The African American Journey

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The African-American Journey

The history of African Americans is, to a significant degree, the history of the United States. Black people accompanied the first explorers, and a black man was among the first to die in the American Revolution. The United States, with more than 38 million Blacks, has the eighth-largest Black population in the world. Despite the large number, Blacks in this country have had almost no role in major national and political decisions and have been allowed only a peripheral role in many crucial decisions that influenced their own destiny. The Black experience, in what came to be the United States, began as something less than citizenship, but was “considered slightly better than slavery” (Schaefer, 2006, p. 184). In 1619, 20 Africans arrived in Jamestown as indentured servants or slaves. Their status was not clearly known, even to the people who were living at that time. By 1640, at least one African had been declared a slave. This African was ordered by the court "to serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural life here or elsewhere". “Within a generation race, not religion was being made the defining characteristic of enslaved Virginians. The terrible transformation to racial slavery was underway (Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), (n.d.)).” During the early 17th century, there were no laws that defined the rights, or the lack of rights, of blacks. “Virginia was being held back. Thanks to tobacco, it had the means to make money. What was needed, though, were laborers -- laborers to clear fields, to plant and harvest crops. During the 1620s and 1630s, when the price of tobacco was high and English workers had too few jobs available at home, Virginia found its supply of labor in England. Then after 1660 the value of tobacco dropped and the Great Plague reduced England's population. In addition, a terrible fire in London destroyed much of the city and created new jobs at home for construction workers of all sorts. No longer able to lure their own countrymen, Virginians looked toward African labor, following the pattern established by the Spanish and Portuguese more than a century before. Gradually the plantation owners' perspective became more aligned with that of the plantation owners of the Caribbean Islands. Because they were not Christians, blacks could be forced to work for the rest of their lives and be punished with impunity. Moreover, the color of their skin set them apart, making it easy to identify runaways. Also, there was a seemingly inexhaustible supply of Africans, and since little information flowed back across the Atlantic, mistreatment and abuse in America did not alter the flow of enslaved persons from Africa. Slowly the number of blacks grew in Virginia. In 1625 there were only 23. In 1650 there were about three hundred. By 1700, more than a thousand Africans were being brought into the colony every year. These numbers would increase dramatically in the years to come (Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), (n.d.)).”

The transformation of indentured servitude to racial slavery didn't happen overnight, it was not until 1661, when a reference to slavery entered into Virginia law. The following year, the colony went one step further by stating that children that were born would be bonded or free according to the status of the mother. The transformation had begun; it was not until the Slave Codes of 1705 that the status of African Americans was sealed. The Trans-Atlantic Slave trade began big business for all. As economies began to flourish from the gains of sugar, cotton, and tobacco fields, so did the need to accommodate the lavish and wealthy with laborers. In 1660, the English government chartered a company called the Company of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa. The Company did not fare well, and in 1667, it collapsed. But out of its ashes emerged a new company: The Royal African Company. Founded in 1672, the Royal African Company was...
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