Help Me To Find My People

help me to findThe Middle Passage of the European Transatlantic Slave Trade brought more than 380,000 enslaved Africans to the United States and looms large in our memories of slavery in terms of its brutality and inhumanity. But the scope of internal slave trade in the United States dwarfs the Transatlantic trade in terms of the numbers of human lives affected.

The internal slave trade involved the sale and transport of more than one million enslaved Africans from the east coast, inland and by sea, as the US expanded its borders west and south. No less devastating for those it affected than the Middle Passage, it deserves far more attention in terms of chronicling its enduring impact on the black family and documenting how black folks responded to and coped with separation and loss.

Heather Andrea Williams, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, uses recovered voices from personal letters, interviews, diaries, newspaper advertisements, memoirs, and other documentary sources to chronicle individual struggles to find and reconnect with loved ones lost to slavery. The forced separation of family members during the internal slave trade caused immeasurable grief and heartbreak to a people already severely damaged by the American slaveocracy system and its dehumanizing exploitation of their bodies and minds. The first critical tasks for many newly freed Africans in the aftermath of the Civil War was to seek to heal themselves by finding their lost parents, spouses, children, and siblings. With a deft narrative hand and a superb grasp of the psychological and emotional impact of their losses, Williams puts human faces to these often futile quests and allows the voices of her subjects take the lead in telling their own stories of trials, tribulations, and the far too few cases of successful family reunions.

Help Me to Find My People is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of the United States and the devastating impact of the slave trade and slavery on the lives of those forced into a permanent and hereditary servile class. For those of us currently engaged in genealogical research, Williams’ book further underscores the challenges we face as we attempt to locate and restore ancestral connections that existed prior to the Civil War. The losses she chronicles thus continue to impact us today as we search for our roots to learn the histories of our families and their struggles and triumphs in slavery and freedom.

Excerpt from Help Me to Find My People:

It is not possible to even begin to estimate how many people acted on their hope and searched for family members or sent messages or received news through the grapevines that stretched from Canada to Texas, from Boston to California, and frayed under the strain of the distance and the silence. Some people, unable to cope with the dissonance of caring for someone who might already be dead and, in any event, would not likely return, surely eased loved ones from their memories. But others carried the memories with them as they went about their labor of slavery, passed through the hands of one owner to another, and created new families. They were slaves with few material resources and severely constricted mobility, yet some made efforts to search for their families. They had to be opportunistic, willing to seize any chance to make contact with a lost relative. And they had to be strategic, devising targeted appeals for help. When they were able, they sent out missives and messengers who might bring back the dead.

Also check out this interview with Heather Andrea Williams conducted in June 2012.


PBS: Slavery by another name

The Founding Fathers of the United States drafted and approved a Constitution that codified and institutionalized the American slaveocracy system without ever mentioning the word “slavery.” After the Civil War the authors of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (key among whom were were James M. Ashley, James F. Wilson, Lyman Trumbull, and Charles Sumner) not only mentioned the so-called “peculiar institution,” they furnished a giant loophole in the law that allowed slavery and indentured servitude to continue to exist in perpetuity as follows:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

With slavery redefined and sanctioned as “a punishment for crime,” the nation thereby maintained the legality of the system while promoting the fiction of emancipation. The existence of free black people in the U.S. has always been viewed as a mortal threat to white supremacy. Therefore, under cover of law, millions of African Americans were forced back into servitude in the decades after the Civil War. Racist police forces operating in tandem with racist and corrupt judicial officials and municipal courts systematically re-enslaved blacks with the tacit approval of the federal government—which followed an unwritten policy of allowing the states to decide cases involving peonage (forced servitude). The retention of involuntary labor policies and practices thus devastated the lives of African Americans, particularly those living in the South. For example, by 1908, of the 1.1 million African Americans residing in Georgia approximately half were living under the direct control and force of whites. Forbidden to move or seek different employment, the post-slavery generations of black southerners found themselves trapped in this new form of enslavement until the early 1940s.

The 1940s marked a decisive change in US government policy not as a result of a sudden concern for the injustices being done to African Americans, but out of fear of enemy propaganda about US racism during WWII. To protect the image of the nation abroad, the Justice Department and the FBI began to investigate charges of involuntary servitude and prosecute offenders. In 1948 the entire federal criminal code was revised, and by 1951, as the Cold War was coming to a boil, the US Congress passed several statutes making any forms of slavery in the U.S. a crime.

Douglas A. Blackmon, the Pulitzer prize winning author whose book provided the basis for the PBS documentary shown below, uses the label “Slavery by Another Name” to describe the laws enacted specifically to maintain white supremacy and black subservience following the Civil War. Scholar-activist Michelle Alexander refers to the more recent variation of neoslavery—the emergence of the prison industrial complex in the post-Civil Rights era—as The New Jim Crow. Taken together, and with other recent studies by Loïc Wacquant, David M. Oshinsky, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Robert Perkinson, and others, these works show clearly why we cannot relegate slavery to the distant past.

“Slavery by Another Name” provides stark evidence of our continued failure to recognize and address the history of slavery in this nation. It exposes the ghosts in our blood that infect and haunt each generation as it goes forward in ignorance of the past and its consequences for the future.


To view a previous post I made about “Slavery by Another Name,” which includes an excellent interview of Douglas A. Blackmon by Bill Moyers, click here.

“Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”

Following his election to the Alabama Governor’s Office in 1963, George Wallace proclaimed in his inauguration speech delivered on January 14, 1964: “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Governor Wallace, it seems, was something of a prophet. Recent analysis done on the American Community Survey (ACS), which is an ongoing data gathering effort of the U.S. Census Bureau, shows that little has changed in the United States in terms of “racial” segregation in the past forty years. ACS data covering the period 2005 – 2009 include these key findings:

  • In a country that is only 12.1 percent African-American, 30 percent of African-Americans live in Census Block Groups that are 75 percent African-American or more.
  • 75 percent of African-Americans in the country live in only 16 percent of the Census Block Groups in the United States.
  • 50 percent of African-Americans live in Census Block Groups that have a combined African-American and Latino population of 66.85 percent or more (nationally, the Latino population is approximately 15.8 percent, so the combined African-American and Latino population is just shy of only 28 percent).

The concentration of blacks and Latinos in certain residential areas, which is a result of poverty and long-term and seemingly intractable problems of housing discrimination, negatively impacts access to employment, education, and finance. It also produces the conditions for over-policing and the ghetto to prison pipeline that feeds black and Latinos directly into the Prison Industrial Complex.

The Remapping Debate website, which is sponsored by the Anti-Discrimination Center (ADC), contains an article from which the above findings were drawn and mapping tools that enable users to examine in remarkable detail patterns of segregation nationwide. Click the following link to access the article and related materials: “Mapping and analysis of new data documents still-segregated America.”

The Soundtrack of Capitalism

Look at the image above. It is the emblem of an enslaved mind, the icon of a slave mentality. It symbolizes a popular kind of hip hop lifestyle, one that celebrates crass consumerism and the capitalist system despite the fact capitalism is responsible for the destruction of the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the globe.

For people of African descent, in particular, capitalism has been a holocaust. It was the enslavement, branding (literally and figuratively), and commodification of African people that was the catalyst for the development of the capitalist system. Being “in the black” is not a euphemism for making a profit. Buying, selling and owning “blacks” is how profit was made, how wealth was created, how capitalism was invented. The European slave trade established the foundation for the system by enabling certain elites to amass immense capital in the form of “black” bodies whose value could be extracted as labor, used as capital to purchase goods, pledged as collateral for loans and mortgages, or given as gifts and endowments that could be passed down from generation to generation.

Profit still is made from “blacks,” only these days its done by making us slaves to consumption by selling us trinkets and perishable goodies to the tune of nearly a trillion dollars a year. And the new auctioneers are hip hop bling entrepreneurs like Pimp Daddy Combs and Hustle Simmons, who devote their lives to promoting crass consumption despite the fact Cristal ain’t made in Harlem, Bentleys ain’t built in Bed-Sty, Rolexes don’t come from Crooklyn, unless they’re as fake as the Negroes who worship them.

A recent report from The Nielsen Company and the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a federation of more than 200 Black community newspapers across the U.S., projects African American buying power will reach 1.1 trillion dollars by 2015. The report titled “The State of the African-American Consumer” contains a number of interesting facts about “black” buying habits. Among its highlights is the noteworthy finding that “with a buying power of nearly $1 trillion annually, if African-Americans were a country, they’d be the 16th largest country in the world.”

The sad fact is we would be a country of Cadillac Escalades, Asian hair weaves, Xboxes, Nikes, and flat-screen televisions. Given our addiction to bling, and our gullibility to hucksters selling shit for the price of gold, we should call our country Assholeland.

The rankings by nation shown on the chart to the left are based on GDP (Gross Domestic Product) for 2010, as determined by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

A projected income of 1.1 trillion dollars in 2015, actually would place Assholeland in the 14th position immediately below Australia and above Mexico. Look at some of the other nations on the list that have a smaller GDP than the Negroes of Assholeland … South Korea (makers of flat screen tvs, cars, computers, cell phones) …  Saudi Arabia (oil, oil, and more oil) … The Netherlands (land of tulips and marijuana) … South Africa (diamonds, gold, platinum) …

And what do the Negroes of Assholeland make? … Other people rich.

The Negroes of Assholeland love capitalism. And capitalism loves the Negroes. But all the Negroes get out of the deal is the “ism” … the capital just passes right through our hands. We get the baubles, the bullshit, the bling, and the debt that goes with it. But the Negroes don’t care. If the beat is tight and dance floor is packed, we are happy to live out our days in Assholeland as contented consuming slaves.

Look at the image below. This is what you should be seeing. This is the reality behind the bling.

To learn more about the role of certain hip hop artists in sustaining the deathstyle that passes for a lifestyle in Assholeland read: The sound of capitalism | Prospect Magazine.

For insight into whose money really rules America check this out: Wealth, income and power.

Stokely Carmichael – Black Power

“Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. …Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will.” – Frederick Douglass (1857)

Our late brother Kwame Toure (aka Stokley Carmichael) always used to answer his phone with the phrase “Ready for the Revolution.”  I didn’t know him as well as I would have liked, but I vividly recall an occasion when I arranged for him to speak at a class in African Studies I taught at Washington International College in Washington D.C. in the late seventies. He  came and mesmerized my students for over two hours, discussing topics as diverse as his role in SNCC, his relationship with MLK, and the purpose and role of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, which was founded by Kwame Nkrumah in Conakry, Guineau in 1968 to advance the cause of Pan Africanism, and which he led in the U.S. from the 1970’s until his death in 1998.

Linked below on the American Rhetoric website is a speech he gave at UC Berkeley in 1966 on “Black Power.” The speech has been listed among “the 100 most significant American political speeches of the 20th century, according to 137 leading scholars of American public address.” The audio recording of the speech (running time: 53.21) is provided, along with the full text and a link to download it as a PDF.

Kwame Toure’s rhetoric, thought, and revolutionary leadership significantly impacted the human rights struggle in the U.S. and across the globe. With his colleague and co-author, Charles Hamilton, Toure introduced the term and concept of “institutional racism.” He also deserves credit for popularizing the slogan “Black Power,” which for him embodied and signified the struggle against anti-black racism here and abroad.

American Rhetoric: Stokely Carmichael – Black Power.

How Do You Say “Yes Massa” in Mandarin?

The article below from The Root discusses how African Americans are preparing for global competition by learning Chinese. Given the rapid economic decline of America, however, all Americans need to prepare for employment as “Coolies” on the big Chinese Plantation coming to these shores in the near-future.

In The Root: Black People Learning Chinese: A Strategy for Competing Globally.

If you don’t believe me about a Chinese plantation in our future, check out this video from Chinese rapper Jin: “Learn Chinese.”

[Chorus from “Learn Chinese”]
Ya’ll gonna learn Chinese
Ya’ll gonna learn Chinese
Ya’ll gonna learn Chinese
When the pumps come out, ya’ll gon’ speak Chinese

Ya’ll gonna learn Chinese
Ya’ll gonna wanna be Chinese
Ya’ll gonna learn Chinese
When the pumps go off, ya’ll gon’ speak Chinese

Imani Perry Discusses Her Recent Book

The market has been flooded with books about race and racism in recent years. Few of them, however, have been able to illuminate this complex subject with the interdisciplinary breath and depth of scholarship that Princeton Professor Imani Perry brings to her latest book: More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Trancendence of Racial Inequality in the United States. Perry’s work demolishes the myth of a post-racial America, illuminates the organic nature of racism and its evolution beyond the simple black/white dichotomy historically grounded in cultural stereotypes and pseudo-science, and helps us identify and recognize the subtle and insidious systems of inequality and discrimination that continue to operate in the United States.

In the link below, Professor Perry shares how the book was conceived and her wish that it helps to form and inform new strategies and tactics in the struggle to deracinate race and dismantle white supremacy.

ROROTOKO : Imani Perry On her book More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States : Cutting-Edge Intellectual Interviews.