Black History is American History
The first slaves landed on what was to become American soil in the year 1619. Twelve Africans in chains arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, spearheading centuries of African enslavement and opening the first chapter of the story of people of African descent in America. In 1619, this land still belonged to Great Britain and we were still 157 years from the American Revolution in 1776. People of African descent were a part of the story of this land, even before it was America.
We are often taught this fact in history class. It is true that these were the first African slaves brought to North America, but the presence of Black people on this continent stretches even further back. So far back that it even pre-dates the voyages of the man who is credited with discovering America, Christopher Columbus. Historians and archaeologists now know that there were other people who visited the Americas well before Columbus. And there is historical and archaeological evidence that Black Africans were among those people. The best proof of the Black presence in America before Columbus actually comes from Columbus’ own words. In his Journal of the Second Voyage, Columbus reported that when he reached Haiti the Native Americans told him that black-skinned people had come from the south and southeast in boats, trading in gold-tipped metal spears. At least a dozen other European explorers aside from Columbus, including Vasco Nunez de Balboa, also reported seeing or hearing of “Negroes” when they reached the New World.
Hundreds of years later, when American Patriots were shedding blood in exchange for freedom from tyranny, Black people were some of the first to die and many Black people fought for the freedom of this nation right along with the other Colonists. They worked in brutal and inhumane conditions to build this country on their literal backs. They did all this with no compensation. America was built by people who worked for free for hundreds of years. There were those in America who wanted to hold on to this free labor so much that they fought a war for it. The Civil War was political in nature and it was fought over the vast wealth that slave labor provided this country. Centuries of that free labor is what helped to create the prosperity that this nation still enjoys today.
During the slavery era, there were many White people who fought and even gave their lives to achieve the abolition of slavery. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, we know White people marched alongside Black people, sat next to them in jail and hung next to them on the lynching post. Some White people helped slaves escape during slavery while writing and protesting for slavery’s end. During the Civil Rights Movement, there were those who fought to pass legislation, among countless other selfless actions to aid in the advancement of a race they don’t even belong to. This small minority of people went against the prevailing attitudes of their respective eras to do what was right. These people contributed to “Black History” without being Black themselves. This history is a shared history for the people of America.
Black people have been a part of this country since before it existed as we know it. We have participated in every single milestone, we have fought and died in every war and our ancestor’s souls feed this land. We were not always considered equal, but we were always Americans through and through. When we call it Black History, it implies that it is a history separate and apart from American history. However, the events that are celebrated during this month affected the course of history for everyone, no matter their race. Let’s make this a month that commemorates events and people of Color that have changed the course of not just Black history, but American history.
Written by: Kika Ramsay