People who live normal lives, having experienced both failures and successes, should pause from time to time and review their story.
Ironically, some with a poor knowledge of history have reasoned that African people know only a sad demeaning history, one which started after the late 1400s, when they were brought to the Americas enslaved. Since we are celebrating Black History Month, it is a wonderful time for all people to pause and reflect with Africans in Africa, along with those throughout the African diasporas, around the world — the Americas, Asia, Europe, and elsewhere. And, we should never forget that the “Mother of us all,” so long ago — before the geographical and cultural separations — was an African woman.
That reality speaks to all of us constantly.
The true story of African people and their vast contributions to the history of the human race is amazing. However, without reflections and study, we do not know that. Just recently, I was reminded of two earlier stories about Africans, which are amazing.
One was about the great leadership of Africans in Spain from the 900s until the late 1400s. The other was about the role an African slave, Onesimus, played during 1721, in the development of one of the earliest vaccines in the United States when Boston was being overwhelmed by smallpox. Now, today in the 21st century, an Afro-American woman, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett played a noted role in the development of the Pfizer vaccine to counter the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Interestingly, there is so little information shared today about the great contributions of African people to human history. It has been a much longer story for African people — one that began long before the enslavement of African people in the Americas to produce sugar, cotton, tobacco, dyes, and more, building Europe and the United States of America in the process.
Despite the fact that many of us were born and grew up in the Caribbean, our sense of what it took to get us where we are is very limited. We too need to look back at why we came, what life was in the Caribbean before, what it became for us, and how labor unions helped to get us where we are today: free people with access to education.
It did not matter whether enslaved Africans in the Caribbean were on Spanish, Portuguese, French, English, Dutch, or Danish plantations. The experience of slavery was demeaning and painful. It was an abnormal situation for the Africans.
They were being exploited by those European nations, then battling one another in Europe, and all very desperate for wealth.
Once Spain found the land and new sources of wealth in the Americas, Portugal, France, and all the other nations which could make it to the Caribbean and battle against Spain were all in — all determined to reshape the story of these islands.
Slavery was a horrible experience for African people, but they resisted from the start of the journey. Some jumped into the sea. A number of them used other means to kill themselves. The work on plantations was from dawn to dusk for little food and no pay. Even children, seven years and older, were expected to work in small-gangs on plantations. Aggressive men were beaten, sent elsewhere from family, or killed. Many of the women were sexually abused. Nothing about slavery was humane.
Despite the severe forms of punishment meted out to the enslaved people, there was always resistance from slaves. The French had their first battle against runaway slaves in a mountain on St. Kitts in 1639. There was the revolt on St. John in 1733 and there was that early maroon experiences on Jamaica during the 1740s led by Queen Nanny.
Then, by 1804, the Haitians freed themselves from the French. Over time, the religious idea of Pietism, the ideas of Fabian Socialism, arguments of human equality, later labor unionism, and in time crop diversifications all worked against slavery and brought us to where we are today: liberated with education as an option.
It is a long sad story, but with some bright moments too. Our story should never be forgotten.
In February 1991, after some reflection, Lerone Benett Jr., of Ebony Magazine wrote: “The voices of the past speak to us personally, calling us by name, asking us what have we done, and what we are prepared to do to ensure that the slaves, activists, and martyrs, did not dream and die in vain … Speaking to us, warning us, telling us, how they got over and what we must do to overcome… We must relate these images to the challenges and opportunities of our own lives or we shall learn nothing, and remember nothing.”
— Whitman Browne, St. Thomas