Happy Black History Month y’all! The older I get, the more I appreciate Black History Month and the resilience that African Americans have to survive in a country that was built on our backs, and continues to oppress us systematically. However, that topic is for another post. This post is for lauding the magnificent work that is Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery by Charles Johnson and Patricia Smith.
Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery is an accompaniment to a four part PBS special (that I have yet to watch), and it is truly a masterpiece. It starts at Jamestown and goes through American history to the brink of the Civil War. After I read this book, I realized how whitewashed the perspective of American history was, and it made me want to learn more about America from the views of the minorities, namely African Americans and the indigenous people.
The book itself is an easy read, you pick it up and from the first page it lays down the gravity of the topic that the book is about. Unlike many books that flirt around the history of slavery in a measly attempt to condemn the wrong and yet excuse the remains of its existence, Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery plods straight through. It takes the history that you’ve learned since middle school and flips the narrative. We know about Jamestown, about cash crops, about the Revolutionary War. Washington, Jefferson, Locke, Douglass are all familiar names to us, but there are sides to them that are conveniently glossed over or simply ignored in the history books that I’ve seen inside the walls of the American school system.
What Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery does is brilliant, everything is so familiar because it’s American history told chronologically, so as part of the brain remains in neutral territory, remembering what it’s learned over the span of X amount of years another part of the brain is absorbing the new knowledge and meshing it with the old to form a more holistic and complete knowledge of American history.
My favorite part of reading Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery was the short excerpts in the middle of the chapters. Some of them where historically influenced stories that related to the chapter, actual letters written by people of those times, or pictures and portraits of the land and the people. This made sure that the book didn’t read like a textbook, and it was very enjoyable.
This book does include a lot of facts, but it is to be read as a narrative and not so much as something that discusses slavery statistics in great detail. As a non-fiction, it does it’s job recounting history and showing how this country thrived on the backs of slavery. But do not expect to read this book and become an expert on colonial America. Many of the sources used are primary source, and are not scrutinized and picked apart, which I liked.
Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery is a book that has influenced the way I see myself as a black woman in America. It has exposed the gaps in my knowledge of history from a perspective that wasn’t written by the winner. It points out the flaws in the Constitution, it doesn’t shy away from the fact that the same men that are praised for defending life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are the same men that snatched those very ideals away from hundreds of thousands of people.
We clearly are still facing the effects of slavery today. Systematic racism is real. Mass incarceration is real. Gerrymandering and red-lining is real. Microaggression is real. There are so many problems that the African American community is facing because of the fact that America was built with a system of oppression, and we haven’t done enough to resolve it. Just because the slaves were “given their freedom” doesn’t mean that they were free from the violence, from the racism, from their place of disadvantage. The land that they toiled on, remained in the hands of their oppressors. With little access to funds or an education a whole race of people were slaves to a different system.
Everyone should read Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery. It is truly a masterpiece, and beautifully twines together the history we are taught and the history that many tend to forget.