400 Years of Fighting for
In the month of August, many African Americans, across the United States, celebrated with commemoration ceremonies honoring the first Africans’ arrival in
Virginia in 1619. In August 1619, there is documentation that free Africans, enslaved twice, first by Portuguese slave traders and then by slavers on an English
warship, arrived chained in the English colony of Virginia.
These African people, recorded upon arrival as “20 and odd Negros,'' were part of a larger group of West Africans enslaved by Portuguese slave traders on their
way to Vera Cruz. The White Lion, an English warship flying a Dutch flag and operating under Dutch letters of marque, captured the Portuguese ship, and
transported the Africans to Virginia. They were put ashore at Old Point Comfort, in what is now Hampton, Virginia. What started out with the original 20
eventually led to more than 42 million African Americans in the United States, according to the 2010 census. There are many African countries who don’t have
42 million inhabitants.
We have to thank our Creator and all of our African ancestors for this resilience, beauty, courage and love that is our legacy. These 20 honorable slaves and the
strength that they brought inside their hearts from mother Africa is alive in us today. They assuredly had names, families and dreams that were destroyed
through the slave experience. These men and women would have been considered Mexican today if not for the fate of the English warship capturing the
Portuguese ship and bringing then to Virginia. Note that the English on
the warship neither returned the Africans to their home nor freed them.
Due to slavery, our families were divided, sold and scattered around the
world. We must maintain respectful connections to other Black people
around the world as our long lost, but dearly loved sisters and brothers.
These original 20 enslaved people were first sold as involuntary laborers
or indentured servants. Slavery was not yet legally institutionalized in the
1600s in the colonies, but Africans, unlike European involuntary laborers
or indentured servants, were never given the date of expected freedom.
They were perpetually enslaved because who could speak their
language, ask them their names or explain the concepts of involuntary or
indentured laborers? The historic arrival of the group of ‘20 and odd
Negros’' marked the beginning in colonial America where people from
Africa were taken unwillingly from their homeland, transplanted, and
committed to lifelong slavery and to racial discrimination that lasts today.
August 2019 marked 400 years since the first arrival of Africans to present
day America. 400 years is considered short in terms of human history. Yet
the experience of chattel slavery, when European Americans
systematically owned African people forever, and generations of children
were automatically enslaved as property, were long years of horror. Our
people were bought and sold in the country. The residual of this
enslavement and the imperialist mind-set that made chattel slavery
possible, and that justified the evil system, are reappearing today. The
way our ancestors fought to be free, is the same way we must fight to stay
As I was reading about the celebrations in other parts of the US, I focused
on the fact that we are not glorifying the system of slavery. It is important to
honor those unknown men and women, who made it across the middle
passage, endured the abomination of slavery and left us our hard won
birthright, freedom. In honoring the original 20 Africans in 1619 who
survived the slave experience to travel and settle throughout the United
States, including Wisconsin, we honor their enduring determination to be