Storm Bear

Black History: Slave Names

Filed By Storm Bear | April 07, 2008 10:07 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: gay cartoons and comics, north america, slave name, slavery, webcomics

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The vast majority of African-Americans in the United States were enslaved prior to the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. During enslavement, slaves' names were assigned by their owners. Others received a name based on what kind of work they were forced to do. Some African-Americans have last names such as Cotton, reflecting when they were made to pick cotton as slaves.

After emancipation, many freedmen and -women took the surnames of their former owners as their own. Some blacks in the U.S. took on the surname Freeman, while others adopted the names of popular historical or contemporary figures of social importance, such as former presidents Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson.

A number of African-Americans and Jamaican Americans have changed their names out of the belief that the names they were given at birth were "slave names." An individual's name change often coincides with a religious conversion (Muhammad Ali and Louis Farrakhan, for example) or involvement with the black nationalist movement (e.g., Amiri Baraka and Assata Shakur).

Some organizations encourage African-Americans to abandon their "slave names." The Nation of Islam is perhaps the best-known of them. In his book, Message to the Blackman in America, Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad writes often of "slave names." Some of his comments include:

"You must remember that slave-names will keep you a slave in the eyes of the civilized world today. You have seen, and recently, that Africa and Asia will not honor you or give you any respect as long as you are called by the white man's name."
"You are still called by your slave-masters' names. By rights, by international rights, you belong to the white man of America. He knows that. You have never gotten out of the shackles of slavery. You are still in them."

Other organizations, such as the Black nationalist US Organization also advocate for African-Americans to change their "slave names."

Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of African-Americans bear "slave names."


When I went to school, we were never taught Black History. We never learned about the Black leaders, the long, agonizing history that brought most Blacks to America. Those atrocities were glossed over in favor of mindlessly boring topics like the X Y Z Affair.

This series of cartoons will review Black history as told from a Black mother to an interracial child. This series will be ugly, course, horrific and truthful. I will mostly abandon the commentary for an article on Black history.

This series is not about Obama or Hillary. I want to you to try to imagine how Black families tell their children of the atrocities their ancestors, all of them, suffered because of the color of their skin. Try to imagine how Black families counsel their children when someone calls them "nigger" for the first time. Can you imagine the bone crushing emotion that must well up? Can you imagine the agony, frustration and anger?

Can you imagine being the Black preacher who tries to paint a picture of a just God every Sunday? Especially in a country that claims where the notion of racism is a thing of the past, the job is difficult.

These strips may at times be entertaining and sometimes they may not - mostly not.

I don't want you to laugh so hard you cry, I want you to cry so hard you do something about it.

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Chain Gang Charlie . . . nice one!

Storm, can you explain why some people took the last name "X"? I mean, I obviously get the whole bit about abandoning the slave name. But why go with "X"? Sure, Malcolm X has a nice ring to it. But why not something with just a little more pizazz?

In algebra, the value X represents the unknown and is the answer you seek. This is why some use X as their last name, they do not know what their proper last name is due to the slave trade and the erasure of identity it brought.