Serena Freewomyn

Black History Month: Remembering Slave Rebellions

Filed By Serena Freewomyn | February 09, 2008 10:52 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Politics
Tags: Black History Month, Middle Passage, slave rebellions, slave trade

I have been enjoying all of the posts so far about Black History Month. And true to my "militant" nature, I wanted to share a little bit about the numerous slave rebellions that took place during the slavery era.

middle passage.jpg

Slave ships were packed very tightly because enslaved Africans were not viewed as people, they were regarded as chattel. The men were chained, but the women weren't. This was because the slave traiders wanted easy access to rape the women. But this also meant that the women were free to move around, steal keys, and help instigate rebellions on the ships. The rebellion on the Amistad is perhaps the most well-known. But Mumia Abu-Jamal celebrates several others in his book We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party.

According to Abu-Jamal:

Some Africans, early in the eighteenth century, resisted the status quo by seizing control of their slaveships and setting sail for freedom in Africa. Ninety-six Africans aboard the Little George slipped their bonds and overpowered the crew. Some of the crew were not slain, but were locked in their cabins so that they could not interfere with the trek home. The Black naval rebels sailed for nine days and made landfall on the West African coast in 1730.

Two years later, the captain of the William was slain by its Black captives, its crew was set adrift in the waters of the Atlantic, and a new, rebel crew pointed the bow of the vessel homeward, to Africa.

Nor were things quiet and sedate for Africans on land.

The period of the 1730's and 1740's has been seen by some historians as an era of incessant resistance. One contemporary observer described the period, almost as if he were referring to a prevalent disease, as "the contagion of rebellion" sweeping the colonies. Indeed, this spirit of rebellion flashed up and down the coasts of the British colonies and encircled the isles claimed by tribes of Europe in the West Indies, lighting fires of freedom in the dark night of bondage. (p.14)

I don't know about you all, but my courses in Amerikkkan history have tended to gloss over this time period, minimizing the cruelty of the slave trade and ignoring the constant struggle against it. Most white historians who write the history books like to portray enslaved Africans as passive objects in the story, rather than the active resisters they were.

If you haven't read Abu-Jamal's latest, I highly recommend it. He gives a really interesting insight into his life as a Black Panther and describes what daily life was like for those in the movement. But he also makes a very strong argument. Black resistance wasn't an anomoly that started in the 1950's and 1960's. Black resistance has been going on since the beginning of Amerikkka.

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There is so much more to history if we stop looking at everything as the story about one president and then the next, and then the next....

An excellent book on this topic is American Negro Slave Revolts by Herbert Aptheker. Aptheker was a stalinist but this book doesn’t suffer on account of that.

In additions to describing slave revolts it has a section detailing the formation of guerrilla bands in the treason states during the Civil War. Escaped slaves, Union POW's and Native Americans often joined to form military units that hit hard at the Slavocracys armies, doing considerable damage. Their heyday was during Sherman’s glorious march to the sea when they became part of the ‘terrible swift sword’ of democracy.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | February 10, 2008 3:39 PM

Our history as Americans is not nearly as mom, apple pie and baseball as we would like to believe.

I think slavery was really stupid!!!!!

Slavery was so cruel, we cannot even begin to imagine all of the pain and suffering these poor people were suffering. I wish I could rewind time and prevent it from ever happening, but that's impossible, sadly.