Black People : slave ship info for white people

Discussion in 'Black People Open Forum' started by oldsoul, Oct 3, 2007.

  1. OldSoul

    OldSoul Permanent Black Man PREMIUM MEMBER

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    May 16, 2002
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    Staying Alive
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    (Something to share with whites who claim ignorance about slavery and the slave trade)

    "The Slave Ship: A Human History" by Dr. Marcus Rediker

    The new chairman of the Pitt history department is an acknowledged master of maritime life in the 1700s and has written previous books on merchant seamen, naval crewmen and pirates. But always, the slave trade, which transported more than 12 million people across the Atlantic from the late 1400s to the late 1800s, loomed in his consciousness. Finally, the intersection of one of his personal passions and his historic interests impelled him to start working on the project.
    A longtime campaigner against the death penalty, Dr. Rediker got the idea for the book while visiting prisoners on death row. As in the slave trade, he said, "I could see that the modern criminal justice system has a great many racial disparities and inequities; and I see capital punishment as a modern form of terror, a form that doesn't especially work, but that did make me want to understand this previous history." Along the way, he has learned things that will surprise many readers, and he has given voice to human stories that will appall and upset many others. One fundamental fact that may astonish some people is that the United States accounted for only a small fraction of the slave trade -- probably around 5 percent. The vast majority of slaves, he said, were shipped to sugar plantations in the West Indies and Brazil, exacerbated by the fact that Brazil didn't outlaw the slave trade until 1888. Another counterintuitive finding? Slave rebellions on board the ships were extremely common, and the way that the ships were designed acknowledged that fact.
    The frequency of slave uprisings is a fairly recent discovery in historical research, Dr. Rediker said, and helps explain two common features on slave ships -- the netting that surrounded the deck, and the "barricado" -- a wooden wall that was built midway along the top deck. The netting was there to prevent slaves from leaping overboard, although many of them still managed to do so. The barricado gave the crew protection if the slaves started to rebel, and had holes in it through which they could fire muskets at the insurgents. The protective measures proved that "even though the slaves were in dire circumstances, they never gave up. They kept fighting even though there was no real chance of winning. In many cases, even if they managed to rise up and kill the crew, they couldn't sail the ships." Slave resistance took other forms, too. The refusal to eat was so common, he wrote, that "the Atlantic slave trade was, in many senses, a 400-year hunger strike." In other cases, he said, "the goal was not to capture the ship but to commit mass suicide to get off that ship." One reason slaves were willing to throw themselves overboard, even when many could not swim, was the traditional West African religious belief that when they died, they would be transported back to their homeland to live in an ideal Africa. It was called "going home to Guinea," the common term for the African coast. "Many captains developed specific practices of terror to try to overcome that belief," Dr. Rediker said. "One captain said, 'If they think they're going home to Guinea, I want to make sure they understand they're not going home in the bodies they inhabited.' " That captain would pick out a victim, he said, "and sever the limbs of the person, and he would throw those limbs into the areas where the people who were still in chains were forced to live, and would use the dismemberment of corpses as terror to control those who were still on board the ship." In other cases, captains used a tactic that relied on one of the slave ship's constant companions -- sharks. In a 1774 history of sharks, British author Oliver Goldsmith described one incident in which a slave ship captain decided to make an example of a woman who had tried to jump overboard. He tied a rope under her armpits and lowered her into the water, Goldsmith wrote, "and when the poor creature was thus plunged in, and about halfway down, she was heard to give a terrible shriek, which at first was ascribed to her fears of drowning; but soon after, the water appearing red all around her, she was drawn up, and it was found that a shark, which had followed the ship, had bit her off from the middle." Despite such brutal tactics, slave rebellions never died off, and that is a major reason why the abolition movement against the slave trade finally succeeded 200 years ago, in 1807 in Great Britain and a year later in the United States. The slaves, he said, "never gave up. They never accepted the reality of slavery. So this is not a book about victimhood. "Without their resistance, the middle-class abolitionist movement in England and New England wouldn't have gotten anywhere. That's a very important thing to remember." The other factor that contributed to slave resistance was the fact that captured Africans from different ethnic groups spent months imprisoned together before they ever shipped out on the Middle Passage. Slaves captured in the interior of Africa often spent one to three months being marched to the coast, and most slave ships were anchored off the coast for six months, buying slaves in groups of two and three, before sailing away. That gave groups of slaves many weeks to learn each others' languages and build relationships, Dr. Rediker said. "The slave ship was a kind of factory," he said. "And what did the factory produce? It produced two things. It produced labor power that was crucial to the growth of the modern world economy. And it produced the beginnings of the African-American identity."