On Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, it will be exactly 394 years to the very day that slavery began in America in 1619. This slavery wasn’t just the loss of freedom; it was also the loss of family, culture, land, language, name, religion, human status, limb, and life for over two centuries.
Slavery in America began when the first African slaves were brought to the North American colony of Jamestown, Va., in 1619, to aid in the production of such lucrative crops as tobacco. African slaves were a cheaper, more plentiful labor source than indentured servants (who were mostly poorer Europeans). Slavery was practiced throughout the American colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries, and African-American slaves helped build the economic foundations of this new nation.
Ironically the U.S. Constitution tacitly acknowledged the institution (slavery), counting each slave as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of taxation and representation in Congress and guaranteeing the right to repossess any “person held to service or labor” (slavery).
Between 1774 and 1804, all of the northern states had abolished slavery, but slavery remained prominent to the South. Though the U.S. Congress outlawed the African slave trade in 1808, the domestic trade flourished, and the slave population in the U.S. nearly tripled over the next 50 years. By 1860 it had reached nearly four million, with more than half living in the cotton-producing states of the South.
It is impossible to give accurate figures, but some historians have estimated that six to seven million slaves were imported to the New World during the 18th century alone, depriving the African continent of some of its healthiest and ablest men and women.
On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all of the slaves in the rebellious states. Some of Lincoln’s greatest achievements were the Emancipation Proclamation and the argument for the passage of a constitutional amendment outlawing slavery (eventually passed as the 13th Amendment after his death in 1865).
Some 394 years later, the residue effects of slavery and racism still play a role in lives of many African American people.
Let us remember this day with pride, hard work and love.