Black People : [B]Slaves Built NYC and NY State[B/]

Discussion in 'Black People Open Forum' started by Fine1952, Oct 23, 2005.

  1. Fine1952

    Fine1952 Happy Winter Solstice MEMBER

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    Sep 27, 2005
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    Q. Why and I not surprised that slaves built foundations of NY.
    A. Because I figured lazy non-hues didn't!


    Our real history dates to antiquity, however; slavery is only a small part of that history, but in order to completely heal we must embrace this 'peculiar' phenomena before moving on.


    [email protected]
    October 23, 2005

    New Yorkers like to think of themselves as the keepers of the American experience, particularly when it comes to tolerance.

    Everyone was welcome here, we say, ever since the Dutch West India Company founded New Netherland in 1621.

    But in those early days and beyond, much of the work that built the city's foundation was done by slaves — who never stopped struggling to share the freedom they saw around them.

    That's the fascinating, heartbreaking and ultimately uplifting theme of "Slavery in New York," at the New-York Historical Society in Manhattan through March 5. This exhibit will be a revelation to most of its visitors, a show for students of history and of life.

    With more than 400 art objects, documents and other artifacts as well as 28 multimedia presentations spread over 9,000 square feet, "Slavery" is modeled after last year's epic and elegant "Alexander Hamilton: The Man Who Made Modern America."

    "Slavery" — produced by Historical Society president/CEO Louise Mirrer, curator/writer Richard Rabinowitz and historian James Oliver Horton and designed by the Massachusetts firm Krent/Paffett/Carney — lacks the beauty of the Hamilton show. It's just too teeming, and the contemporary wire sculptures by Brooklyn artist Deryck Fraser depicting slaves and slave activities tend to impede traffic flow.

    What "Slavery" lacks in spaciousness, however, it makes up in scope, depth and ingenuity. These are evident right from the introductory gallery where an overview of five short videos is projected onto a screen that curves outward like a sail. In the background is the unmistakable clang of chains.

    It was a sound that would haunt New York from the moment in 1627 when the Dutch West India Company sent about a dozen enslaved African males here to build its settlement. The early slaves, owned directly by the company, would construct Fort Amsterdam, where Battery Park now stands, and the wall for which Wall Street is named. They also cut the road that became Broadway.

    Famous for both their religious tolerance and commercialism, the Dutch had a complicated attitude toward slavery. Unlike their colonial successors, the British, they passed very few laws restricting slave behavior. And after 1644, when slaves defended New Amsterdam against Indian raids, the Dutch allowed for "half-freedom," by which slaves could work for wages or farm their own land — as long as they paid an annual tax and observed certain restrictions that kept their children enslaved.

    Willem Kieft, then director-general of the Dutch West India Company, even issued land grants enabling a black community to thrive around what is now Greenwich Village. (The half-free blacks would be resettled along Bowery Road in 1659 by Peter Stuyvesant.)

    If conditions were bad under the Dutch, they deteriorated under the British, who took over in 1664. The British were rules-makers, and after the slave revolt of 1712, the British established "the Black Code," which would create a stranglehold on the slaves of New York.

    As the city grew, so did the number of slaves — 20 percent of the city's population, compared with 4 percent of Philadelphia's and 2 percent of Boston's. At the time of the Revolution, there were more slaves in New York than in any other city except Charleston, S.C.

    The genius of this show is to recognize that by making New York an international player, slavery in effect made the city the global economic power it is today.

    New York supplied slave ships and sold slaves in its taverns. Through its port flowed the produce of slave toil — sugar, tobacco, indigo, coffee, chocolate, and especially, cotton.

    The other strength of the show is the way its multimedia installations enable you to step into the lives of the slaves — to the extent that anyone who has never been enslaved can experience slavery.

    The most stunning of these is The Well in Gallery 3. We look down into a cylinder that contains a video of slave women drawing water from a well — one of the few places in which slaves were allowed to gather — and talking about the events of the time.

    But we're not just idle observers of this scene. The way the video is shot, it's as if we're leaning over the well, drawing water, gossiping, staring at our reflections.

    Despite their suffering, colonial blacks continued the struggle for independence — the city's and their own. They fought on both sides of the Revolution on the promise of freedom, though more stood with the British than with the patriots. (There is a reference in the show, however, to black men constituting one-quarter of the American forces gathered in White Plains to march on Yorktown, Va. in 1781.)

    They attended the African Free School, the first formal educational institution for blacks in North America, established by The New York Manumission Society. They wrote abolitionist poetry (notably Jupiter Hammon) and helped found churches (Peter Williams Sr. of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church).

    They started the self-help group the New-York African Society for Mutual Relief in 1809 and refortified Brooklyn against the British in 1814.

    On July 4, 1827, slavery was finally abolished in New York state. You can read all about it in the exhibit's superbly thorough guide, modeled after the Amsterdam News, the weekly that is the contemporary successor to the first African-American newspaper, Freedom's Journal.

    And you can experience it in the brilliant multimedia installations, including a re-creation of a church and a video game-style presentation in which participants play a child helping the Manumission Society save blacks from being sold south.

    The most moving installation, though, results from a booth in which visitors can record their impressions of the show. These contemporary responses play throughout the galleries.

    The comments are remarkably frank, with blacks and whites alike acknowledging that they had avoided this painful topic. But they also speak with gratitude for the slaves' sacrifice and the perseverance that made a people free and a city great.

    Their words fill you with hope.
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2015
  2. Destee

    Destee STAFF

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    Jan 22, 2001
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    Thank you Brother Fine1952 ... great article!

    I found another article on this topic, written a few years ago by a couple of Sisters:

    Slave Profits and the Roots of the Wealth Gap

    It talks of how we (our enslaved Ancestors) built the White House and so much more!

    Take a peek, and thanks for sharing!