As we enter fully into Black History Month 2019 and join in celebrations acknowledging the history and contributions of Black Americans, it is hard to ignore the many reminders that this year marks 400 years since the first African arrived on the shores of what would become America; but, does it?
A recent article in Smithsonian Magazine titled, “The Misguided Focus on 1619 as the Beginning of Slavery in the U.S. Damages Our Understanding of American History,” reminds us that the events of 1619, though historical, is an arbitrary marker of the arrival of Blacks in this country planted by those in power as a measure of their history in this land—and, a remarkable distortion of ours.
As noted in the Smithsonian article, “1619 is not the best place to begin a meaningful inquiry into the history of African peoples in America.”
Certainly, placing the marker at 1619 acknowledges the arrival of the purported 20 plus Africans with their European masters in what would eventually become the state of Virginia, and certainly their arrival should be noted; however, it ignores the arrival of Blacks in pre-America in 1526—more than 90 years earlier, when enslaved Africans arrived along the coast of what is now identified as South Carolina as part of a Spanish expedition. It also fails to acknowledge the numerous other recorded landings of enslaved Africans on American shores is the nation’s pre-history.
Acknowledging 1619 as the date Africans first arrived in this country is not only a distortion of the truth, it ignores the existence of those Africans enslaved and forced here by Spanish explorers in 1526. It washed away their existence, their story of resistance, of rebellion that, as noted, “effectively destroyed the Spanish settlers’ ability to sustain the settlement.”
Those with privilege and power have been forever free in America to spin historical tales that only partly reflect the true history of this nation. Marking 1619 as the “date of arrival” for Blacks in this country is purposely disingenuous. As noted by several scholars—”Africans were in America nearly 100 years before 1619.”
The Smithsonian article reminded us how we “choose to characterize the past has important consequences for how we think about today and what we can imagine for tomorrow.”
The historical distortion of the arrival date(s) and roles of Africans in the pre-dawn of this nation relegates their roles to nothing more than peripheral bit players in an epic saga that only featured courageous White explorers and brave White settlers in the birth of this nation.
This distortedly recorded saga demonstrates one more way American Blacks continue to be successfully robbed of their role in this nation’s history—stories of how, not only those who arrived in 1526 but the hundreds of others brought here under duress before 1619, persevered, endured and in many cases survived the hardships of early American life, a life further complicated by the burden of slavery. Their stories were largely ignored and/or purposely buried—but, they were not lost forever.
Yes, we should honor the memory of the Africans who arrived in 1619, but not at the expense of the nearly 500,000 African men, women and children forced to these shores in the nine decades that preceded their arrival. Although the names, journeys, struggles, hopes and sorrows were white-washed from the history of this nation, it does not mean we should perpetuate the 1619 myth. We carry the history of the 500,000 who arrived before 1619 in our very DNA. It is up to us to remember they were here.
Black History Month should be a celebration of the true history of Blacks in this country not the history written by the same people who enslaved us and contrived to rob us of it.
Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.