August 1619 -- Slavery in the American Context


While many Americans would rather not address the reality of slavery in America, it is deeply rooted in our national ethos. The very home that every President since John Adams has lived in was built with slave labor. While slavery was uncommon in the north, its economy benefited from it. This month marks the four hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the first African slaves into the American colonies. In August 1619, twenty Africans arrived in Virginia. Over time slavery took hold and became part of the economic engine of the country. It took a bloody Civil War to bring it to a close.

I have not yet acquainted myself with the materials that make up the 1619 project of the New York Times, but historian John Fea provides a helpful introduction to the project and answers conservative critics who are not at all happy with the reminder that slavery has and continues to play a role in our national psyche. Below are the opening paragraphs of John's piece for Penn Live. I encourage you to continue reading.

In August 1619, a shipment of “20 And odd Negroes” from Angola arrived at Point Comfort, Virginia. They got there because earlier in the year English pirates stole them from a Portuguese slave ship headed for Vera Cruz, Mexico, and sold them to the earliest Jamestown settlers in exchange for food. 
While the story of these Africans is complicated, historians agree that the August 1619 shipment was the beginning of slavery in the English colonies of North America. On Sunday, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of slavery in the colonies, The New York Times released a series of essays and a website called “The 1619 Project.” The Times describes the project as a “major initiative” to “reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who were are.” 
The 1619 Project is excellent. Some of our best scholars of African American history, slavery, and race have contributed articles. The racist legacy of slavery in America, they argue, has shaped everything from capitalism to health care, and traffic patterns to music. I hope that teachers will use it in their classrooms. [click to continue reading]

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