Tuesday, February 19, 2019

400 Years (1619-2019) After the Beginning of African Enslavement in the British Colony of
Six months from now a commemoration of the long saga of struggle against national
oppression and economic exploitation

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
African American History Month, Series Number One

In late August of 1619 approximately twenty Africans were brought to the shore of Jamestown
Settlement in Virginia, then a colony of Britain, having been captured by Portuguese colonizers
in the Ndongo and Kongo kingdoms (in the vicinity of modern day Angola, Republic of Congo-
Brazzaville and the Democratic Republic of Congo) and then stolen again in route to Vera Cruz
on the coast of Mexico by British traders operating a warship flying a Dutch flag for the purpose
of labor exploitation.

After being marched 100-200 miles from inland West-Central Africa, the 350 captives were
loaded at the slave-port of Luanda on to the vessel San Juan Bautista. The British traders
attacked the San Juan Bautista near its destination and took 50-60 Africans placing them on the
White Lion and Treasurer ships directed towards Virginia where these vessels initially landed at
Point Comfort (Hampton today). (https://historicjamestowne.org/history/the-first-africans/)

It has been reported that the majority of Africans arriving on the White Lion were acquired by
wealthy British planters including Governor Sir George Yeardley and Abraham Piersey. At this
time there appeared to have been no specific laws related to enslavement in the colony.

Nonetheless, these Africans could not have been considered as indentured servants since after
1640 their terms of enslavement were extended. By 1660 in Virginia the slave status of Africans
brought to the colony for the purpose of servitude was made permanent.

The Treasurer, which arrived at Point Comfort several days later in August 1619, possibly
unloaded seven to nine Africans, and quickly left setting sail to the Caribbean island of
Bermuda. Records kept by British colonialists indicate that by March 1620, 32 Africans were
living in the colony of Virginia scattered throughout homes and plantations around the James
River Valley.

Over the next century-and-a-half when the European inhabitants of the 13 British colonies
revolted against colonial rule and established the United States (1776-1783), the first census
taken in 1790 revealed that nearly 700,000 Africans were living in slavery. The former colonies
which had the largest number of enslaved Africans were four states which had more than
100,000 people in bondage in 1790: Virginia (292,627); South Carolina (107,094); Maryland
(103,036); and North Carolina (100,572).

By 1860 on the eve of the Civil War (1861-1865) nearly four million Africans were living in
slavery while some 500,000 were considered legally free. Most of these free Africans were still
subjected to national oppression and racial discrimination many being denied the right to vote
and own property, with some exceptions.

Of course African slavery can be traced back even further in the region now known as North
America. The Spanish colony of Florida engaged in this economic system dating back until at
least 1563. (https://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/taro/utcah/02980/cah-02980.html#a0)
Spain and Portugal were the first two European states to engage in the capturing and
enslavement of Africans dating back to the 15 th century. According to one source: “Just as
Castilian concessions in 1479 helped put Isabel on the throne of Castile, similar recognition of
Portuguese claims in Africa in 1494 helped to secure Spanish interests in the Americas. As a
result, it was Spain, rather than Portugal, that first made extensive use of enslaved Africans as a
colonial labor force in the Americas.”

Slavery, Colonialism and the Destruction of Black Civilizations

Africans were not brought to the Americas as enslaved persons. There have been many studies
which document the existence of civilizations and high cultures which refute the attempts to
justify European domination through unscientific claims of inherent inferiority.

All along the West and East coasts of the continent into the interior there was the consolidation
of kingdoms, city-states and nation-states. Many of these civilizations are popularly known as
Ghana, Mali, Songhay, Ile-Ife, Kongo, Ndongo in the west and central interior extending north
and east into Nubia, Egypt, Axum, the Swahili Coast, Zanzibar, Mutapa (Zimbabwe), Zululand,
Basutoland, etc. (https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/326812/africans-and-their-

The Atlantic Slave Trade represented the beginning of the systematic destabilization of African
societies. Resistance to enslavement and colonization was a consistent theme within African
history from the 15 th to the 19 th centuries. (https://searchworks.stanford.edu/view/1682348)
It would take four centuries of European capitalist intervention to set the stage for widespread
colonial rule across the continent. During this period long established kingdoms and cultures
were decimated which dislocated millions setting the stage for further exploitation and

Eric Williams documented that the link between the transformations of mercantilism into
industrial capitalism was dependent upon the profits accrued from the slave trade. In the areas
of banking, commerce, shipping and mass production of commodities the burgeoning economy
of Britain would lay the foundation for industrial capitalism on a monopoly scale.

Inside the U.S. itself the rise of the cotton industry fueled the capitalist production outlets in
the northern non-slave holding states after the early 19 th century, intensifying the demand for
slave labor supplied by the African people. W.E.B. Du Bois wrote on the indispensable role of
African labor in the building of the U.S. into an industrial power by the conclusion of the Civil
War. (http://ouleft.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/blackreconstruction.pdf)

With the aftermath of the eras of slavery and colonialism, Africa was placed in a position of
dependency in regard to the imperialist system. The international division of labor, trade and
economic power was controlled by the Western European states and the U.S. Walter Rodney
addressed both the character of African societies and their impact by imperialist nations. The
development of Europe was a direct result of the exploitation of Africa.

National oppression required a repressive state apparatus to ensure the perpetuity of the
capitalist system. Even after the conclusion of the Civil War and a brief period of
Reconstruction, violent attacks on the African American people both judicially and extra-
judicially, were designed to keep the former enslaved in line with the objective of the
exploitative system.

“The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States”
written by anti-lynching crusader and journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett in 1895 represented the
first social scientific study of the phenomenon of state-sanctioned racial terrorism directed
against African Americans during the post-Civil War years through the later decades of the 19 th
century. Thousands of African Americans were lynched in these years and this level of
repression and brutality continued into the first half of the 20 th century.

Even today in the 21 st century, African Americans are disproportionately incarcerated in penal
institutions, they are affected way out of proportion to their presence in the general population
by police brutality and other forms of bigoted violence by hostile forces, as well as suffering
from the ravages of the capitalist system in the modern period where the gap between rich and
poor inside the U.S. and the world is widening.

2019: The Year of Return

Acknowledgements of the 400 th anniversary of the enslavement of Africans in Virginia have also
been recognized by the West African state of Ghana where many people were captured and
taken into bondage. The current President of the country, Nana Akufo-Addo, has welcomed
Africans in the Diaspora to visit and even relocate to Ghana this year.

This is by no means a novel idea. The founder of modern Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, who was
the first Leader of Government Business, Prime Minister and President of the First Republic
from 1951-1966, maintained an open door policy towards Africans born in the West.

One fundamental distinction under the Nkrumah government was that it was categorically
committed to the realization of Pan-Africanism by the establishment of a continental
government. Nkrumah was also a socialist and anti-imperialist realizing that the acquisition of
national independence was only the first step in bringing about the total liberation, unification
and social emancipation of Africans. Moreover, that this movement towards the socialist
unification of Africa was part and parcel of the world movement against imperialism.

A historical correction of the social impact of centuries of slavery, colonialism and neo-
colonialism requires much more than a symbolic gesture. Africans both on the continent and in
the Diaspora are still being subjected to capitalist exploitation.

In fact the world economic system remains a reflection of the material legacy of the rise and
dominance of European imperialism over the last six centuries. This current international
situation requires a fundamental shift in the nature of global relations along with the creation
of structures which can guarantee freedom and justice for those victimized by institutional
oppression and exploitation.

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