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.”

Advertisements

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.)

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller

black-history1

Welcome back to Black History Fun Fact Friday.

Today I introduce to you Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, the first black woman to receive a federal commission for her art. Fuller’s artwork became the precursor to the resurgence of African themes in art seen during the Harlem Renaissance Movement. Not only a time of Jazz, Literature, and Flapper women, this explosion of black artistic culture also included artwork which is not discussed as much as let’s say the literature and the music.

fuller_meta

Born in Philadelphia in 1877, Fuller was the youngest of three children born to William and Emma Warrick. Prominent hair stylists who owned a flourishing Philadelphia store, Fuller’s father was a prosperous barber and the owner of several shops. Her mother was a hairdresser with wealthy white clients who were served in the family’s shop. The family also took vacations to the same places as did their upper-class white Philadelphian clients and lived in a three-story house. Why is it then that Fuller’s name is different from her parents?

Meta was named after one of these clients, Meta Vaux, the daughter of a Senator Richard Vaux. It makes me think about many blacks during the time and whether or not we felt we needed to assimilate into white society in order to fit into the culture of America. For instance, both W.E.B. Dubois and Meta (who was close with Dubois) felt that blacks were capable of the highest achievements but also that this meant to be educated as whites were educated. In addition, despite eventually producing “African” themed art, Meta rejected DuBois initial suggestion that she concentrate on African-American themes when they first met in Europe.

While Meta was successful and is highlighted here as an unfamiliar face, a precursor if you will to The Harlem Renaissance, the movement itself was not all rainbows and whistles. While the artistic explosion is something I love (being a poet and all) I hate that some blacks (as talented as we are) felt at the time that they needed to fit in with White America in order to make it, a truth not everyone is willing to acknowledge but this is Black History Fun Fact Friday so we must keep it real. As Carl Van Vechten titled his book, for many blacks Harlem was, at the time, “Nigger Heaven”.

1-2-227-25-explorepahistory-a0a8l1-a_349
Fuller’s Work: Ethiopia Awakened

Nonetheless, in October of 1889, Fuller arrived in Paris where for the next three years she would study with prominent French sculptors which would have a major impact on her work. While in Europe this is where she would encounter Dubois for the second time and it was the beginning of a friendship that continued for many years. Dubois and Thomas Calloway was organizing a Negro exhibit for the Paris Exposition and visited Meta’s studio to her surprise.

When Meta returned to the States, she established a studio in Philadelphia where art organizations flourished and in the early 1900s through the twenties she continued to do well. In 1928, she was selected to show her work at The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

In 1909 she did a 15-piece work for The Jamestown Tercentennial Ex­position illustrating black’s progress in America since the Jamestown settlement. Fuller also received a gold medal for “The Jamestown Tab­leau,” and this  established her reputation as an artist and began a long and committed career. Despite my personal feelings, it is refreshing to study the faces of some of the unknown artists of this most important time in history.

Let’s Talk Education

That’s right, Rachel is giving me the keys to the house (I hope she has coffee??!). My topic of discussion is on the education of blacks in America and how reading and literature came to be such an important part of the learning process in the transition from slavery to freedom.

When: Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Where: Rachel Poli’s Blog @ http://www.rachelpoli.com

Reminder: You can find all my Guest Blog posts and upcoming features under the Media Page!

>> https://thepbsblog.com/author-interviews-guest-blog-posts/ <<

Unfamiliar Faces – Lost to History: Afro Puerto-Ricans, Cubans, Jamaicans, Haitians

porto_rican_peones_puerto_rican_peons-_children
Enslaved Afro Puerto Rican children

Though many students will learn about slavery in the U.S. at some point, our teachings are usually narrow in that we only learn about the European Slave Trade and the wrongs that Europeans have done. We won’t be told that we weren’t just dropped off in America. We won’t be told that every people, from Jews to the Five Civilized Native American Tribes, held us as slaves. We won’t be told of the difference between the Africans themselves who had slaves and those who were enslaved, and we won’t be told of the many different tribes and nations of black people that occupy the continent.

Contrary to popular belief, mostly brought on by television and movies, slave traders did not go into the interior of Africa to pick up any “African” but they were looking for a specific people. However, since the continent has been lumped up into one big mass, all blacks are assumed to be the same people and as a result, many ancient practices and truths faded from memory.

Engraving of Arab slave-trading caravan transporting African slaves across the Sahara.
Engraving of Arab slave-trading caravan transporting African slaves across the Sahara.

The trade of slaves across the Sahara has a long history. Dr. John Alembellah Azumah in his 2001 book, The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa estimates that over 80 million black people died en route to the Islamic world. Having enslaved blacks about one thousand years before the Europeans, the Arabs had already identified the people of the book. That is the people of the covenant. The people of scripture. The chosen and the prophecies surrounding their captivity.

Indeed, they were not after just any African, but the ones who held principles that were distinct from the other tribes. Differing by way of culture and spirituality, these blacks could easily be spotted by way of their traditions. Olaudah Equiano, known as Gustavus Vassa, captured, enslaved, and then freed, told in his book, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, of his life in Africa before the abduction.

Born among the Ibo people in the kingdom of Benin, along the Niger River, Olaudah recounts in his narrative of how they still held many Hebrew customs and traditions, such as the circumcision, the division of the tribes by twelve, and the marrying of their brother’s wife after death just to name a few. What is not recounted is that not only did Olaudah’s family uphold such traditions but so did many so-called African tribes.

That said, many of the slaves who came to Puerto Rico were from Congo, the Ashanti, Yoruba, Igbo and Bantu tribes. In all, 31 known African tribes were brought to the island from Central and West Africa through the slave trade but they weren’t the only ones.

Not only was Afro-Puerto Ricans largely made up of these Hebrew tribes, but so were the Jamaicans, Dominicans, Cubans, and so-called African Americans of today. Though we see each other as separate, the truth is that many of us (even if we’ve mixed) are all the same people and were all part of the dispersion.

Today’s lost to history segment focuses not on one individual but a group of individuals who have gone on to war within themselves due to the lost historical fact that we are not a different people but the same. Having been separated by land, we were taken from the same areas because we are descendent of the same people. The only difference is that we were dropped off in different places. Some to Jamaica, some to Haiti, some to Puerto Rico, and so on. As a result, some of us speak English, some of us speak Spanish, and some of us speak French.

Lost to History – Unfamiliar Faces: Latasha Harlins and Deadwyler

Rodney King. It is a name that rings all too familiar in the history of Black America. Latasha Harlins however, is a not so familiar face.

Latasha Harlins

67053-full

Latasha Harlins died 13 days after the beating of Rodney King on March 16, 1991 at The Empire Liquor Market in South-Central Los Angeles with two dollars in her hand. After attempting to purchase a bottle of Orange Juice, Latasha and Korean Store Owner Ja Du got into a verbal and physical altercation. Du thought Latasha was trying to steal the $1.79 drink, which lead to a fight. Latasha struck Du and the two mouthed words before Harlins turned to walk out the door but it was too late. Ja Du pulled the handgun from behind the counter and shot the teen in the head. The entire ordeal was caught on tape and Latasha died instantly. She was 15 years old. November of that year, a judge sentenced Du to five years of probation, 400 hours of community service, and a $500 fine. Tupac’s “Keep Your Head Up” was dedicated to Latasha Harlins.

The Deadwyler Case

mM5qZAnzQZ3ylo4w-TiVo4A

Johnny Cochrane is another prominent name in the black community. Modeling his career from the inspiration of Thurgood Marshall, Cochrane was born in Shreveport LA and gained his fame after defending such big names as Micheal Jackson and O.J. Simpson. An unfamiliar face however lies in the name of a man whose death is responsible for launching Johnny’s reputation: Leonard Deadwyler. Deadwyler’s death galvanized protests and activism that lead to the Martin Luther King Jr. and the adjoining Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science. While speeding through several red lights, Leonard Deadwyler raced in an attempt to get his pregnant wife, now in labor, to the hospital. Due to the lack of a black hospital near by, the Deadwhyler’s had to attend a facility 20 miles away. On the way, Leonard was stopped by police and a confrontation erupted which resulted in the shooting death of Leonard who was shot and killed in front of his pregnant wife. Police said the ordeal was the result of a drunken Leonard to the debate of his wife who remembered no such account. Blacks in South Central protested that Deadwyler would not have been speeding, and thus not shot and killed if there was a hospital near by. Leonard’s wife sued with a young Johnny Cochrane as her lawyer who filed a Civil Suit on behalf of the Deadwyler family. They lost the case, but Cochrane had already set himself apart as a talented lawyer as it pertained to Civil Rights, police abuse cases.

Tales of African American History Found in DNA

Very interesting article. Check it out:

“The history of African Americans poses special challenges for geneticists. During the slave trade, their ancestors were captured from genetically diverse populations across a portion of West Africa. Adding to the complexity is the fact that living African Americans also may trace some of their ancestry to Europeans and Native Americans.”