Black History Month because I have seen little commentary going very far back into black history. I have seen vile racist stuff from a race hustler but little that might contribute to actually understanding the backgrou...
I write this at the end of Black History Month because I have seen little commentary going very far back into black history. I have seen vile racist stuff from a race hustler but little that might contribute to actually understanding the background of our racial problems.
Black History Month deserved better.
I am white by accident of birth, and three of my great grandfathers fought as infantrymen in the Union Army to help free the slaves. Two of them helped take Atlanta. The brother of the fourth fought, too, and he starved to death in the infamous Andersonville Confederate prison, thus probably depriving me of several cousins.
Some of my ancestors were involved in the Underground Railroad, which illegally conveyed runaway slaves toward safety in the North. I have letters from some of these fine people and retraced many of their steps and have read much more about things that contributed to their trials. This history is personal to me.
There should be some serious effort during Black History Month to understand how slavery started, how it grew, what kinds of people were involved in it and what their motives probably were.
There is a magnificent book that tells most of the story, probably as much as ever will be reconstructed, and everybody should be aware of it. The book is titled "The Slave Trade: The story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870." It was written by English historian Hugh Thomas. My copy was copyrighted in 1997 and is more than 900 pages long.
According to the book, there is archaeological evidence of slavery from about 8000 B.C. Egypt. Athens and Rome depended on slaves. Aristotle wrote, "Humanity is divided into two: the masters and the slaves." Northern Europe was the original source of slaves. The ethnic word "Slavic" may come from "slave."
By the 2nd century A.D., a caravan route existed from Guinea to Mediterranean ports, and black slaves became commerce. Muslims were leaders in the African slave trade from the founding of Islam on, and so were African kings, the book revealed.
The author dated the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade to about 1440, about 50 years before the Columbus voyage. It began when Portuguese sea captains exploring the African coast discovered the Senegal River, which divided two cultures and where slaves were for sale. Trade began by sea in black slaves to Europe perhaps 1,500 years after similar trade began across the Sahara desert.
The creation of European colonies in the Western Hemisphere vastly increased the demand for labor. At first natives were enslaved; then Africans, the author found. The numbers of slaves eventually imported from Africa is estimated as: Brazil, 4 million; the Spanish empire, including Cuba, 2.5 million; the British West Indies, 2 million; the French West Indies, 1.6 million; North America, 500,000; the Dutch West Indies, 500,000; the Danish West Indies, 28,000; and Europe, 200,000. The total was more than 11 million. The slaving voyages by country are estimated as: Portugal (and Brazil), 30,000; Britain, 12,000; France (and the colonies), 4,200; Spain (and Cuba), 4,000; Holland, 2,000; North America, 1,500; Denmark, 250; and other, 250.
No one should be ashamed of having a slave ancestor or be too smug about the supposedly blue blood of their ancestors. No one can be sure he/she does not have ancestors who were slaves or who were involved in the business of slavery -- or both, regardless of race. Probably every race and nationality was involved on both sides of slavery sometime during the past 10,000 years.
Bill Rees of Duluth is a retired lieutenant colonel of the U.S. Air Force and was the fourth generation of his family to farm tobacco.<