Brush-Up On Your History: The Myths of “American” Slavery


As construction of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture progresses toward its September opening, Museum Director Lonnie Bunch joined CBS “60 Minutes”’ Scott Pelley on a visit to Mozambique in search of a ship that carried hundreds of African slaves to the bottom of the Indian Ocean when it foundered 220 years ago.

“The story of slavery is everybody’s story,” Bunch explained to Pelley.  “It is the story about how we’re all shaped by, regardless of race, regardless of how long we’ve been in this country. We hope that we can be a factor to both educate America around this subject but maybe more importantly help Americans finally wrestle with this, talk about it, debate it…”

So how are 21st Century citizens of the United States obliged to “finally wrestle” with, in this case, the long-ago deaths of Africans who were enslaved by other Africans, forcefully driven for many miles through a Mozambique port and on to a Portuguese slave ship bound for Brazil, while the descendants of all those who actually participated in this event are allowed to be wistfully unconcerned and guilt-free?

You see, Mr. Bunch is wrong on one key point. Slavery is not everybody’s story — it must remain exclusively a story for the United States and its people. Only we are required to bear the indelible stain of this country’s original sin — and it appears those who entered or will enter here assume this mantle of guilt themselves a century-and-a-half after the institution of slavery was ended.

It is a scab that must be picked at incessantly — not out of any real concern for those who suffered centuries ago, but to gain political advantage today. Our nation can nominally assuage its relentless shame with assorted forms of reparations from those who never were masters to those who never were slaves.

Hollywood again obliges this week with an eight-hour retelling of Alex Haley’s “Roots”, a venture apparently so vital it requires an unprecedented simultaneous airing on three television networks over four consecutive nights. Varietymagazine suggested the new miniseries finally will provide the truth about the “cruel persistence” of this peculiar institution in our country to “generations of Americans who are uninformed about the true dimensions of slavery, or who prefer to remain willfully ignorant of its scope and lingering effects.”

However, those generations of American schoolchildren have been marinated in the notion that the institution of slavery sprang fully formed in 1619 when 20 Africans slaves landed in Jamestown, Virginia. (Actually, they originally were destined for Vera Cruz, Mexico aboard a Portuguese slave ship before being intercepted by a British privateer. It is believed the 20 were accepted as indentured servants and eventually were freed.)

Any discussion of slavery in this country should start with the recognition that the North American British colonies were remarkably small players in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Of the approximate 12.5 million Africans taken in bondage to the New World, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Databases estimates only about 388,000 came to what is now the United States — and virtually all aboard European-flagged slave ships. That represents a little more than 3% of the Africans brought to the Western Hemisphere.

So is Washington D.C. really the most appropriate place for a museum that focuses so heavily on the desperate institution, or should other candidates be considered? Here are some possible alternatives:

Read the Remainder at American Thinker


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