Slavery of Black people was an invention. It started in the 1600’s when a shift occurred making Africans the primary commodity of the slave trade. But chattel slavery, the kind that stripped Africans of their rights and dignity and treats humans as property, according to this exhibit, that was a new invention too. It took a lot of courage to survive the horrific journey across the Transatlantic. If dread and fear didn’t overcome them to the point of jumping off the ship into shark infested waters, then sickness and hunger most likely would.
My most memorable experience in this exhibit was taking a step into a darkened side room and when my foot stepped down it creaked. I was on a slave ship, I looked down and the floor was wooden like planks. I looked up and saw different artifacts from the ships behind cases. But one case really caught my eye as I walked further in because I didn’t understand it. There was a pair of big shackles but I had never seen them accompanied by something else.
In this display was the smallest set of shackles. What and how and why evil people would enslave such tiny feat. I left the room with my heart pounding. What a reality.
The next exhibit was about the path to freedom. And there were grand statues of memorable people like Thomas Jefferson, a self taught mathematician Benjamin Banneker, the poet Phillis Wheatley, Elizabeth Freeman who sued for her freedom and won and Toussaint Loverture, who led a raid in Haiti that would lead to the abolishment of slavery there. This group of statues tell the stories of what slaves wished from their world and their dream to be free.
My most interesting thought here was as I passed by encased replicas of the 13th and 14th amendment. The 13th amendment abolishes slavery or servitude except in the case of being punished by law. (Which if you haven’t watched the documentary about 13th to know how our country STILL uses this clause to enslave many Black men, go watch it.) The 14th ensures that all citizens of the United State (including the recently freed slaves) are granted the protection of due process of law. I thought about both of these rights that now, every citizen of the US enjoys. And because of the pressure point of slavery it came about. Because of the experience of a few this inclusion was added to our constitution.
Today I don’t fight for the right to be considered a citizen but I do fight for more inclusive measures elsewhere. In today’s society it is so so so important to remember that just because Black people aren’t legally slaves any more, it does not mean all of the barriers or restrictions are lifted. As is poignantly demonstrated by the need for the 14th amendment. When the slaves were freed they were still subject to lynchings and other reprisals with little to no legal protection until the 14th amendment. But that new law and protection wasn’t realized when writing the 14th, the had to amend and remove that barrier AFTER.
Part 3 will be posted soon. Read part 1.