THE BLACK FAMILY: REPRESENTATION, IDENTITY, AND DIVERSITY
At the opening ceremony of Washington DC’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2016, Lonnie G. Bunch III said. “There is no more powerful force than a people steeped in their history, and there is no higher cause than honoring our struggle and ancestors by remembering”. Black history month was coined in celebration of the birthdates of former US President Abraham Lincoln and a social reformer, Fredrick Douglas because they played a significant role in the abolition of slavery. Over the years, it degenerated into a celebration of black history and achievements globally. For this year’s theme – The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity, we celebrate the accomplishments of the African people by taking you back on memory lane to the transatlantic slave trade and the triumph of the black family.
The transatlantic slave trade began in the 15th Century on a smaller scale in parts of the Northern region of Africa where the Europeans mainly traded spices and cash crops and expanded to the western and southern coasts from the mid-sixteenth century to the 1860s with trading in humans. That period in black history memorializes the strength of the African people because it tested the will and spirit of resilient men, women, and children who went through catastrophic events and struggled to find meaning and happiness in a world where their existence or survival was dependent on labor and coercion. The slave trade was initiated by the Spanish and Portuguese and other parts of Europe joined suit as they saw the profit in it. The European slavers loaded approximately 12.5 million Africans and shipped them through the Atlantic Ocean (which was their major route) to America. Despite the turbulent journey, about 11 million people survived the passage and settled in their new normal.
However, do you know that the transatlantic slave trade could have been entirely successful or profitable without the tolerance and aid of African people especially in Nigeria? At the time, this form of trade was one of the most lucrative businesses and sources of economic revenue like crude oil exportation of today. But many slaves who were traded courageously made value of their lives despite the hardship. Let us explore few examples of such people.
In Nigeria, as you may know, the old city of Calabar, as well as Lagos, served as major entry points and settlement for the European slavers because of proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. Samuel Ajayi Crowther who was born in 1807 in Osogun, Yorubaland was first enslaved by Oyo and Fulani Muslims and was traded six times before he got sold to a Portuguese slave-ship Captain. Fortunately, Samuel was shipped in 1822 after the slave trade was aborted and because of the illegality, the ship was stopped and impounded by a British patrol and the captives were transported to the colony of Sierra Leone where they were freed. Ajayi did not just run off, he lived in Sierra Leone for several years before being converted to Christianity and joined the Anglican church where he was baptized by the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS) and became a full-time missionary. He started his first missionary work in Nigeria and went to England afterward. Ajayi reached the peak of his career when he became the first African Bishop of the Anglican Church, translated the Bible to the Yoruba language, and pioneered Christian-Muslim interactions in the upper and middle Niger regions in Nigeria.
Interestingly, many descendants of African slaves have been bold enough to tell their stories depicting the African identity as defiant and brave. The story of Alex Haley who falls under the seventh generation of Kunta Kinte – a slave that was captured as a boy and transported to North America, is a first-person narrative as such. Alex wrote about his family’s journey from slavery to fortune in his famous 1976 novel titled “Roots: The Saga of An American family” which was later produced as a television series.
Kunta Kinte was from the Mandinka tribe in Gambia, West Africa, and lived in Jufureh village. He was a productive farmer and took a keen interest in the affairs of his village. One day, while he was cutting wood on his farm, he was ambushed by black slave traders and transported to Maryland where he was sold to his master, John Waller at an auction and his master named him “Toby”. However, Kunta was headstrong and tried to escape four times, and the last time he was caught, the slavers cut off parts of his right foot to cripple him. Kunta was a highly placed and valued slave, hence, he was bought by his master’s brother, William Waller, for whom he became a gardener and buggy driver. Later, he married Bell, Waller’s cook, and together they had a daughter named Kizzy. Kizzy was sold away from her family at the age of sixteen and her master (Tom Lea) raped and impregnated her, then she gave birth to George who grew up and became his father’s cockfighting trainer. When his father lost all his money to a cockfight, he sold George and most of the other family members into slavery to pay his debts. The family was bought by a new master (Andrew Murray) whose family treated them well until they eventually became a prosperous family. Thereafter, Tom’s daughter married Will Palmer, a successful businessman and their daughter – Bertha was the first in the family to go to school. While in school, she met and married Simon Haley and they both had a son, Alex Haley )1921-1992), who was a famous American writer.
As we commemorate black history, we appreciate the essence of the black family from these stories, characterized by courage, resilience, and hope which has now become an identity. It is also known for diversity because they are spread across states, nations, and continents resulting from the dispersion of African people during the slave trade era; hence, they are diasporic. Finally, we praise the black family’s strength and representation stimulated by African genealogy and history where the drive to excel is not limited by location or circumstance.