Black History Fun Fact Friday – To Shoot Hard Labour by Joanne C. Hillhouse

This article is part of Antiguan and Barbudan author Joanne C. Hillhouse’s Blogger on Books book review series on her blog http://jhohadli.wordpress.com. 

Today, she provides insight into the book, To Shoot Hard Labour: The Life and Times of Samuel Smith, an Antiguan Workingman 1877-1982.


A Long Preamble

The full title of To Shoot Hard Labour, which I was first introduced to as a secondary school student and have referenced in the years since, is To Shoot Hard Labour: The Life and Times of Samuel Smith, an Antiguan Workingman 1877-1982 (first printing 1986).

You may immediately pick up that the title structure is reminiscent of the true-to-life literary genre known as the slave narrative. Famous examples of which include Twelve Years a SlaveNarrative of Solomon Northup, a citizen of New York, kidnapped in Washington City in 1841 and rescued in 1853 from a Cotton Plantation near the Red River in Louisiana (published 1859). Additionally, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, written by himself (published 1845 by the anti-slavery office in Boston); and The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, related by Herself (published in England in 1831).

The subject and author of the last of these spent some of her time in enslavement in Antigua, where I live, the locale of the post-slavery narrative told by Samuel Smith to his grandchildren, co-authors Keithlyn and Fernando Smith.

The slave narrative emerged in the colonial era as a genre and a tool of the anti-slavery movement concerned with dismantling chattel slavery in the Americas – other references will say North America, but I am being very specific.

It shouldn’t need to be said in 2020 with all the material (e.g., slave narratives) at our disposal, but chattel slavery – the brutal multi-generational-generational-generational form of human trafficking and enslavement of Africans fed by the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the need (read: greed) for labour for the mass production of sugar and cotton that built the European and North American (meaning the USA) economies – happened across the hemisphere known as the Americas. The Americas includes North and South America and the Caribbean. Historically, this is the so-called ‘New World’ over which European powers fought and which they colonized over hundreds of years – beginning with Columbus’ wrong turn at Hispaniola, modern-day Haiti (French), and the Dominican Republic (Spanish) in 1492.

The first enslaved Africans arrived in the New World in the 1500s. To Shoot Hard Labour, in its sweeping introduction, spoke of Las Casas, the Catholic priest known as the protector of the ‘Indians’, the Kalinago (called Caribs by the Europeans who in the history books I read as a child were described as ‘fierce’ and ‘warlike’) and other indigenous groups being exterminated for European profit, who proposed that the colonizers look instead to Africa for labour. In this introduction, it said the first enslaved Africans landed in the New (to the colonizers) World in 1502.

The Old World powers of England, Spain, France, Portugal, the Netherlands (Dutch) divvied up and dominated Africa (which they mined of her natural and human resources) and the colonies they claimed in the New World, often through violence. England emerged as a superpower – an empire upon which the sun never set, into the 20th century, until its former colony, America, which had greatly expanded its fortunes and influence since declaring its Independence in 1776, rose to take that spot. Forgive me for being hand wave-y on the details of globalization; I intend this as a discussion of the book To Shoot Hard Labour, not a New World history.

However, I am writing this in the summer of 2020, a summer in which the newly announced Vice Presidential hopeful on the US Democratic party ticket, Kamala Harris, is US (i.e., North American) born to a father from Jamaica and a mother from India. The fact that these are both former colonies of England and that Jamaica was, like the entire Caribbean, a chattel slavery colony is not the point, but it is not irrelevant. Harris’ Blackness, and her connection to the struggles of Black people who have fought their way from slavery to freedom and beyond, have been called in to question with sentiments like “She’s not Black. She’s Jamaican.”

If you know the New World history, you know that Blackness and Jamaica are not mutually exclusive. The English speaking Caribbean, including Jamaica, and other non-English speaking former colonies, are majority Black and have been for centuries at the forefront of anti-slavery, labour rights, and independence movements, and for decades at the forefront of the reparations movement specific to the injustices of chattel slavery.

It is a movement that has been centered in American discourse this election cycle – and we love to see it – because it’s all about reparative justice. This is something that should unite, not separate us. We are diasporically – through our ties to a common motherland, Africa, and the inheritance of a common brutal experience here in the New World – family. But here we are, and it needs to be said – some of the most brutal forms of chattel slavery existed in the Caribbean, and the post-slavery narrative To Shoot Hard Labour is one man’s testimony.

The genre known as the slavery narrative grew out of the lived experience of enslaved (and formerly enslaved) people, some 6000 of them across North America and the Caribbean through the 18th and 19th centuries. They were autobiographical and, given their use as an anti-abolitionist tool, emphasized the struggle, with religion and progress being recurring motifs. As with many slave narratives, To Shoot Hard Labour is an ‘as told to’ and Papa Sammy ends by telling his grandsons, “I hope that you will write down exactly what I am telling you. If you do, the people will see how far down in the mud arwe come from.” (p. 162)

To Shoot Hard Labour veers from your traditional slave narrative in that it begins in 1834 – the year slavery legally ended in the English speaking Caribbean, with the four year apprenticeship – Antigua, which opted for full emancipation in 1834, was an exception. I, therefore, describe it as a post-slavery narrative. Its central theme, beginning with Papa Sammy’s ancestor Rachael’s long walk across Antigua to re-connect with the daughter (Minty) sold off years before, is the quest for freedom, life, humanity in a world determined to keep Black people underfoot. “Only when they find Minty they really believe that slavery was all over for sure.” (p. 32) But not without scars, “Minty had a brand on she hand.” (p. 32)

The book is a stark reminder that the legal end of slavery did not mean its end in practice. In some ways, even in a country, politically independent since 1981, with Black leaders and a majority Black population, the struggle for true self-actualization continues. The ways in which the struggle continues and in which they have been brought in to sharp focus in 2020, the year of the COVID-19 global pandemic and the globally resonant Black Lives Matter uprising sparked in North America/the US, and the economic and social quakes sparked by both, is more heavy lifting than this piece can do.

But let’s talk about this book though.

I covered a lot of ground in the 13th installment of my CREATIVE SPACE column of 2020 (SAY THEIR NAME: IN MEMORIAM) in which I wrote about To Shoot Hard Labour by telling the stories of some of the people beaten, raped, and killed, casualties of anti-Blackness post-slavery in Antigua, as well as some of the unsung freedom fighters (labour rights activists). There is likely to be some overlap, but I’ll try to tread ground not covered there, here. I urge you to read that article as a companion to this one.

As the nation was reminded during a month-long on-air book club discussion of it in which I participated, this book covers a lot in its 100 plus years, and even if you’ve read it before, you’re likely to learn something. And even if you’re not from Antigua, what you learn will be educational and impactful as you consider the arc of human history in general and Black people’s experiences in the New World specifically. The particularity of it makes it more potent, not less.

“Just a little away from the market on Church Street in an open space under a big mahogany tree was the old slave market where the bakkra use to sell our generations. That mahogany tree had hoods and spikes in it. After slavery end, Delos Martin, a Scotchman built a business place just west of it, and that would block the view of the courthouse at the corner of Scotch Row and Church Street…the little hill at the head of the city – the one in a straight line with High and St. Mary’s Streets – was called Gibbet’s Hill. It was the place where the open gallow was built – close to what is now called the Botanical Gardens – but the slaves use to call it Dribbet House.

The open gallows were like the frame of a house. Them gallows would have three or four planks overhead. The slaves used to be tied with rope at the neck or shoulders, around the waist, or any part of the body for that matter. They were then pulled up and tie to the overhead planks, and they would be left there to swing. A portion of food would be left in front of them, but that food was to let the slaves see it and not reach it. They were made to swing there till they dead. Nowadays, when you want to show how harsh you want to deal with somebody, you say ‘Me go kill you’. Back then we use to say ‘Me go gibbet you.’” (p. 95)

A long quote, yes, but hopefully you see what I mean, that you don’t have to know those places to see and hear, in Papa Sammy’s own voice, with the vivid descriptiveness of lived and/or handed down memory, the history being revealed.

For me, the reading comes with a sense of loss and reclaiming, as, though I grew up here and knew the named streets, these places, as described, weren’t known to me. There are stories of numerous places for us to re-discover–from the baobob (or as Papa Sammy called it bear bob) tree (the one on the Freemansville main road), which has the distinction of being near a former market where enslaved people were sold, Stony Hill Gully where enslaved people plotted freedom, in 1736 (enduring public torture and death as a consequence), to the lawlessness and licentiousness of bakkra spaces like Guiana Island and Willoughby Bay.

It’s worth noting that though the book, in the spirit of narratives, is autobiographic and, as a result, largely anecdotal, it is not so easily dismissed as a history. For one, it fills the gaps left by the original history of dates and more official sources, i.e., the colonizer’s perspective. For another, it makes a valiant effort to fact check itself.

Derelict Gunthorpes Sugar Factory Antigua High Resolution Stock Photography and Images – Alamy

When Papa Sammy gives 1904 as the year the Gunthropes sugar factory became operational, there’s a footnote that references “Sir Francis Watts, who played a leading role in the establishment of the first central sugar factory” (p. 115) as saying that it was planned in 1903 and reaped its first crop in 1905. The centralization of at least some part of the sugar production process, by the way, began opening up the world of people who had known only plantation life – a very narrow world indeed.

Sugar was king during much of slavery, plantation days, in the Caribbean, and this changed only ever so slowly post-slavery. Massa (also called bakkra – literally “back raw” according to one source* much like “cracker” a pejorative for white in the US* is, according to some sources I’ve seen, a reference to the sound of the whip hitting Black flesh) was still Lord, Master, and the magistrate. The formerly enslaved was still, for all intents and purposes, enslaved. As Papa Sammy said, “in those days, nega if them right, them still wrong” (p. 118)


Sunset from Jolly Beach (scotbon, Feb 2008) Antigua and Barbuda

While the story doesn’t scrimp on the sorrow, it doesn’t wallow in victimhood. It speaks concurrently of the rise of free villages like Freemansville, the harnessing of skills and resources (female-centered work in medicine – a fair amount of folk remedies included), the lingering effects of enslavement (children still carrying the so-called Massa’s name and harsh corporal punishment of children and adults continuing the pattern from the plantation), and the rise of the workers’ rights movements with sometimes fatal consequences (as during the 1918 ‘riots’).

Additionally, the governorship and business and ownership or lack thereof and the transformation of the country, the push for voting rights and ways the community worked together (“the swap, throwing the box and working the lift was the main things that prevent us from eating each other” – p. 116). And there was a beauty. I can verify that as Papa Sammy said, there is no better vantage point for sunset viewing than Clark’s Hill, which is a rising in the middle of the island.

Chattel slavery was not indentured servitude, no matter what some meme said, and the fact that we seem to be forgetting that makes books like To Shoot Hard Labour even more valuable. Consider that post-slavery movement was restricted – you couldn’t just switch employers, and you would be punished physically or locked up for not going to work. You still effectively lived in slave quarters (called the ‘nega-house’ where there was no privacy); you did not police yourself in any way – in fact, “whenever there was a fight or quarrel among nega-house people, it would be massa that would decide who was to get punish and how the punishment would be” (p.38) and who in fact still had and exercised the power of life and death with impunity over the people he once owned.

Consider that post-slavery, you did not own the land you worked nor what it produced unless bakkra said so, that prison labour (literally a jail cart which moved where the work was) was effectively another form of slave labour. Consider all this and more through the lens of current conversations re Blackness, reparations, etc. Consider all this and more, over the 100 years Papa Sammy lived, dying the year after Antigua arrived at political Independence.

Who else to tell this story even if in the telling he disrupts some established narratives–e.g., bringing nuance to the story of modern Antigua, dinging the mythology, speaking to the jealousies and infighting, and the missed opportunities and broken promises even with Black leadership?

You can hear the heartbreak in his words as he reflects on the mahogany tree that once marked the slave market in town. “It was our government and black people that pluck up that tree.” (p. 161). It is we, now in charge, he insists who have forgotten and that’s the heartbreak of this book, but that’s also the hope. These stories are hard to read but they need to be told because – there is much that was done that we can learn from, there is much that was done to us that we must never forget.

Click Here to Purchase Your Copy of To Shoot Hard Labour

Why read this book, beyond it being riveting history? To quote Papa Sammy, “I want the young generations to remember” (p. 161), and this is important because, to quote him further, “I hope that the day will never come again when our people have to suffer indignity like my generation and others have to.” (p. 162) Indignity, when you read this book, and books like it, you will see that that’s putting it mildly.

RIP to the co-author of To Shoot Hard Labour, Antiguan and Barbudan historian, and trade unionist Sir Keithlyn Smith who died July 31st, 2020, and buried in an official funeral on September 15th, 2020.


RELATED LINKS

CREATIVE SPACE: IN MEMORIAM https://jhohadli.wordpress.com/creative-space/creative-space-2020/creative-space-13-of-2020-say-their-name-in-memoriam

BLOGGER ON BOOKS (2020) – To Shoot Hard Labour by Keithlyn and Fernando Smith https://jhohadli.wordpress.com/joannes-extra-ness/blogger-on-books-vlll-2020/blogger-on-books-2020-to-shoot-hard-labour-by-keithlyn-and-fernando-smith

Joanne C. Hillhouse – Author bio https://jhohadli.wordpress.com/about/bio and professional services https://jhohadli.wordpress.com/writing-editing-coaching-services

*Bakkra (Massa): slave master, oppressor

Etymology: “back raw,” “oppressor” (which he bestowed with a whip.)

The bakra or bakra master  refers to a slave master and or slave driver. It is often used in reference to performing unpleasant / involuntary tasks for a demanding person (often in jest).

Fi mi supervisa comin’ like a real bakra masa

*Cracker: “Cracker” was used to refer to poor whites, particularly those inhabiting Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia’s frontier regions. It is suspected that it was a shortened version of “whip-cracker” since the manual labor they did involved driving livestock with a whip. Over time this came to include slave-drivers who used Blacks as livestock during chattel slavery, often literally “cracking the whip” to make them walk faster when human bodies replaced cattle or as a warning to enslaved people who were not “working” hard enough. ‘Ev’ry time I hear the crack of a whip, my blood runs cold. I remember on the slave ship, how they brutalised our very souls.’ – Bob Marley, Slave Driver, from Catch a Fire | Source: “Remembering the Crack of the Whip: African-Caribbean Artists in the UK Visualise Slavery.”


Joanne C. Hillhouse is the author of two books of children’s fiction, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure and With Grace, two books for the teen/young adult market The Boy from Willow Bend and Musical Youth, and two adult contemporary books Oh Gad! and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight. Her writing has appeared in several international magazines, literary journals, and anthologies, including, respectively, Essence, The Columbia Review, and New Daughters of Africa.

Follow and Subscribe to Hillhouse’s thought provoking blog at http://jhohadli.wordpress.com.

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Be sure to check out more Black History Fun Facts Here.

Want to contribute a Black History article? Find out how here.

Black History Fun Fact Friday: Guest Writers Wanted

Updated: 4/27/2020

On January 17, 2015, I started a new Blog Series in honor of Black History Month called Black History Fun Fact Friday. I planned for the series to run from January 2015 through the end of February 2015, but two badges and 70 weeks later we are still going strong.

Black History Fun Fact Friday is not just a Black History Month segment anymore. It has carved out its own space on this blog. I want to get back to publishing Black History articles every Friday and would love to have some help.

I am reaching out for help from individuals who are interested in helping to contribute to this series.

Requirements:

 

  • Must be at least 18+ to write for The PBS Blog.

 

  • Must be original work. Do not copy and paste the article from other blogs unless that blog is your own. If you have a Black History article to share that you published to your site, I welcome you to submit it for Black History Fun Facts. I have no problem with that as long as it is your work. You can also link back to it so readers can follow your blog.

 

  • Because of the nature of this series, interested writers must be Black/African American.

 

  • Topics must be relatable to the history of Blacks/African Americans, African diaspora, e.g.

 

  • Articles must be emailed to me for approval at least one week before publishing. If you email your article on 4/28 for example, I will publish it on 5/1 if there are no needed changes.

 

  • Please send articles as an attachment in a Word Document, 12p Font, Times New Roman text.

 

  • Please do your best to self-edit your work for basic typos/spelling/grammatical errors before submission. Grammarly and ProWritingAid are good free self-edit software programs to use.

 

  • Please include at least one image with the post. Canva is a good program to use to make your own images.

 

  • This is Black History Fun Fact Friday not Black History Opinions so do your best to submit articles covering accurate historical information. I will vet the submissions to make sure they do. If you have links to sources, please include them. If you quote someone else, please cite your source. Articles that plagiarize will not be featured on this blog. (Note: Writers, as a heads up, if you are quoting people in your Social Media graphics without giving proper credit, this is plagiarism. Putting quotation marks around the quote does not make it yours. Don’t leave off the name of the person who said it first!)

 

  • Please include a photo of yourself, social media handles, website, or links to books you’ve written on the topic. This will be added to the end of the post.

Benefits of Guest Blogging:

 

  • Increase traffic to your own website/blog
  • Build Relationships/Online Influence
  • Build Domain and Search Engine Authority
  • Capture Wider Audience (go hand-in-hand with the 1st point)
  • Develop Your Authority on a topic
  • Improve Your Writing
  • Opens the doors for paid business opportunities

Email articles to yecheilyah@yecheilyahysrayl.com.

Black History Fun Fact Friday: “In Africa they Didn’t Teach about the Period of Enslavement of Our People.”


I thought this quote was an interesting and thought provoking one to share considering the crisis going on today.

What Crisis?

The one where schools are trying to remove Black History Courses from their Curriculum.

The one where today’s kids only know about Slavery and the Civil Rights Movement.

The one where the only Historical Black people most people can name are Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Dr.

What about Toussaint Louverture, general and leader of the Haitian Revolution?

Or Florence Mills, nicknamed “Queen of Happiness,” and one of the most successful entertainers of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance Movement? You know Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes, but what of the people mainstream society doesn’t speak of?

THAT Crisis

To the quote…

“In Africa, they didn’t teach about the period of enslavement of our people. They forbade us from speaking about it. They would kill people for speaking about that history. So we were not allowed for hundreds of years to speak about what was happening and to teach what was happening.”

– Queen Diambi: The Queen of Congo

My people across the water, is this true? Not hard to believe with the history they restrict here in America.

Now, for our first atrocity of the week…

My raggedy To Kill a Mockingbird

A public school in Biloxi Mississippi is trying to pull To Kill a Mockingbird from the eighth grade curriculum because the language is “uncomfortable.”

If the language in To Kill a Mockingbird makes thirteen-year-olds “uncomfortable,” then I assume the school district is also insisting they stay off Twitter and never listen to rap music. – Julia Dent

“The book is about life in the South during the Great Depression, specifically the life of a black man named Tom Robinson who had been framed for raping a white woman. Local lawyer Atticus Finch agrees to defend the innocent man, angering the racist white community who subject him and his children to abuse. Despite proving Robinson’s innocence, the jury still convicts him because of the color of his skin. I won’t spoil the ending for you if you haven’t read it, but it is even more violent and sad (but with a bit of a happy ending).”

And if you haven’t read the book yet, do that (and I do not mean watch the movie. Read the book).

>>Click Here to Keep Reading<<

Next up is the Winston-Salem School Board who voted SEVEN to ONE AGAINST a Black History Course

“Black American children need to know their history “not later, but now,” Winston-Salem City Council Member D.D. Adams said after a mandatory African-American history course for the district was rejected by the school board.

>>Click here to Keep Reading<<

and this one goes in depth

 

I shared these same articles with my email list and I am sharing them with you too because I am seeing more and more instances of Black history removed. This is one of several reasons why I write Black Historical Fiction. Who will restore what was lost? No greater person can do it than writers. Someone has to write it down even if through Fiction and Poetry.

The little crumbs of black history they have allowed to exist is being erased bit by bit. As the so-called Black man, woman, and child is being awakened to the knowledge of their true heritage, even what they thought they knew is being removed. A few weeks ago, I was watching Michael B. Jordan’s Raising Dion series on Netflix. Dion was being singled out by a white teacher during an altercation Dion had with another student, a white boy. His aunt told his mother it was time for her to have “the talk” with him. When she told him, Dion said he thought “Dr. King fixed all of that.”

Huh? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?

MLK is recent. The 60s was not that long ago and Black History did not begin with The Civil Rights Movement (The NAACP wasn’t even created by Black people. It was founded by Jewish white men.)

Black people, ask yourself why our children are only being taught about the Civil Rights Movement. Chicago Public Schools have been on strike for about two weeks ending today. Maybe parents should consider teaching their own children. It can’t be any worse than the school system.

Image from the movie, “To Kill a Mockingbird”

February is around the corner but you don’t have to wait a whole year to research your history. Here are a few good articles for you.

For The Origins of Black History Month revisit that fun fact here, which I published to this blog a couple years ago.

Here’s an article I found earlier this week written by William Spivey. He was featured on the blog a few years ago about his upcoming book. He wrote an excellent piece on Breeding Farms during slavery.

This young woman is getting a lot of attention of Social Media for being the first Black Teen Author Ever To Write 3 Books Being Used By School Districts Across The Country. She is an excellent example of how Black writers can change things through writing.


Peace and hair grease!

For more Black History Fun Facts visit the Black History Fun Fact page here. If you are interested in submitting a Black History Fun Fact as a guest post on this blog let me know! That would help me to be more consistent with this if I had help. I am putting together something now to promote that but until then, comment below if you’re interested or email me at yecheilyah (at) yecheilyahysrayl dot com. (The post on Roots has been added to the Black History Fun Fact page.)

Next week we are talking about Nina LittleJohn (Yah Willing) who opened a medical facility to treat Blacks in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Black History Fun Fact Friday – The Community of Africatown

I am always fascinated by the all Black communities African Americans have built over the years. It means that we are capable of coming together economically to build something of our own and have been doing so for some time now. Communities like Black Wall Street, Rosewood, Blackdom and Israel Hill are examples. To learn of more communities, visit a recent post 7 Black Communities that Prospered.

To add to that list, I’d like to talk today about Africa Town, a place I didn’t know about until it has recently made news after suing an industrial plant claiming it released toxic chemicals linked to cancer.

On this day, March 2, 1807, The U.S. Congress passed an act to “prohibit the importation of slaves into any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States…from any foreign kingdom, place, or country”, banning the Slave Trade. A group of slaveholders then, made a bet that they could still import slaves and could do so without being caught. 110 Africans (Israelites) from the Yoruba Tribe from the interior of Nigeria were taken and held captive aboard the Clotilda, allegedly the last slave ship to bring captives from Africa to America. Led by Timothy Meaher, a shipbuilder and landowner, the ship made it to the port of Alabama in July of 1860. The slaves were removed from the ship and put on a steam river boat and the Clotilda was burned to hide the evidence.

The enslaved were divided between the men who had made the bet but they eventually got caught. Federal Authorities prosecuted the men but the 1861 federal court case of US v. Byrnes Meaher, Timothy Meaher and John Dabey was thrown out because of lack of evidence. After the Civil War Meather freed his slaves and allowed them to work his property. This is the beginnings of the community of Africatown.

The city of Mobile’s Africatown Neighborhood Plan, a blueprint for revitalization and preservation prepared in 2015 and 2016, offers a quick summary of what came next for the community:

“Working in local shipyards and mills, they saved money to buy land including some from their former owners. African Town originally included a 50-acre community in the Plateau area and a smaller one, Lewis Quarters, which consisted of seven acres over a mile to the west of the larger settlement. Lewis Quarters was named after one of its founders, Charlie Lewis. The settlers appointed Peter Lee as their chief and established a governmental system based on African law.

The residents of African Town built the first school in the area. In 1872 they built Old Landmark Baptist Church, which is now Union Missionary Baptist Church. While the community retained much of their West African culture, construction of the church signaled the conversion to Christianity of many of the Africans. They were a tight-knit community known for sharing and helping one another but reportedly had tense relations with both whites and African Americans and so largely kept to themselves.”

Personally, I wish they had stuck with their West African Culture (which is largely Israelite Culture) as many West African Tribal Nations (such as the Yoruba, Congo, and Ashanti) still maintain the laws of the Old and New Testament apart from Christianity. After emancipation, the group reunited from various plantations, bought land, and founded Africatown. They ruled it according to ancient Biblical laws, spoke their own language and insisted on using their original names.

“A Press-Register reviewer wrote of Diouf’s findings: “The old interviews make abundantly clear that Lewis and his comrades were terrified and traumatized by their kidnapping and trans-Atlantic voyage. Their life in Alabama was very difficult, first for a few years as slaves and then in freedom. Not only did they have to contend with prejudice from whites, but their black neighbors considered them to be oddities who were crude, fierce and inscrutable.

Despite the challenges, Africatown’s story is too special to be lost. In fact, it recently was catapulted back to national attention via an unexpected connection on the PBS geneology show “Finding Your Roots.” In one episode the influential musician and author Amir “Questlove” Thompson learns that his personal family heritage includes an ancestor, Charles Lewis, who was taken aboard the Clotilda and became one of Africatown’s founders.

Where the Clotilda’s story ended, Africatown’s began

In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis; the last known survivor of the Clotilda, the oldest slave on the ship and also a chief. Details of this interview has been compiled in a never-before-published work by Hurston by Amistad Publishing called Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo. (A Barracoon is a type of barracks used historically for the temporary confinement of slaves or criminals.) Another book about Africatown is Sylviane A. Diouf’s Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America. The book is the Winner of the 2007 Wesley-Logan Prize of the American Historical Association, the 2009 G. Sulzby Award of the Alabama Historical Association and a 2008 finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award.

Today, Africatown is struggling with the new attention it’s getting from the discovery of pieces of the ship and the pollution to the air of what residents are saying is causing cancer. “Hosea O Weaver & Sons, an asphalt manufacturer, backs up on to some residents’ properties and is a business that has recently caused most concern. On days when trucks are leaving the plant, some have covers and some don’t have any. If you have a north wind the dust is everywhere,” said Varner. “It gets everywhere and you have to breathe it in.” (Christopher Harress)

Residents of Africatown see it as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, those companies provided jobs for the community and the town flourished economically. However, this also meant dealing with the noise and pollution. Though, according to one of the community’s leaders, environmental concerns are less of a worry now.

“Pollution has been an issue for over 100 years in Africatown, but at this particular time we’re moving to a more clean air environment because we lost some of the contributing forces, like the International Paper Company and all kinds of sawmills, and things of that nature,” said Cleon Jones, Africatown’s community leader and former New York Mets player. “We still have Kimberly Clark but they don’t process wood the way they used to. Our big fight has been against the oil companies, but I think that’s all in compliance now, according to the city and state. It’s always been about creating a buffer between our town and the companies, the noise, pollution, trucks.”

Black History Fun Fact Friday – How I Almost Learned an African Language

Welcome back to another Black History Fun Fact Friday. Technically, I am still doing research on the article I had hoped to finish in time for you today. (I am actually sitting here trying to finish it.) Instead of publishing anything, I am going to push it back to next week. However, I don’t want us to miss out on any episodes! So, with Black Panther as the latest craze, here is how I almost spoke an African language. (This is also a lesson in not giving up!)

When I was in College I mistakenly signed up for a Twi class. I walked around my house repeating “aane”, “dabi” to my husband (then boyfriend) like my cousin did in first grade when he learned to spell cat, house, and dog for the first time. I eventually dropped the class but I still remember “aane” and “dabi” which means: “yes- aane” and “no-dabi”. Twi is a dialect of the Akan language spoken in Ghana by about 6–9 million Ashanti people as a first and second language. I had no idea.

The Ashanti Empire was a powerful Akan empire and kingdom in what is now modern-day Ghana and they were rich in gold (i.e. The Gold Coast). According to Wikipedia:

“The name Asante means “because of war”. The word derives from the twi words asa meaning “war” and nti meaning “because of”. This name comes from the Asante’s origin as a kingdom created to fight the Denkyira kingdom.

The variant name “Ashanti” comes from British reports that transcribing “Asante” as the British heard it pronounced, as-hanti. The hyphenation was subsequently dropped and the name Ashanti remained, with various spellings including Ashantee common into the early 20th century. An alternative theory is that the name derives from the Hindi word Shanti, meaning peace, the opposite of which is Ashanti, meaning war.”

Ashan was also the name of a city located in southern Israel. The word Ashan in Hebrew means “smoke” “smoke city” or “burning city” which makes Ashanti “the people of Ashan or the people of the smoke city”. This was a reference to the city of Ashan after the Israelites took it over during the conquest of Canaan (1 Ch 4:32, 1 Ch 6:59) but that’s not all. The Ashanti people also had many Hebrew customs and traditions as part of their way of life. For example, for eight days after the birth of a child, the Ashanti mother is considered unclean. It is only on the eighth day that the child receives his/her personal name, and on the 40th day, a still further ceremony has to be observed. This mirrors Leviticus Chapter 12. Further, the Ashanti women were also unclean during their menstrual cycles as instructed in Leviticus 15:19-20.

In brief, the Ashanti were an organized and disciplined people who spoke both Akan or Twi and I sometimes wish I’d endured the class a little while longer. In 1701 Osei Kofi Tutu, chief of the small Akan city-state of Kumasi helped form the Ashanti Empire by unifying other Akan groups under the Golden Stool which is the Ashanti Seat of Power. He unified the people and conquered several other neighboring states, expanding the Ashanti wealth, power and influence.

If ever you have an opportunity to do something, do it! Even if you don’t end up liking it, there is still something you may learn from it in some way. You can also mark it off your bucket list as something you did.  Although I only know two words, it still feels awesome to say: “I know how to say yes and no in Twi!”

6 Reasons the Black Panther Movie is Popular (and it’s not even out yet)

Black Cast

  • 90% of the cast members are Black. This isn’t a racial thing. It’s just that people are tired of seeing movies where the heroes are white. Even biblical movies refuse to reflect the real identity of the people who lived in that time. The Samson movie is also about to come out but Samson was not white. It’s not about skin complexion it’s just a fact, the people of the Bible were Black.

Warriors, Not Slaves

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  • The Black people in the movie are not slaves, maids, housekeepers, and farmers (though there’s nothing wrong with farming, just saying). The Black people in this movie are warriors, Kings, and Queens.

Women Warriors

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  • The Panther women go just as hard as the men without losing their femininity. They are supportive of their men, smart, fierce and they are fighters. Not to mention a showcase of the women’s natural beauty. I love how (far as the trailers go since the movie is not out yet) the movie shows them being beautiful while swinging those swords.

Historical

  • The Panther’s first appearance happened during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and I am sure the newscasts that showed Black Americans getting brutalized by police was a motivator for Marvel. This movie Black Panther comes at a  sensitive time politically which further makes it reminiscent of revolutionary movements in Black History such as Huey Newton’s Black Panther Party For Self-Defense and Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, both of which promoted the freedom of the so-called Black people.

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Educational

  • Speaking of history, Black Panther is educational for today’s youth, many of whom know nothing of the Black Panthers of the 60s, Marcus Garvey of the 20s or anyone of or before the era. The release of this movie at this time, therefore, makes it easier to start conversations about Black History (especially being it releases February) and inspires liberation among Black people in general. The men and women even have accents reflective of their “African” heritage. When you’ve spent nearly 400 years being afflicted and not seeing positive representations of yourself in textbooks, on television, in schools etc., it makes it difficult to have a positive image of yourself as an individual. My hope is that Black Panther delivers and helps to spark a resurgence of consciousness among Black youth.

Empowering

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  • Wakanda is empowering and reminiscent of the Israelite nation (not a race of Blacks but a nation of people) and their position as rulers. It represents everything we could be if we embrace who we truly are. This movie, if done right, is not just a movie, it is a biblically powerful representation of Israel on the top and not the bottom for once. The birth of a nation and the rise of a people. It is our time.

About Black Panther

After the death of his father, T’Challa returns home to the African nation of Wakanda to take his rightful place as king. When a powerful enemy suddenly reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as king — and as Black Panther — gets tested when he’s drawn into a conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people.

Yecheilyah is an author, blogger and poet. Be sure to pick up your copy of I am Soul, her latest collection of poetry on Amazon.

Slavery in Libya

Deu 28:68 “And YAH shall bring you back to Egypt in ships, by a way of which I said to you, ‘You are never to see it again.’ And there you shall be sold to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one to buy.

“The United Nations (UN) revealed on Wednesday that hundreds of migrants from Nigeria and other West African countries passing through Libya enroute Europe are being bought and sold in what it described as modern-day slave markets before being held for ransom, forced labour or sexual exploitation.”

I haven’t had the chance to sit down and share my thoughts on the slavery taking place in Libya. I usually take my time with such things. I don’t want to echo what everyone else is saying or jump on bandwagons. I want to be logical, spiritual, and develop my own thoughts about it so I’ll just keep this short until then.

If you are new to what’s going on, The Slave Trade has basically reopened and Israelites, so-called Blacks / Africans, are being taken back into captivity throughout Libya. You can catch up on what’s going on HERE   and HERE.

Since I started this blog I’ve spoken about Slavery, the Enslaved and the horrors of this time. I talk a lot about The Civil Rights Movement, Jim Crow, Police Brutality, and the overall mistreatment of Blacks in America and the mistreatment of Blacks period. For three years now I’ve tried to give as much historical information as I am able to inform you of these things and in return, I get people who are tired of hearing about slavery. Tired of seeing movies and TV shows and reading books where slavery is present. We believe it is an eyesore that must be covered up and hidden underneath our beds. We want to forget about this time and sugar-coat the details. And when good men seek to help those who need it they are called dictators and thus removed from power.

Few people know that Khadafi tried to help Blacks in Libya before his death. He wanted to protect them and for this, he was called a dictator and killed while American’s cheered their ignorance in front of TV screens that told them lies. (Wag the Dog is a good movie on how TV often controls our perception of reality.)

If there is one thing we should know about slavery is this: At least we knew we were slaves and fought collectively for freedom. Today, we think we are free so we don’t fight anymore. It usually takes us to experience something as traumatic and tragic as this for us to understand and realize where we stand not just in America but all over the world.

While what’s going on in Libya is heartbreaking, I hope that finally, we can see why these stories are worth telling and why these reminders are still necessary. I keep saying there’s nothing new under the sun, that what has been done is what will be done, and that we should not be shocked but to pay close attention to what’s going on in the world. Our eyes may very well witness more tragedy and our hearts more pain.

(FYI: Black History Fun Fact Friday continues next week….been busy but I haven’t forgotten.)