Before Freedom (Pt 1 of 3): Shhh, We Don’t Talk About Slavery

Hello and welcome back to Kenny’s Camera, Cooking & Crazy Confessions. For the past three weeks, you’ve been reading my tributes to Black History Month. It’s been my goal this month to pay homage to those before us, who made it possible for us to have the opportunities we enjoy today. But as I said earlier, there won’t be any traditional posts about the heroes we talk about every year. I’m trying not to focus on events and people, of which, we have a great deal of knowledge and understanding. The subject I’m digging into is Slavery.

Outside of the small amount of information shared in history books and what you see in movies, there isn’t much talk about it. In fact, before the airing of the series “Roots” back in 1977, I/we honestly didn’t know very much at all, thanks (or no thanks) to elementary/middle/high school. The most information I obtained at any one point was in my college history class, where an entire chapter of my American History course book was devoted to slavery. Fortunately for me, there was also the Black Archives at Florida A&M University (an HBCU) and the books I found in libraries. Let’s face it, people just don’t want to discuss it, or know it. There’s too much shame and anger associated with it, depending on your point of view. It continues to be an uncomfortable subject, especially today, as people learn more about the conditions and practices (namely, punishment) involved.

[Branding “LL” into Kunta Kinte before loading him into the “Lord Ligonier” ship for transport to America.]

When “punishment” comes to mind, it’s often associated with the whip or hanging. But it goes far beyond that. Punishment was meted out for any number of reasons. Methods included beating, branding, rape, shackling, burning, skinning, imprisonment or any other creative form, even shooting. It often occurred as a consequence for running away, leaving the plantation without permission, working too slowly, insubordination or other reasons. Many beatings also involved the use of guns, knives, field tools and other objects.

You didn’t see all of THAT in “Roots” or “12 Years A Slave”, DID you?

[Diagram of a slave ship and how slaves were “packaged” for the grueling journey overseas. They were only brought on deck for cleaning and “exercise” by way of dancing. During this time, the crew (and slaves) cleaned below deck before returning them to this confined space where they were allowed little movement and forced to endure the putrid stench of poorly circulating air, filled with human waste, sweat, blood, disease and vomit for months.]

Chained, transported, sold and broken, people from West African countries, born free, spent their lives in servitude for 246 years. During this time, on the blood, sweat and tears of innocents, America and other countries built their thriving economies. What’s interesting is that prior to slavery, Africans were respected and treated as equals by Europeans. Viewed as different, but treated as equals. It was only by convincing themselves that Africans were uncivilized savages, were their captors able to psychologically accept the concept and practice of slavery and the treatment associated with it.

I suppose it’s understandable that we don’t speak of slavery in great depth. Those descended from slave owners would rather dissociate themselves from such shameful cruelty, while the great-great grandchildren of slaves look to avoid more reasons to be angry. Still, you’ll have to forgive me when I get frustrated or worse, irate, anytime someone tells me, “Slavery is a thing of the past. Get over it!” That alone has inspired me to document just how slavery (in addition to the laws passed soon after its abolishment) has hindered growth and opporunities within the black community, which still affects many to this very day. But since Black History Month is almost over, I’ll reserve this for a later date. Maybe next year at this time, maybe sooner. But I promise, you will know…

Anway (sigh), I recently read a shocking and disturbing book titled “Before Freedom: 48 Oral HIstories of Former North and South Carolina Slaves.” This is a compilation of testimonies (resulting from a push from the government) of former slaves. The intention was to document what was known as hearsay among the sons and daughters of those who were alive during slavery days. Since the project didn’t formally begin until the 1930s, most former slaves had long since passed on. As a resulted, the focused was placed on former slaves who were around 10 years in age at the time of emacipation. Even these people were in their upper 80s when the interviewing began. And many were quite hesitant to talk about something they desperately wanted to put behind them.

It’s because of this book and research I’ve done over the years that I’ve decided to share the information contained in the next two pieces. And keep in mind that it’s not my intention to anger you. But I do expect it. I just want you to understand and appreciate what the people before us endured…

…and also understand why we SHOULDN’T just “forget it”.

Click here for “Before Freedom (Pt. 2 of 3): 10 Things We Didn’t Know About Slavery”.

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