Introduction to the Fight Against the Slave Trade
Assumptions rob us of our sight. If I assume who you are before I have learnt who you are, I fail to see you. People of African descent have been assumed to be many things, many things which they are not. This project is to show you who we are; ours and your legacy.
“If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going….” Maya Angelou
Throughout this project you will learn how the building blocks of the world we enjoy today are international. People from all corners of the earth have come together to produce greatness. This project will focus on the contribution of those individuals of recent African descent.
We should all be proud of our heritage and bare in mind that although we don’t inherit the sins of our fathers, we do inherit the world which has been left to us. And it is our duty to improve that world for ourselves and for others.
Listen carefully and contribute. You’ll be asked to explore, put forth arguments and debate. Let your views be heard and share this work.
Without further adieu…
Queen Elizabeth and the Sultan of Morocco | enabling of the slave trade
Al Mansur, the Sultan of Morocco advised his allies to invade Turkey. “why invade Turkey which has such little profit and offers so much trouble…. Invade Songhai for its wealth”
In 1590 he wrote to Queen Elizabeth of England (img), to conspire an invasion of West Africa. Al Mansur strategised that if Queen Elizabeth provided him with guns, he could use them to over power the West Africans. Queen Elizabeth complied.
Other Europeans rallied behind Al Mansur to invade Songhai. 2500 of the 4000 soldiers who prepped to invade Songhai were Europeans. The artillerymen were English and Spanish was the official language of the invading army. Whilst travelling from North to Sub-Saharan Africa, 1 third of the invading army perished in the desert, with the remaining 2 thirds being led by Judar Pasha Eunuch.
Meanwhile, Songhai ruler Askia Ishaq II assembled (img) a force of more than 40,000 men and moved north against the Moroccans; the two armies met at Tondibi in March 1591. The battle was swift. Despite their far inferior numbers, the Moroccan gunpowder weapons easily carried the day, resulting in a rout of the Songhai troops. Judar sacked Gao and then moved on to the trading centers of Djenné and Timbuktu. He reached Timbuktu in April 1591, carrying a letter from the Sultan al-Mansur demanding their cooperation.
Judar sacked, pilleged and burnt Timbuktu. Songhai (img) was no match for Judar’s canons and guns. Songhai had no ballistic weapons at this point. Many Moroccans died of tropical diseases in their occupation of Songhai. However they continued to use burnt earth tactics, popularised by Julius Cesar over a thousand years before them, by destroying wells and fields. The allied Moroccans and Europeans took the Gold and converted it to coin, kidnapped the West African Scholars and destroyed many of the remaining books.
Thankfully due to many of the Songhai preemptively hiding their books from invading forces, over 700,000 Medieval Malian books still remain in circulation and are currently being translated by South Africans organisations. But for West Africa, history had turned (img). Once successful Empires of sub Saharan Africa had collapsed and their lands were soon to be ravaged by invasion, manipulation, slavery and an arms race for ballistic weapons.
Task: Africa was previously seen as the richest place on the planet. How has this changed today? Why do you feel this has changed?
Other Great Empires | the last to fall to the slave trade
Nok | 1000BC – 1000AD (img)
The Empire of Nok possibly dated back as far as 3000BC as professor Ekpo Eyo explains that because the art work of 1000BC was so advanced, it must have had time to evolve.
Oni Oluwo was so upset when her regalia was splashed with mud that she ordered every road to be paved. Paved roads thereafter become a common feature in Yorubaland and other empires within West Africa. Dr Frobenius theorised a connection between Yoruba and Mayan civilisations. The pavements of Ife Ife were decorated by rolling corn, which is an American plant, over the surface of potsherds before firing them. Contact between the West Africans and the Americans must have been pre 1100AD.
Some evidence points the Yoruba having links to ancient Egyptian practices. By 1300AD, huge Yoruba cities were surrounded by farmland (img). They cultivated Maize, which is once again an American plant by origin. They traded via caravan routes.
Their civilisation thrived but it became a target for slave traders who would raid the outskirts of large cities for slaves. Oyo also at some points enforced resistance against the slave trade.
Diouf writes: “Oyo, Dahomey, and Asante restored and maintained internal law and order where previously there was chaos and disorder. They all had laws that specifically prohibited the sale of their subjects for export. In Dahomey the law applied also to the servile population incorporated into society (Law 1991, 27778). 78). Contemporary European visitors to Dahomey testified to the prevalence of social order in the kingdom. For example, a 1728 European report stated that the king, Agaja, “cuts off the head of whoever steals only a cowry, one travels in his country with more security than in Europe, those who find something in the roads dare not touch it, it stays there till the one who lost it comes back, travellers are not attacked”
Sylviane A. Diouf. Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies (Western African Studies) (Kindle Locations 2816-2821). Kindle Edition.
After the fall of Oyo, Dahomey and Benin evolved to lead the development of West Africa.
Great Benin (Edo) (img)
Oba Ewuarr built great walls around Great Benin which were comparable to the Great Wall of China. The wall features 9 inner city gates called Ogbe was the largest earthworks previous to the industrial revolution. The Portugese were quick to negotiate with the West African Lords to exchange firearms for their conversion to Christianity.
West Africa’s golden age had featured the richest man who had ever lived, great architectural feats and an eruption of intellectual literature. Wealth and scientific exploration had enabled exploration of the Atlantic and evidently, the Americas, hundreds of years before Columbus. But within a mere 300 years, West Africa would be torn apart to provide the greatest source of wealth not for itself, but for European commerce.
The Early Slave Trade and Religion
As we have seen in Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome; Empire which have taken thousands of years to reach their peak of development can fall within a fraction of the time. In this section we shall explore how the richest nations the world has ever seen can fall into chaos and poverty under tyrannical foreign powers and internal corruption.
However, we shall also explore the fight for freedom, which took Africans from being enslaved in unimaginable conditions to fighting and earning their freedom by the sweat of their brow and their determination to break the shackles of oppression.
Early Portugese Raids | beginning the slave trade
In the year 1526, the Portugese had completed their first raid for African slaves and transported them to Brazil in the Americas.
Since Columbus ventured to America in 1492, Europeans had committed to one of the greatest atrocities in human history. The Native Americans were genocided and fell victim to foreign disease. Over 20 million Native Americans were killed (img); 95% of their population. This was compounded by the suspicious donation of blankets to the Natives which were riddled with small pox. The Native Americans had no immunity to small pox and died as a result.
Even today, the Native Americans experience unparalleled levels of poverty, mental illness and drug abuse.
In 1454 Pope Nicholas (img) granted King Alfonso V “…the rights of conquest and permissions previously granted not only to the territories already acquired but also those that might be acquired in the future”.
…Weighing all and singular the premises with due meditation, and noting that since we had formerly by other letters of ours granted among other things free and ample faculty to the aforesaid King Alfonso – to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit…
In 1456, Pope Calixtus III (img) confirmed these grants to the Kings of Portugal and they were renewed by Pope Sixtus IV in 1481; and finally in 1514 Pope Leo repeated verbatim all these documents and approved, renewed and confirmed them.
These papal bulls came to serve as a justification for the subsequent era of slave trade and European colonialism.
Despite the several papal condemnations of slavery in the 15th and 16th centuries, Spain and Portugal were never explicitly forbade from partaking in slavery.
In 1488, Pope Innocent VIII (img) accepted the gift of 100 slaves from Ferdinand II of Aragon, and distributed those slaves to his cardinals and the Roman nobility. The Curse of Ham, a biblical story which describes the descendants of Ham as a cursed people who were turned black by God, was later used to justify the enslavement of Africans. (img)
Task: we have seen that oppression of a people can lead to the regression of their culture and civilisation. This can lead to poverty, crime and mental illness. If a people’s decline has been at little fault of their own and to the gain of others, who should be responsible for their progression out of their disadvantaged position? Is their responsibility their own, their oppressors, or both? Explain
Task: During the Spanish Reconquista, which we have covered before, the Spanish Christians pushed the Spanish and Moorish Muslims out of Spain. The Moors occupied Spain for over 600 years before they were removed. How do you think the Christian Europeans may have viewed the West Africans, many of whom were Muslims, at the time?
Task: the Church supported slavery but later emerged as a force for anti-slavery. Do you think that religion may be a source of evil or do you think that human nature corrupts religion? Explore
Race For Empire | the demand for the slave trade
Nial Ferugson, in his book “Empire” does a fantastic job of explaining the drivers for Britain to also enter the rat race of Empire.
State Competition (img)
Britain, at the time, was fairly decentralised meaning that the local Lords of the land executed a lot of control over their towns. This was argued by Nial Ferguson to be different to the Spanish who had fairly centralised control in the Spanish Monarchy. This caused British states to compete against other British states for wealth and status. The transatlantic slave trade would soon be a way to for an Englishman to compete against his fellow Englishman for the accumulation of wealth.
Feudal Class System (img)
The remnants of the Medieval English class system put a great emphasis on land ownership being key to great wealth. According to Business Insider, even today, Queen Elizabeth II is the worlds greatest land owner
“With her 6.6 billion acres, Elizabeth II is far and away the world’s largest landowner, with the closest runner-up (King Abdullah) holding control over a mere 547 million, or about 12% of the lands owned by Her Majesty, The Queen.” (ref)
This equates to around 5% of the entire land on the earth’s surface under the ownership of one out of 7 billion people.
This created a drive in upwardly mobile people to attain as much land as possible. The Americas provided the perfect opportunity. After invading the Americas, the British Crown started to gift thousands of acres of American soil to any Englishman daring enough to cross the Atlantic and create American settlements. Despite being faced with foreign disease, dangerous travel and retaliation from Native Americans, the Englishmen went in such large numbers that it is argued that more Englishmen have settled outside of their native country than any other people in history.
Empire Envy | the competition of the slave trade
The story of Sir Henry Morgan summarises “Empire Envy” better than any other, in my opinion. According to Nial Ferguson, Henry Morgan was a Welsh privateer who, after hearing of the great quantities of gold seized by the Spanish in the Americas, decided to make an attempt for himself. He sailed to South America but ultimately failed in his attempt to find any gold. On his way back across the Atlantic, depressed at his failed efforts, he noticed a Spanish ship returning to Spain from the Americas after mining for gold.
Henry Morgan raided the Spanish ship (img) and returned to the British Isles. He reported his success to the monarchy who started to invest in Henry Morgan so that he could continue his pirateering. He became a very wealthy man and eventually purchased land in Jamaica and African slaves to work the sugar plantations.
The Monarchy then started to invest in other individuals like Henry Morgan. Pirateering became the start of the British Empire and the British Navy. Pirates would prove their ability; the monarchy would then permit their pursuit of wealth. The pirates would then become privateers. Privateers would continue to arm themselves for protection and invest in faster ships to defend against Piracy, and the cycle continues.
Henry Morgan can still be found today at many parties. This Knighted Pirate is today known as Captain Morgan whose name is now a popular brand of rum.
(img)Task: Due to Empire, there are more individuals of English descent outside of their native land than any other nationality of people. Considering this, and the fact that humans have spread from north Africa to all over the world over the past 200,000 years, assess the current arguments of anti-immigration. List the arguments for and against immigration? Assess the strength of these arguments by arguing for and against them. Summarise your opinion on immigration. Debate in class
To summarise the fight against the slave trade
The British were increasingly motivated to participate in the expansion of Empire to compete with fellow Brits and neighbouring countries. The philosophy of wealth i.e. that land equalled wealth and status encouraged them to sail to the Americas to acquire land. Piracy evolved into Privateering which then laid the foundations for the British Naval force
Task: how do the foundations of the British Empire differ to your previous understanding?
Divide and Conquer
“Divided we fall, together we stand” is a very commonly used phrase. Its origin may be placed 2000 years ago to the New Testament “And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand”. Similar verses of the New Testament include Matthew 12:25 (“And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand”
The British were very aware of this. Unfortunately for the West Africans, since the Cataln Atlas (img) depicted Mansa Musa holding a golden nugget, European powers had become aware of the huge wealth the West Africans possessed. After the death of Mansa Musa and the fall of Songhai to Northern forces, West Africa had been divided and weakened.
To further weaken the West African civilisations, the Europeans leveraged something in their possession that wasn’t in the possession of the west Africans; guns.
Sylvian A Diouf explains in his book, “Fight the Slave Trade” (img) that the Europeans targeted decentralised and vulnerable communities. Examples are Aja states of Allada, Whydah, Popo, and Jakin. They then traded guns with them for captives. The West Africans had already bare witness to the destruction of 40,000 Songhai warriors by an allied European and Moroccan force 1 tenth of the size. The obvious advantage of guns created appeal. By targeting the smaller, disorganised but upwardly mobile tribes, the Europeans were able to create an arms race. The smaller tribes would use their guns to raid the outskirts of the larger empires, to capture Africans and sell to the Europeans in exchange for money or guns.
As well as this, Europeans would raid coastal towns to capture slaves directly (img). This would eradicate the need for a middle man and would potentially increase profits. The Europeans would beat the slaves into submission or capture them at gunpoint before shackling them and forcing them to walk miles back to the coast line where they would cage them or hold them at large forts such as Elmina Castle in Ghana or Goree Island.
Task (img): thought experiment. Who is at fault? Nigeria has developed revolutionary new laser beam technology which they have developed into guns that fire from drones. The Nigerians sell these armed drones to small towns in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The members of these towns have experienced long term unemployment due to lack of industry. The Nigerians ask the small towns folk to raid the cities of Liverpool, Manchester and London. They do, leading to widespread chaos in Britain. Britain collapses as a civilisation and its glory days are forgotten. Who is to blame?
The Fight Against the Slave Trade
(img) Imagine your mother, your cousin, your brother. They have been hit around the head with a club and have been dragged out of town. You know you will never see them again unless you move quickly. What would you do? The answer is obvious. You would do everything in your power to find them and bring them home to safety.
Yet, for some reason the impression many historians give is that Africans just sat idly by and watched their relatives be forced or sold into slavery. This isn’t the case.
(img) Once again Sylvan A Diouf in his book, “Fight the Slave Trade” produces extremely detailed accounts of the fight against the trade. There were more African uprisings against the Slave Trade than there were in the Caribbean which itself saw uprisings on a regular basis as the Africans fought for their freedom.
Walled villages were common almost everywhere that slave raiding posed a threat and they were effective. The only weakness was that people had to leave to work the land. Defense was thus often coupled with major changes in the ways people lived. Most important in some coastal areas was a change in cropping patterns. Crops were planted close to the village and worked collectively (ref)
(img) In Yorubaland, the Oyo Empire illegalised the trade of slaves and put great effort into stamping out the widespread kidnapping in its territories.
However, the daily threat of being forced into captivity completely changed West African priorities. Where once great civilisations would invest huge quantities of time and gold into building magnificent universities, palaces and cities, effort was instead made to build short term settlements which were easy to abandon in a hurry. West Africa was regressing into a lesser version of its former self.
Oyo’s banishment of the slave trade created political complications leading to the first of the series of wars in Yorubaland in the nineteenth century. With the collapse of Oyo no other state emerged to keep the peace in Yorubaland in the face of growing demand for captives by the European traders. The Yoruba became the largest single source of captives for the Atlantic trade in the nineteenth century.
(img) And it is important to note that not all resistance happened on land. Around 10% of all slave ships experience an uprising of the enslaved Africans on their enforced voyage from the African coast to the Americas. Some Africans were even able to overthrow their oppressors and navigate their ship back to Africa.
(img) Unbeknown to the Europeans, some of the Africans which they were buying would become their greatest adversaries. Many of the Africans they purchased were prisoners of war, skilled in guerilla warfare. As soon as these African Guerrilla Warriors could, they would escape even if it meant killing their oppressors in the process. We shall read more about them later
- a foreign invader threatens to invade and capture your family and friends and sell them into slavey. You are outgunned but not outnumbered. What are your tactics for survival?
- Be careful! Your community leaders may have been paid off by the invaders. How do you think this would change how your community behaves?
Tactics against the slave trade
(img) A vast array of defensive tactics were used by Africans to avoid capture. Many Africans left their townships for more easily defensible terrain. Africans settled in harsh desert environments and some even built their towns on water. Lake Nokoue and the swamplands lands surrounding it provided an ideal refuge for various migrants who came to constitute a homogenous ethnic group, that of the Tofinu (pic)
(img) Sikasso, in southern Mali, was heavily fortified and successfully withstood a siege for over 15 months. Other cities built fortresses with vantage points for riflemen, with walls that stretched over 1km, over 10ft high.
A song heard on Goree Island in the eighteenth century hauntingly expresses presses their feeling of irremediable loss and despair, as well as their strong will to be reunited with their loved ones, even if-when redemption was not possible-it sible-it entailed the ultimate sacrifice:
(img) Damel [king] has raided the village of Yene He has enslaved the woman I love
Since then, I have so much pain
That I cannot drink palm wine
And I cannot eat couscous
My love is going to be shipped to the islands
I will ask to be made a slave to be with her
I’d rather be a slave with her
Than a free man in a place where she no longer is.
(Verdun de la Crenne 1778, 158-59)
Task: the African resistance against slavery is often forgotten. A more common narrative is “the European forces saw the errors of their ways and then illegalised slavery”. Why do you think the resistance of Africans against enslavement is often left uncovered?
The Conditions of the Slave Trade – Why did they do it?
The conditions of slavery can be thought of as what happens when one set of humans believe than another set of humans are “sub-human”. This should serve as a lesson to us all. Here are some examples we encounter today:
- Katie Hopkins describing migrants or refugees as “cockroaches” (ref)
- Hitler used pesticide to kill the Jews and described them as “rats” (ref) Nazis described Jews as Untermenschen, or subhumans
- Sailer Winston Mano described Africans as “beasts who have no houses” and also as “people without heads, having their mouth and eyes in their breasts.”
David Livingstone Smith from the Institute for Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Psychology at the University of New England explains (ref)
“We all know, despite what we see in the movies… it’s very difficult, psychologically, to kill another human being up close and in cold blood, or to inflict atrocities on them.” So, when it does happen, it can be helpful to understand what it is that allows human beings “to overcome the very deep and natural inhibitions they have against treating other people like game animals or vermin or dangerous predators.”
As author and rapper Kingslee Daley aka Akala said, “as soon as you call a group of people cockroaches it is a mandate for murder…”
How else would a christian, muslim or a jew enslave a fellow human? They have to make them subhuman in their own perspective and the perspective of others.
(img) The conditions in which the Africans were transported and enslaved were horrendous. They would have their feet and hands shackled often in a forward flexed position (pic). Many slaves thought that the Europeans taking them were cannibals, mistaking the wine they drank for blood. Suicide was rife. Many jumped overboard to save themselves from a life of enslavement. Around one third of Africans died in the crossing to the Americas which often took as long as 3 months. The Africans were often disfigured when they arrived due to being chained in abnormal positions for such long periods of times. The smell on the ships was so awful that people claimed to be able to smell slave ships before they saw them. John Newton, The conditions of the slave ships inspired John Newton, a slave trader, to become an abolitionist. He later wrote the popular hymn, “Amazing Grace”
(img) On arrival, the slavers beat the Africans into submission. They forced them to change their names to the names of their owners and abandon their religion. It is estimated that at least ⅓ of the Africans worshipped in accordance to Islam before their capture; the rest worshipped traditional African deitiies. They were forced to convert to Christianity and were provided a Bible with verses such as Exodus removed. This was to prevent them from drawing inspiration from other biblical people who had fought their oppressor.
(img) Cyril Lionel Robert James in his book “The Black Jacobins” describes some of the punishments that the Africans endured
- Pregnant women had their babies cut out of their wombs
- Heels of runaway slaves were removed
- Slow cooked on an open fire
- Gunpowder inserted into the rectum and set alight
- Rape of female slaves by their masters
- The slavers’ initials were branded onto the Africans skin with a hot poker
- Whipping and beatings; until death. I have family members who have been recorded to have had 500 lashes to the back
- Slave collars prevented them from resting
- Lynchings i.e. hanging from trees by the neck
The average age of the Africans taken to the Americas was 15.
(img) However, did you know that despite being held in unimaginably horrific conditions, many of our modern innovations come from enslaved Africans? One is the vaccine. An African slave called Onesimus explained to his slaver how he had been protected from small pox by rubbing the puss of an infected person into an open wound (ref). This later gave rise to the concept of vaccination; giving a low dose of a pathogen to promote immunity.
Task: name as many black celebrities that you know. What are their last names? Explain why their last names aren’t authentically African. What does this tell you of their ancestors past? What does this tell you about the size of the slave trade?
Task: another example of great evil is the holocaust of the Jews by the Nazis. 6million Jews were killed by the Nazis in unimaginable conditions (ref). They lost 2 thirds of their population to genocide (ref). What do you think would have happened if they were forced to forget who they were as well as this? In what state would this leave a people?
Revenge in the Americas
The slavers had attempted to break the Africans into submission. They wanted the Africans to forget who they were and abandon any measure of self esteem they may have had. But throughout this period of history we shall see how the desire for freedom is an innate desire which cannot be suppressed.
Interestingly enough, the inspiration for freedom may have started in Europe. The French were cutting the heads off of their monarchy.
In 1789 a Revolt had started in France which would last a decade (img). After years of austerity due to the French Monarchy fighting expensive wars in the Americas and other ventures, the crown was broke and the people public were starving. They revolted against the monarchy and coined the principles “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” which translates to “Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood”. They decapitated their royal family and laid the foundations for a democracy before Napoleon Bonaparte took dictatorship via coup.
The French empire’s most profitable territory was Haiti (img), in the Caribbean. At the time it was called St Domingue. The enslaved Africans on the island heard of France’s fight for freedom and equality and held a Voodoo ceremony. Voodoo is a religion which has its roots in West Africa and is still practiced today. During this ceremony, the Voodoo priestess spoke of a messiah who would lead the enslaved Africans to overthrow their European oppressors and earn their freedom.
Toussaint Louverture, a free man rose to the call and led the enslaved Africans in battle against the French. Toussaint Louverture (img) was a complicated man. He was freed by the age of 33 and reportedly owned a plantation and slaves which worked the plantation. African plantation owners were very uncommon. Most Africans would buy their freedom or be born into freedom, on some rare occasions. Many consider Toussaint Louverture to be a very intelligent and shrewd man.
At age 50, he joined the fight for freedom. He first fought for the Spanish against the French; then for France against Spain and Great Britain (img); and finally, he fought on behalf of Saint-Domingue in the era of Napoleonic France. Toussaint Louverture successfully led the previously enslaved Africans on the Island of Haiti to defeat the French, the British, the Spanish and Napoleon Bonaparte. Toussaint Louverture was bilingual at a time when it was illegal for Africans in the Americas to learn to read and write. Throughout the history of slavery and colonisation, there is a themed power struggle to keep the Africans uneducated. We shall see that Toussaint Louverture, Samuel Sharp, Nat Turner, Frederick Douglas, Margus Garvey, Malcolm X,Martin Luther King, James Baldwin; all instrumental in the fight for freedom, were extremely well educated people.
Toussaint Louverture and his carefully selected fellow generals (img) overthrew their oppressors and set up a democracy in its place. This is the first time in recorded human history that a nation of slaves have overthrown their oppressor and created a democracy. Toussaint Louverture ate very little, often survived on fruit, less than 4 hours sleep and often rode over 100 miles a day on horseback. He often rode in front of his men to scope the land for threats and opportunities.
Toussaint Louverture was a fantastic negotiator, often playing common enemies against each other and allying for the provision of guns.
“But what men these blacks are! How they fight and how they die! One has to make war against them to know how their reckless courage in braving anger when they can no longer have resources to stratagem. I have seen a solid column, torn by grape-shot from four pieces of cannon, advance without making a retrograde step. The more they fell, the greater seemed to encourage the rest. They advanced sining, for the Negro sings everywhere, makes soings on everything….” Lemmonier-Delagosse, in his memoirs
Even when the enemies of the Revolutionaries upped the severity of punishments for the Africans, the Africans fought even harder. They had reached their limit. For them, a life of enslavement was worse than death.
Toussaint Louverture realised the need to international trade for Haiti. He travelled to France where he was tricked by officials and imprisoned in east France where he died of pneumonia in 1803 (img). His comrade, Jean Jaques Dessalines retaliated and killed every Frenchman on the island. Napoleon Bonaparte wrote to the Haitians and instructed them to pay reparations for their freedom to compensate for the loss of property of their masters. If they didn’t pay, Napoleon Bonaparte would invade with full force to enslave them. The Haitians didn’t finish paying these reparations until 1947 for the Haitians to pay this. The French also forced the Haitians to export their product at a 50% discount. Haiti led the fight for the emancipation of enslaved Africans but is the poorest country in the Caribbean today (ref)
Task: Toussaint Louverture was a slave owner and plantation owner. Many would describe him as an unsavory character however he laid the foundations for the emancipation of lavery in the Americas and Africa. Likewise, Winston Churchill is linked to the Bengali famine which killed 3 million people, and said “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes,” and “I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race…” When leaders have provided a lot of good but also have committed many atrocities, how should we remember them? How should we celebrate them? Should we celebrate them? How does this differ to “cancel culture”?
The fight against the slave trade in the rest of the Americas
Information travelled very quickly in the 18th and 19th century. Ships were crossing the atlantic ocean and carried news with them. During this period of time, we see an acceleration of slave revolts occuring in the Caribbean and the Americas.
In Jamaica, many of the runaway slaves were previous prisoners of tribal warfare, taken to the Caribbean as slaves from west Africa (img). Many of them ran to Blue Mountain to join the Maroons; a group of runaway slaves. Queen Nanny, born in modern day Ghana, led the Maroons for a period of time. The Marrons would use guerilla tactics to raid plantations, rescue slaves and recruit them into their forces. They later signed a treaty with the British but many argue as to whether or not they kept it.
However in 1831, less than 30 years after the Haitian Revolution, Samuel Sharpe (img), a preacher who has freedom to move around the Island, met with a loyal following to plan for the actual revolt. At the end of a regular prayer meeting in mid-December 1831, Sharpe and a selected group of leaders stayed behind to discuss the plans for the revolt. Sharpe recalled examples from the Demerara Slave Revolt in 1823 in Guyana and rebellions on Caribbean islands to encourage his followers. He then had them swear on a Bible to follow the plan he outlined.
(img) On Christmas Day, the leaders of the uprising went on strike, demanding more free time and a working wage. They refused to return to work until the plantation owners met their demands. The strike escalated into a full rebellion when the planters refused their demands. On Monday, December 27, 1831, the rebellion broke out on the Kensington Estate near Montego Bay. As sugar cane fields were set on fire, whites not already in town for Christmas, fled to Montego Bay and other communities (ref).
60,000 Africans (20% of the enslaved population) revolted. They killed 14 English slavers before being suppressed by gunfire. Over 200 rebels were killed.
Samuel Sharpe was hung. His last words were “I would rather die upon yonder gallows than live in slavery”
Another preacher, Nat Turner (img) also led a rebellion against the slavers in America, killing up to 65 people. Harriet Tubman, a runaway slave, helped to build a chain of secret stops and a line of communication called The Underground Railroad. She successfully rescued 70 enslaved Africans and countless more from the shackles of slavery in her service in the American Civil War.
Support also simultaneously grew in Britain as a group of men called “The Clapham Boys” featuring the likes of William Wilberforce (img) also campaigned for the abolition of slavery. During the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation to free enslaved Africans, although this was thought to be a military strategy to crash the southern economy so that the north could gain an advantage. This is by enslaved Africans fleeing the plantations and allying with the North. The African Americans were recruited into the army and many were given the nickname “buffalo soldiers”, possibly due to their afro hair.
Abolitionists such as runaway slave, Frederick Douglas (img), travelled to Britain to perform on the speaker circuits. He would debate for the notion of the abolition of slavery against opposing orators who argued to keep slavery. His obvious intelligence was put on stage for the audience to see. He became an example of African intellect; living evidence that Africans were just as able as any other people.
Task: Toussaint Louverture, Samuel Sharpe, Nat Turner etc all learnt to read when to do so was taboo illegal for people of African descent. Many of their rebellious predecessors and successors were also far more educated than their peers. Why do you think this is? Exploring the previous question, why do you think there was a drive to keep Africans uneducated?
Task: African Americans such as Frederick Douglas and James Baldwin travelled the world to debate opposing orators who often held very racist ideologies. James Baldwin’s debate against William F Buckley became world famous. Debates require two people of opposing views to offer their views on stage. It became a great way for people to popularise racial equality. Speaker circuits and debates however differ from today’s “Cancel culture”. Do you think people of immoral views should be debated or silenced? Explain why.
The Scramble for Africa
The slave revolts led to widespread fear amongst the Western Europeans and European Americans. Jean Jaque Dessalines’ massacre of the French on the Island of Haiti (img) was a clear example of what enslaved Africans could do if they won the fight for freedom. Fearing a similar massacre of Englishmen on the island of Jamaica and other british colonies, the English freed the slaves but forced them into 8 year apprenticeships where they had to work for free. Jamaicans gathered in a church in Falmouth, Jamaica and buried shackles in a coffin and buried it, chanting “the monster is dead” as the clock struck midnight July 31st 1838, marking and end to slavery on the island.
Further uprisings and rebellions pressured the authorities to disband this new apprenticeship form of slave labour. Jamaicans would have to continue to fight for the disbandment of segregation and other oppressive laws for some time after. An example is the Morant Bay rebellion led by Paul Bogle. 25 people died.
A combination of moral obligation and economic competition between Empires led to 1% of the British Navy being used to police the Atlantic (img), combating illegal British and non-British slavers. The British Empire had to now defend its economic supremacy after losing its main source of income, selling slave farmed cotton which was processed in northern England.
David Olusoga in “Black and British” tells the story of how Britain aimed to set up exclusive trade deals with African countries.
The Bombardment of Lagos
December 26th, 1851, British naval forces bombarded the home of Nigerian chieftains. Previously, the British had attempted to strike a trade deal with Nigeria on the ultimatum that they would stop supplying other European empires with African slaves. The last few hundred years of the transatlantic slave trade had seen the growth of a slave economy in West Africa which many civilisations were now reliant on.
To maintain economic dominance, the British didn’t want other European forces to have an economic advantage over them. When Oba Kosoko (img), the King of Nigeria refused to sign a trade deal, the British naval forces sailed up the Niger river and bombarded Oba Kosokos palace. The British ousted Oba Kosoko and installed Oba Akitoye in his place. Lagos, Nigeria signed a treaty the next year.
Task : Explore the motives of the British at this point. They took a seemingly positive stance on slavery however they were economically motivated in their actions. These actions were often violent and invasive. Were they in the wrong or the right in their forced occupation of Lagos? Explore both arguments.
The Berlin Conference of 1884
European empires had continued to grow as had the resistance of enslaved Africans. The European forces looked to Africa to extract natural resources and cheap labour. To avoid a monumental clash of European, Imperial forces in War, Western Europe negotiated areas of Africa to colonise. European occupation jumped from 10% to 90% of the continent being under European occupation. This was made possible via a combination of military, political and economic domination.
As we have seen in the Murdock Map, these false borders dissected current borders which had taken hundreds of years to create. The old borders; a result of tribal, religious, territorial relations, were demolished (img). This means that tribes who had distanced each other due to age old feuds were now in close contact. Or, even worse, tribes were being ruled by leaders from enemy tribes.
These artificial borders led to widespread corruption, civil unrest and inequality. An example is the Biafran War in Nigeria (img) which saw a power vacuum as Nigeria gained independence from British colonial rule. Up to 3 million people died in conflict and resultant starvation. Dutch and British forces forced native South Africans and other tribesman off of their land and used apartheid regimes to restrict native African’s freedom and economical development.
Task (img): Imagine your friends, colleagues or fellow students. You will have naturally migrated away from those whose company you’re not too fond of and towards those whose company you’re naturally quite fond of. Explore what would happen if you were forced to work or live with those individuals who you weren’t very fond of. Describe and explain.
Task (img): African American Sociologist W.E.B. Dubois said “It dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil.”
He coined the term double consciousness. He explained that because African Americans had had their identity stripped from them, and had little control over their fortune, they were forced to see themselves through the eyes of European Americans. The common European American perception of African Americans was negative, racist and deeply stereotypical.
If you were forced to see yourself in a negative light, how do you think this would make you feel? How would this affect your development as a person?
The Civil Rights Movement
The African diaspora had fought hard for their freedom, many sacrificing their own lives in the process (img). By the year 1888, slavery had more or less entirely been abolished in the western world, 444 years after the first public sale of African slaves in Portugal (ref). Estimates are that between 10-20 million Africans were taken from their homeland for sale in the Americas. A third died on the passage in their own filth and disease. Many were tossed overboard. Many died fighting for their freedom. But the monster of slavery was finally dead.
But in its place stood segregation, unemployment, poverty, public lynching and desperation (img). In America these seperatist laws were called Jim Crow. In England, signs were put up saying “no dogs, blacks or Iirsh. In South Africa, apartheid ruled. The western world failed to introduce the African diaspora into its infrastructure. The African diaspora needed direction, an ideology to live by and self esteem.
Marcus Garvey Born 17 August 1887 (img)
A young man called Marcus Garvey, born in Jamaica in 1887, sympathised with the African Americans. He travelled to America, and trained himself to become a fierce orator. He founded the UNIA (universal negro improvement association) and claimed to have 6 million members. He lifted the esteem of the African diaspora and founded the Black Star Line which was a shipping company which he wanted to use to unite the economy of the African diaspora.
His career was tumultuous. Garvey was often the source of controversy and was an explosive speaker. He spoke of his admiration for the honesty of the KKK (img), a group who had murdered countless African Americans and burnt their property. He was also later arrested and charged for fraudulent sales of shares in the Black Star Line.
He later died in West Kensington after suffering from a number of strokes. He was mourned internationally and became a symbol of black potential. His branding was black, red and green which is still used today by the Black Lives Matter movement.
The memory of Marcus Garvey and his achievements influenced the Nation of Islam and Rastafarianism.
Malcolm X Born 19 May 1925 (img)
By the time Malcolm Little was 20 years of age, he had sold and taken enough drugs and burgled enough houses to become a hardened criminal, gain himself a criminal record and an 8-10 year sentence for burglary (img). By the end of his life, at the age of 39, he was one of the most recognisable faces on the planet.
(img)Between Mr. Muhammad’s teachings, my correspondence, my visitors … and my reading of books, months passed without my even thinking about being imprisoned. In fact, up to then, I had never been so truly free in my life.
During his time in prison, Malcolm befriended Muslims who encouraged him to educate himself to lift himself out of ignorance. A common theme of Civil Rights Activists is that many of them were aggressive learners. Malcolm read so much in prison that he claims to have given himself astigmatism. On converting to Islam, like Muhammad Ali would later do, Malcolm changed his surname from “Little” to “X”, the symbol for “unknown” in algebra (img). The surnames of most African Americans and Afro-caribbeans are the names their family inherited from their slave masters, who gave their slaves their last names to mark them as their property.
Throughout his life he worked to lift African Americans out of low self esteem, poverty and ignorance. He worked through the Nation of Islam and later on his own accord to provide educational and meal programmes to African Americans. His speaker circuits became world famous and he even visited the Midlands, England to express his views on the Conservative race for local election (img). Griffiths, the conservative MP campaigning for Smethwick, England, popularised the slogan “if you want a nigger for a neighbour, then vote labour”. Malcolm travelled to the midlands to show his support to the community after debating at Oxford University. At Oxford University his intellect and sharp tongue featured as strongly as it ever had
Malcolm’s greatest feat was his transformation of character (img). He transformed from a street criminal to a leader within the Nation of Islam to uplift the productivity of the black community. He then shifted his view from a seperationist to an integrationist. He wanted humans to live in harmony regardless of colour. He was particularly inspired after his pilgrimage on Hajj where he witnessed members of all races worshipping Allah. (img)
He was later assassinated by members of the Nation of Islam, with evidence of foul play and manipulation by the FBI. He was shot 21 times whilst speaking in Manhattan. He had just joined forces with well known integrationist and civil rights activist, Martin Luther King.
Dr Martin Luther King Jr January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968 (img)
Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Christian minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. King is best known for advancing civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience, inspired by his Christian beliefs and the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi.
King led the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and later became the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). As president of the SCLC, he led an unsuccessful 1962 struggle against segregation in Albany, Georgia, and helped organize the nonviolent 1963 protests in Birmingham, Alabama. King helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
On October 14, 1964, King won the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance (img). In 1965, he helped organize the Selma to Montgomery marches. In his final years, he expanded his focus to include opposition towards poverty, capitalism, and the Vietnam War. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover considered him a radical and made him an object of the FBI’s COINTELPRO from 1963 on. FBI agents investigated him for possible communist ties, recorded his extramarital liaisons and reported on them to government officials, and, in 1964, mailed King a threatening anonymous letter, which he interpreted as an attempt to make him commit suicide.
In the book The Next American Revolution, by Grace Lee Boggs who supported Martin Luther King, she expresses how Martin Luther King’s advocacy of socialism was the real catalyst to his assasination. At the time of his death, he was collaborating with Malcolm X. Socialist ideals were becoming more popular in California and America’s war against Socialism was failing in Communist Vietnam. The United States, the largest economy in the world at the time, had its foundations in a free market. Many historians feel that socialism was too much of a threat to survive (img).
Socialism was popular amongst African Americans and other marginalised communities because of their experience under a capitalist system. Many were poor, extremely oppressed and had little hope of the “American Dream” which was promised to all. African Americans and British people of African descent to this day experience systemic disadvantage which is not experienced by others.
King was planning a national occupation of Washington, D.C., to be called the Poor People’s Campaign, when he was assassinated on April 4 in Memphis, Tennessee (img). His death was followed by riots in many U.S. cities. Allegations that James Earl Ray, the man convicted of killing King, had been framed or acted in concert with government agents persisted for decades after the shooting. King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in cities and states throughout the United States beginning in 1971; the holiday was enacted at the federal level by legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Hundreds of streets in the U.S. have been renamed in his honor, and a county in Washington was rededicated for him. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was dedicated in 2011.
Other Activists and the Fight for Liberalism
No activist should be summarised, however for the sake of time I will have to.
Muhammad Ali (img)
“Ain’t no Vietcong ever called me N***er”… Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali, arguably the best heavyweight boxer ever to have existed famously turned down the draft to fight in the Vietnam War. He continued to lift the spirits of black people around the world. He was outspoken against the oppression that African Americans faced throughout his life.
Nelson Mandela (img)
Arguably the father of modern South Africa. He used force, politics and suffered 27 years in prison on Ruben Island to bring an end to Apartheid rule in South Africa. He was a qualified lawyer and the son of a chieftain. He and the ANC successfully unified the country after he was elected president after black Africans were given the vote. He became president at age 75.
Mandela received more than 260 awards over 40 years, most notably the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
The Black Panther Party (img)
Originally set up to “police the police”, the black panther party worked to end police brutality by exercising their right to bear arms and follow the police. If the police acted unlawfully, they would stand at a safe distance and recite legal rights of the victim in ear shot of the police and the victim. They aimed to intimidate the police legally, intellectually and physically. They also raised money to create breakfast clubs in the local communities. They had strong socilaist ideologies which once again threatened the economic structure of America. Key members were Huey Newton, Freddie Hampton and Angela Davis. Unfortunately the party fell victim to the US government who allegedly framed party members, as well as internal breakdown of party structure.
The Windrush was the name of a ship which took Caribbean migrants to the UK. The Caribbean had been a huge source of wealth for the UK. Revenue from slave labour was the largest contributor to gross domestic product during the reign of the British Empire.
After world war two, due to heavy financial losses, a death toll in excess of 420,000 (many of them working men) and huge damage to infrastructure, Britain sent news to the commonwealth (America, Canada, Australia, the West Indies, India and Australia) that the mother country was accepting larger quantities of migrants to help to rebuild. (img) The British authorities and the public expected those of English descent (i.e. America, Canada and Australia) to flock to their aid.
Instead, those from the Caribbean and India were the first to answer the call for service. There was uproar. The public were demanding that the ships returned to the Caribbean even before they had docked in Tilbury, Essex.
(img) “The 1951 Churchill government “wanted to restrict colonial immigration using a public clamour from the white working class population living alongside the Caribbean immigrants.
That clamour didn’t exist but Churchill wanted to push legislation before public opinion made that shift.” (ref)
Clement Attlee, the Labour prime minister, proposed having the ship diverted to east Africa so that the migrants could be given work on a groundnut farming project.
“They has every legal right to work here, they were needed by businesses and the NHS. But they were the wrong colour,” says Olusoga.
“There was a belief that black or brown people could never be British. That led to laws designed to discriminate on the basis of race.”
This is despite more soldiers of Indian, African and Caribbean descent fighting on behalf of Britain in WW2 than the British themselves. (img)
British Forces: 2.9million
Africa: 600,000 (ref)
War can have devastating effects on a country’s economy. In 1919, race riots broke out due to the economic tension left after WWI. Liverpublian racial tensions had previously peaked after WWI. Charles Wootton (img), trying to escape the violence, was chased half a mile down the road and forced into the docklands water where he was pelted with stones. He drowned.
Racial violence towards black people of African and Caribbean heritage continued.
A fire that occurred during a party at a house in New Cross, south-east London, in the early hours of Sunday, 18 January 1981. The blaze killed thirteen young black people aged between 14 and 22, and one survivor committed suicide two years later.
The cause of the fire was suspected arsenery (img). Racial tensions between the black community and the national front were mounting.
20,000 people marched in protest with slogans such as, “Blood Ah Go Run If Justice Nuh Come”. One slogan read: “Dame Jill Knight Set The Fire Alight!” — which was an apparent reference to a controversial speech by Dame Jill Knight, a right-wing member of the ruling Conservative party, which was widely interpreted as condoning or even encouraging “direct action” against noisy parties.
The march was overwhelmingly peaceful but The Sun newspaper reported it with the headline: “Day the blacks ran riot in London”
The wake of the New Cross Fire and invasive stop and search measures used by the police later led to the Brixton riots shortly after (img). Lord Scarman led the enquiry into the riots and concluded that the police had failed in their attempt to gain consent from the community to police them.
He concluded that it was essential that “people are encouraged to secure a stake in, feel a pride in, and have a sense of responsibility for their own area”
Task: why would a newspaper which to dramatise the violence of a peaceful protest? Give examples of when you have seen a news paper / article do the same? How can we extract truth from sources of news?
Task: why do you think it is important for the police to gain consent to police the community?
Black and British
Further amendments to the police service were made after the murder of Stephen Lawrence, in Eltham/ April 1993 (img). Stephen Lawrence, a 18 year old, aspiring architect fell victim to a racist attack and was stabbed with a blade at least 5 inches long in the chest and the shoulder. He died shortly after.
The police, on arrival, assumed Stephen Lawrence to be the victim of gang violence and interrogated his friend, assuming he was also a gang member. The lack of care in handling Stephen’s case led to contamination of evidence and failure to indict Gary Dobson, David Norris and their accomplices. (img) Stephen’s murderers had got away with killing a teenager because of the failure of the police to value black life. The police were deemed as being institutionally racist and measures wGere brought in to reduce racial bias.
Later, legislation was passed for cases to be reopened if there was sufficient evidence. There was. David Norris and Gary Dobson were later sentenced and sent to jail for murder. (img) Gary Dobson was 17 years old when he killed Stephen Lawrence. (img)
Task: why do you think a child would kill another human being based on their race? Are people innately racist or is this taught? Where would a child learn to be racist?
Being black today
So the question remains…. Where are we today? We have removed the shackles of slavery and we are starting to remember what came before. We are in the process of disbanding harmful ideologies and learning how to be proud of our heritage without discrediting the heritage of others.
(img) But still, the legacy of the past is symptomatic in the present day. I would advocate that the nation needs to therapeutically address the sins of the past. As in psychotherapy, trauma if not addressed will present itself in potentially harmful ways. The British government themselves have tried to hide the past by actively burning colonial documents (ref). The marches of 2020 have shown that the memories of the past continue in their need to be addressed, despite efforts to cover them up.
In the UK, today (img)
Black people are 7x more likely to be stopped and searched (ref)
Black women are 5 times more likely to die during pregnancy, childbirth and post-birth (ref)
African Americans are half as likely to be prescribed pain medication (ref)
Black children are 2.6x more likely to be excluded for the same or even when displaying better behavior than their white counterparts (ref)
Black children are under-assessed i.e. “in-school bias” results in their intelligence being underestimated when compared to other children who produce the same quality of work (ref)
Black and Muslim individuals need to send up to twice as many job applications to receive an interview for identical CVs (ref)
Black people are paid 17% less for the same level of education than their white counterparts
What does this mean? (img)
Imagine playing snakes and ladders against an opponent. That opponent has more snakes on their board than you. You have more ladders on your board than they do. Your opponent inevitably loses.
Would you say to that individual that their issue is the way they’re playing the game? That they’re throwing the dice wrong? That maybe if their attitude was a bit better, they would be better off?
The truth is that we as human beings are to some extent very varied. We have varied work ethics, talents, intelligence etc. But when all these things are controlled, someone is still disadvantaged for reasons outside of their control, I would argue that it is ethically sound to remove those disadvantages. If we don’t, then everyone loses.
(img) Do you want to be helped by someone who is most qualified to help you? Or someone who got the job because of who their parents were, or what their ethnicity or gender is? There is a better qualified person who didn’t get the chance to help you. They lose and you lose.
We shouldn’t simply be aiming for black people to have the same opportunities as non-blacks. We should be aiming for merit to be the greatest indicator of success. If we can work to build equality of opportunity amongst all races, genders, religions and creeds, society will be better off as a result.
As Martin Luther King Jr said, “everyone has a duty to be a civil rights activist”
The original aim of this project was to show the African diaspora the true essence of ourselves. It is our duty to remember what we have been forced to forget. In our history we find esteem, identity and the true scope of our potential. However I became increasingly enlightened as I worked on this project. We as humans have contributed far more to each others progression than we have our demise (img). In today’s context it is almost ironic that many Europeans claim ancient Greece and Rome to be the origin of today’s civilisation. If it wasn’t for Muslim Arabs and Africans translating and refining the classics and then brining those works into Europe through the Iberian Peninsula (Spain), Western Europe may still have been ignorant of the ancient past they claim.
But as I worked, I became more aware of the importance of curiosity. Curiosity without bias allows us to see each other for who we truly are. I have had the most informing conversations with people of opposing views, beliefs and backgrounds to my own (img). Our polarisation allows me to understand my own views and my own ambitions. This is why I despair for the “cancel culture” and I have admiration for the speaker circuits which Malcolm X, Frederick Douglas and James Baldwin spoke on. Allow ignorance at the highest level to display its ugly, primitive nature and let the public decide as to who is the better force for good.
Thank you for reading or watching my project. I will continue to work for the betterment of equality. (img)