Perhaps you, like me, were raised essentially to think of the slave experience primarily in terms of our black ancestors here in the United States. In other words, slavery was primarily about us, right, from Crispus Attucks and Phillis Wheatley, Benjamin Banneker and Richard Allen, all the way to Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass. Think of this as an instance of what we might think of as African-American exceptionalism. (In other words, if it’s in “the black Experience,” it’s got to be about black Americans.) Well, think again.
The most comprehensive analysis of shipping records over the course of the slave trade is the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, edited by professors David Eltis and David Richardson. (While the editors are careful to say that all of their figures are estimates, I believe that they are the best estimates that we have, the proverbial “gold standard” in the field of the study of the slave trade.) Between 1525 and 1866, in the entire history of the slave trade to the New World, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World. 10.7 million survived the dreaded Middle Passage, disembarking in North America, the Caribbean and South America.
And how many of these 10.7 million Africans were shipped directly to North America? Only about 388,000. That’s right: a tiny percentage.
AND NOW WE ARE 40 MILLION
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In 2016, former first lady Michelle Obama declared as a sign of how far the nation has come: "I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves."
She was talking about the White House. And as the first African American first lady speaking to the Democratic National Convention, she struck a chord. Some fact checkers and political pundits may have raced to their history books, ready to dispute the claim. But she was right.
Obama could have been talking about the US Capitol, or Trinity Church in New York, or Georgetown University in Washington. Slaves built some of the United States' most symbolic buildings.
This month marks 400 years since the arrival of the first 20 slaves into the US. Earlier this week, Reuters published a photo-series called "Built by my family: America's grand buildings built by slaves." It's showcasing the issue, looking at some the most well-known landmark buildings built by slaves. Here are 15 of them.
In 1852, famed abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass told a large, mostly white crowd in Rochester, New York, "This Fourth [of] July is yours not mine." And many other African Americans of that time period felt the same way. But after the Civil War in 1865, things had changed. African Americans in the South had transformed Independence Day into a celebration of their newly won freedom.
At the time, there were about four million African Americans in the country, and winning the Civil War meant that they were now newly emancipated citizens. Therefore, they saw the 4th of July as the perfect opportunity to celebrate Black freedom.
According to the book, Denmark Vesey’s Garden: Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy, "the most extraordinary festivities were held in Charleston, South Carolina, the majority-Black city where Southern secession and the Civil War had begun."
Meanwhile Confederate sympathizers in the South had lost interest in the holiday because losing the war meant that they were back in the Union and slavery no longer existed. However, their lack of interest in regards to the 4th of the July holiday did not last long.
According to The Atlantic, the 4th of July "became an almost exclusively African American holiday in the states of the former Confederacy - until white Southerners, after violently reasserting their dominance of the region, snuffed these Black commemorations out."
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