Gates on Slavery “Blame Game” (and Response)

excerpt from Op-Ed by Henry Louis Gates (read rest at  NYT):

“The African role in the slave trade was fully understood and openly acknowledged by many African-Americans even before the Civil War. For Frederick Douglass, it was an argument against repatriation schemes for the freed slaves. “The savage chiefs of the western coasts of Africa, who for ages have been accustomed to selling their captives into bondage and pocketing the ready cash for them, will not more readily accept our moral and economical ideas than the slave traders of Maryland and Virginia,” he warned. “We are, therefore, less inclined to go to Africa to work against the slave trade than to stay here to work against it.”

To be sure, the African role in the slave trade was greatly reduced after 1807, when abolitionists, first in Britain and then, a year later, in the United States, succeeded in banning the importation of slaves. Meanwhile, slaves continued to be bought and sold within the United States, and slavery as an institution would not be abolished until 1865. But the culpability of American plantation owners neither erases nor supplants that of the African slavers. In recent years, some African leaders have become more comfortable discussing this complicated past than African-Americans tend to be.”

Excerpts from responses (Letters to the Editor, NYT):

“It was Americans, not Africans, who created in the South the largest, most powerful slave system the modern world has known, a system whose profits accrued not only to slaveholders but also to factory owners and merchants in the North. Africans had nothing to do with the slave trade within the United States, in which an estimated two million men, women and children were sold between 1820 and 1860….”

Eric Foner, Columbia University

It is true, as Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. says, that many African monarchs were complicit in the heinous Atlantic slave trade. But the demand for reparations has less to do with the mechanism that delivered the African captives than what happened to them during the hundreds of years of working without compensation.

Herb Boyd, CUNY

As Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. points out, the role of Africans themselves in slave trading is one that is sometimes ignored by advocates of reparations. I fear, however, that in looking at the role of Africans in creating or sustaining the slave trade, we will make the same mistake that we make in trying to assess blame for international drug trafficking — focusing too much on the supply side of trafficking.

Lolita Inniss, Cleveland Marshall College of Law


Danticat Interview in Mother Jones

ED: It’s been great to see, in the very first days of the disaster all these writers inside Haiti telling their stories, what happened, and what they would like to see happen next. Because everyone could get on the Internet, anyone could write their own narrative. There’s a woman I know who lost her son, who wrote this extraordinary account of it, which circulated amongst everyone. Her name is Dolores Dominique. She writes about the death of her son but also her appreciation for all those who came to help her, and it’s an extraordinary thing because she may not have gone to a journalist to tell it, she can write it herself. That’s what writing can do in whatever form it comes to us. It allows us to see these larger events in a personal way. It goes back even to the slave narratives, where it’s stressed on the cover of these books, “Written by Herself” or “by Himself,” where people need to testify to their own experience. What’s happened has brought new eyes to Haitian literature, to Haitian art, to Haitian music. Hopefully that’ll be something that will continue even when we’re not in the news.

via A Voice in Haiti’s Chorus | Mother Jones.

Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea Tackles Women, Slavery in Haiti, New Orleans

Her latest novel, “Island Beneath the Sea,” which Allende began four years ago on Jan. 8, tells the story of Zarité, a slave and concubine in Haiti at the turn of the 19th century just before the island’s successful slave rebellion.

An orphan who is bought by a French plantation owner, Zarité works for the master as a housekeeper, suffering repeated rapes that produce three children, all who are eventually taken from her.

Zarité maneuvers among the worlds of the slaves, the whites and the spirit world of voodoo to ultimately orchestrate her own escape during the slave revolt, when the half million slaves murdered Napoleon’s troops and burned down the plantations, making Haiti the first free nation of former slaves in the world.”

Zarité is the extreme case of all the women I have written about combined,” Allende said. “She was born strong, yet she has to overcome incredible obstacles just to be included in her own life – to have a say in how many children she has, where she lives, who she loves and how she makes her living.”

via SFGate.

“Godmother of the Movement”: Dorothy Height Dies [Backdated]

Dorothy Irene Height, a pioneering voice of the civil rights movement whose activism stretched from the New Deal to the election of President Barack Obama, died Tuesday. She was 98.

Height, who marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and led the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years, was known for her determination and grace — as well as her wry humor. She remained active and outspoken well into her 90s and often received rousing ovations at events around Washington, where she was easily recognizable in the bright, colorful hats she almost always wore.

Height died at Howard University Hospital, where she had been in serious condition for weeks.

via Civil Rights Leader Dorothy Height Dies –

Dorothy Height, Civil Rights Hero, Has Died (NPR)

“We need to look at who has the opportunities. We need to look at — Obama himself pointed that to us, that you can’t have a flourishing Wall Street and a destroyed Main Street. He could have also said, I’m working for the middle class, but we still have poverty. And we cannot divide up like that. We cannot say who’s hurting the most. We have to make sure they be dealing with everyone.”

Quotes, broadcasts and more via Dorothy Height, Civil Rights Hero, Has Died – The Two-Way – Breaking News, Analysis Blog : NPR.

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