In late August of 1619, 400 years ago, the English ship the White Lion landed on the shore of Virginia selling a cargo of enslaved Africans. It is argued this was the beginning of slavery in what would become the United States. However, the practice of the transatlantic slave trade actually predated 1619 by 100 years. Additionally, the Africans in that cargo were not the first living in North America. Africans had been living here freely since the early 1500s.
Despite being well-documented history, great misunderstanding about both the beginning of slavery in what would become the United States and the institution itself continues. A 2018 Southern Poverty Law Center study found education about slavery is sorely lacking in our schools.
Slavery is our nation’s original sin. It was more than people being forced to work. It was the first time in recorded history the slave was chattel or property, a commodity, and law called slave codes in the south and north allowed owners to treat their property with impunity, allowing the separation of families, rape, and other atrocities. Those codes also clearly prohibited whites from being slaves. An indentured servant, yes, but not property.
Slavery shaped our economic, political, and cultural face, and it is the root to many of the misunderstandings we have today about race and the centrality of whiteness in American culture. And for those that think it has nothing to do with today, well, many of the stereotypes about African Americans that persist today were birthed during slavery -- not to mention the lingering 13th Amendment loophole.
Learning about slavery may be uncomfortable, but it is essential to our healing and a way to honor those that perished in its centuries of inhumanity.
I am Joseph Flynn, and that is my perspective.