February 5, 2023

3 Things you (Probably) Didn’t Know about Black History.

Of all the things I’ve learned about Black history over the years, I’d say only about 5 percent of it was learned during my public school education.

We were taught about the obvious things: slavery (a small portion of the actual story), Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Brown v. Board of Education, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s (again, a small portion of the actual story). But so much more was skipped over and ignored—which is just the way people like Governor Ron DeSantis (R) of Florida want to keep it.

But I was lucky to have parents who went out of their way to teach me about so many other aspects of Black history. Who explained to me how white supremacy shows itself in this country’s educational system. How the stories we read in our textbooks or celebrate during Black History Month presentations are usually a watered-down version of what really happened and are often not told through the eyes of the people who experienced them.

I remember accompanying my parents and sisters to lectures at local colleges in New York to hear Black professors discuss parts of history that I never knew existed. And when I finally got to college myself, I made it a point to take multiple courses in the African American studies department, which is where I read the works of James Baldwin and Zora Neale Hurston and took seminars about racism in America.

And even with all that knowledge, there is still so much I don’t know. So much I have left to learn.

That’s why I so appreciate writers and activists like Rachel Cargle, who I’ve been following on Instagram for a few years now.

While she is consistently outspoken in her support of and education about Black lives, during Black History Month she steps back from that role and puts the onus on others to educate themselves.

 

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Each day during the month of February she posts a prompt relating to Black history and encourages those who follow her to google those prompts themselves and then share what they’ve learned in the comments to help others learn—something she calls “knowledge grazing and action taking.”

While I was familiar with some of the prompts she’s posted in the past few days, there were others I had never heard of, so I thought I’d share some of my newly found knowledge here and then encourage anyone who reads and is inspired to head to Cargle’s Instagram page to continue learning more.

3 Things you (Probably) Didn’t Know about Black History:

Prompt #1

 

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According to the Slavery and Remembrance website:

“Over a period of 350 years (26 generations), more than twelve million African men, women, and children were taken from their homes, separated from their families, branded, beaten, and abused physically, sexually, and emotionally. For weeks and months, they were crammed in ships’ holds, force-fed rotten, bug-infested food, chained in a crawl space where they sat or lay in filth, blood, mucus, and excrement, and often succumbed to sickness and death from injuries, disease, rebellion, and heartbreak as they journeyed from their homes to enslavement in a hostile world.

Between Africa and arrival in Western ports, the bodies of the dead were thrown into the ocean with no burial and forgotten; their bones remain at the bottom of the Atlantic.”

The Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project is a non-profit organization that works to educate others and honor the enslaved people who died during this voyage. You can learn more about their work here.

Prompt #2

 

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According to a 2022 article on Mother Jones:

“In 1803, 75 West Africans, many of them Igbo people from what is now Nigeria, were sold for $100 each to John Couper and Thomas Spalding. They were packed like cargo onto the slave ship the Morovia (or the York; accounts vary). Their fate was excruciatingly obvious, and the only answer was a rebellion. The Igbo overpowered the ship’s captain and killed some of his crew, and the ship ran aground in Dunbar Creek.

The Igbo made a conscious decision. They knew that a life of agony and horror awaited them, so they decided to walk into the water. In most oral retellings of what happened, they sang, ‘By the water spirits we came and by the water spirits we will be taken home,’ as they walked into the creek, still chained to each other. ‘You cannot be an enemy of the land you are a part of.’ It’s unknown how many people drowned and how many were recaptured; the bodies of 10 to 12 Igbos and three white captors were reportedly recovered from Dunbar Creek, according to contemporaneous documents held by the Coastal Georgia Historical Society.

This event, called Igbo (also Ebo/Ibo) Landing, has birthed two versions of a legend: the Flying African and those who walked into the water. Did they vanish into the sky or into the water? In any case, the Igbo exposed how the choice between enslavement and death was an obvious one; it’s why they faced death. The legend continues to inspire artists, writers, and filmmakers.”

An article from the Black Excellence website sheds more light on the story and how it’s still referenced in popular culture today, including in a scene from “Black Panther” when Killmonger tells King T’Challa, “Lay me to rest in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, cause they knew death was better than bondage.”

Prompt #3

 

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According to a 2020 article in The Nation:

“In April 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act, a congressional bill abolishing slavery in Washington, DC. Less than half a year earlier, he proposed similar legislation in Delaware that stalled in the state’s House of Representatives. Under the DC law—the first emancipation legislation in this country’s history—enslavers were eligible to receive up to $300 for each person they were legally obliged to liberate. (I use the term ‘enslaver’ rather than ‘slave owner’ because it acknowledges the active role those individuals played in keeping human beings locked in a brutal and violent institution. And while the reductive term ‘slave’ has historically been used to strip black people of their humanity, referring to an ‘enslaved person’ makes clear that bondage was a legally enforced position.) No such provision was made for DC’s newly freed black population. Instead, seeing no more use for them, the government offered formerly enslaved people funds only if they agreed to relocate to Haiti, Liberia, ‘or such other country beyond the limits of the United States.’ For this act of self-deportation from the land they had made an economic powerhouse, payment would ‘not exceed one hundred dollars for each emigrant.’

Almost no freed people took up the government on its insulting offer, but DC-area enslavers submitted 966 petitions in the months following the law’s passage.”

The links and resources I’ve posted here are a small fraction of the information I actually read through and is available to all of us, so use them as a starting point and then dig in for more. I’d also suggest following and supporting The Great Unlearn, Cargle’s donation-based, self-paced online learning community.

~

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