Vol. XXVIII. ISSUE 2. SPRING 2021. The 18th ANNUAL LECTURE ON THE AMISTAD Prof. Amadu Kaba of Seton Hall University
The Amistad and Models for Fighting Injustice
Amadu Jacky Kaba, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work
Seton Hall University
South Orange, New Jersey
This presentation, the 18th Annual Lecture on the AMISTAD at Central Connecticut State University, is divided into two parts. The first part presents background information explaining that by the time the Amistad ship sailed out of the waters of Sierra Leone in 1839, that land had already become a sacred place where a very large number of Black Africans from Western Africa and other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and from the New World were already residing together for over four decades. For example, from 1807 to 1840 alone, there were over 60,000 liberated Africans rescued from slave ships who were resettled in Freetown, Sierra Leone. By the 1850s, there were hundreds of languages spoken in Freetown. As a result, there was a need for the creation of a common language to communicate, the Creole/Krio language. The second part of this lecture presents three models of fighting injustice in the United States: the Amistad/Marcus Garvey model; the Black Lives Matter/Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. model; and the Hybrid model.
I want to thank the Amistad Committee at Central Connecticut State University for this invitation to present a lecture on the 1839 Amistad Revolt. Sierra Leone, the West African nation of 6.8 million, where the Africans who were captured and became the subject of the Amistad story has a unique place in the hearts and minds of people of Black African descent. By 1839 when the Amistad ship sailed out of Sierra Leone, that entity had already been established as a Pan-African geographic land where Africans from all over West Africa, Central Africa and even Eastern Africa were already living together for at least four decades.
Scholars have identified four main groups of people of Black African descent from Africa, Europe and the New World or the Americas who settled in what is today Sierra Leone, starting in the late 1780s: the Black poor from England, the Loyalists or Settlers, the Maroons, and the liberated Africans. The Black poor are reported to have been the first Diasporan Africans to resettled in the colony of Freetown, Sierra Leone (first named the “Province of Freedom”) from England in 1787. These free Blacks, most of whom were from colonial America and had fought on the side of the British during the American Revolutionary War, were reported to be 400 in number when they arrived. The second group of diaspora Africans who resettled to Freetown, Sierra Leone in 1792 were known as the ‘Loyalists’ or the ‘Settlers.’ Totaling 1,100, they arrived from Nova Scotia, Canada, where they had resettled from colonial America after fighting for the British in the American Revolutionary War. The third group of diaspora Africans who resettled in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in 1800, were the Maroons. Totaling 600, the Maroons were free Blacks of Ashanti descent, who arrived from arrived from the mountains of Jamaica after liberating themselves from Europeans. Finally, the fourth group of Africans who resettled in Freetown, Sierra Leone, were the “Recaptives” or “Liberated Africans”, who were intercepted on slave ships by joint efforts of Africans and the British military starting in 1807 and brought to Freetown. An estimated 60,000 recaptives or liberated Africans were resettled in Freetown from 1807 to 1840. It is noted that, it was in Freetown, Sierra Leone where Africans in Africa first started identifying themselves as Africans because of encounters with Europeans and with people from other parts of Africa – Pan Africanism (Kaba, 2021). It is therefore likely that the reported estimated 500 Africans taken away in the Brazilian/Portuguese slave ship called the Tecora were not just the Mendes and other ethnic groups of Sierra Leone, but also other who had resettled in that geographic territory (Greenspan, 2014). As Rediker (2013) points out, the 53 Amistad Africans (49 adults and 4 children) consisted: “… of at least ten different ethnicities or nationalities. Yet they shared an unusually large capacity for communication among themselves: almost two-thirds were Mende, several others could speak Mende, and almost all were multilingual, as was common in their region of origin. All came from societies in which they were accustomed to working together for the good of the whole” (p.26; also see DeCarbo, 2001: 78-79).
As a result of having all these people of Black African descent from Africa and the diaspora residing in Freetown, Sierra Leone, there arose the urgent need for a common language to communicate with one another. Indeed, in 1841, when the Black Africans of the Amistad won their case in the United States, Freetown, Sierra Leone, had become the center for the study of African languages, because there were hundreds of African languages from across West Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa spoken in the city. It is noted that by the 1850s, there were several hundred different African languages being spoken in the streets of Freetown. It is because of this fact that the Creole/Krio language was established so that the dozens of ethnic groups in Freetown and its surroundings could utilize one common language to communicate (Kaba, 2021). Today, in addition to Sierra Leone, Krio is also spoken in Nigeria, Ghana, the Gambia and Cameroon.
It is important to present this background information as to what was going on within Sierra Leone and Africa, by 1839 when that Brazilian/Portuguese slave ship sailed out of the waters of that entity, and in 1841 when the Amistad Africans won their case and began preparing to return home. The next section of this lecture will focus on three models that Blacks in the United States have used to fight injustice: the Amistad/Marcus Garvey model; the Black Lives Matter/Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. model; and the Hybrid model.
Amistad/Marcus Garvey Model
In an article discussing the early Rastafari repatriation to Africa movement, Dunkley (2018) notes how Ethiopia/Africa was seen as a promised land. Dunkley identifies two types of repatriation: physical repatriation and psychological repatriation: “Physical repatriation is the permanent relocation to a place considered home. On the other hand, psychological repatriation is a mental connection to that same place considered home” (pp.178-179).
The Amistad or Marcus Garvey model of fighting injustice in the United States reflect both physical and psychological repatriations. Physical repatriation is the argument that the best way to deal with the persistent problem of injustice in North America is to repatriate back to Africa, just as the remaining thirtyfive surviving Amistad Africans did by returning to Sierra Leone in January 1842 after they won their case, and as Marcus Garvey emphasized. To remain in a society that willfully refuse to recognize another racial group and deliberately make laws to enslave and suppress them means that a best possible solution is for Black Africans to go back to Africa and develop their own societies and systems of government. According to Guyatt (2012): “When the Supreme Court ordered their [Amistad Africans] release in March 1841, they embarked on a tour of dozens of venues from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire, drawing huge crowds and generous contributions for their homeward passage… the Amistad Africans weren’t looking for American citizenship or even equality: they simply wanted to go home” (p.30; “Back to Africa movement gathers pace,” 2019). It is useful to point out that a significant number of free Black Americans also repatriated to Liberia in the early 1820s (Blyden, 2004, 2019).
Writing about Marcus Garvey and his back to Africa movement, Christian (2004) points out that Garvey’s “… program and message was to become the most popular form of radical Black Nationalism espoused up to then in the modern world, and it has never to date been surpassed as a movement to mobilize and empower Black peoples against the social forces of white racism and hegemony” (p.425). Christian (2004) adds that Garvey’s perspective on ‘Black separatism’: “ought to be considered as a consequence of the embedded social relations of his time. After all. mainstream white supremacy was endorsed via Jim Crow segregation laws in state and federal policy. In hindsight, should we now consider Marcus Garvey not as particularly "radical," but instead" practical"? In fact his philosophy on social separation was merely a response to the status quo relations and general white hostility toward Black peoples…” (p.426). According to Lewis (2011), Garvey claims that: "The Negro will have to build his own government, industry, art, science, literature and culture, before the world will stop to consider him” (p.480).
The West African nation of Ghana has received the most number of Black Americans who repatriate to Africa. For example, according to Dovi (2015), by 2014, “… more than 3,000 African-Americans and people of Caribbean descent live in Ghana, a country of about 26 million people.” The most prominent Black American to repatriate to Ghana is the late intellectual, professor and stateman, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois. He repatriated to Accra, Ghana in 1961 and died there on August 27, 1963. His home in Accra, which is still intact is now a museum – the W. E. B. DuBois Centre. As Joiner (2020) points out:
“After a lifetime of fighting for freedom, equality, and justice on behalf of Black Americans, NAACP founder W.E.B. Du Bois moved to Ghana at the age of 93. He died in Ghana on the eve of the historic 1963 March on Washington. Today, many African Americans are following in Du Bois’ footsteps and are leaving America to live in Ghana. Living while Black in America has become difficult as many feel marginalized and face daily inequalities.”
Black Lives Matter/Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Model
Apart from Native Americans, Black Americans and European Americans are the oldest groups in the geographic territory that is today the United States, living on the land for over 400 years (since 1619). Black Americans have fought in all of the major wars to protect this land. They fought in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, and many other wars after the 1970s (Kaba, 2017:107). As a result, it is rational for most Black Americans to continue to reside in the country because they are among the lawful owners of this land, having lived on it continuously for over 14 generations.
It is therefore a primary reason why the vast majority of Black Americans have utilized the model of peaceful agitation for justice and equality in the United States. Today, one can call this peaceful model of fighting for justice and equality the Black Lives Matter/Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. model. Black Lives Matter activists inherited this model from the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. King Jr. In a speech given in Egypt on June 4, 2009, former United States President Barack Obama pointed out that: “For centuries, Black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding” (Kaba, 2009:105). Indeed, Barack Obama was elected president of the United States two times (2008 and 2012) and Kamala Harris was elected vice president in 2020 primarily because of the recognition of this peaceful method of fighting for justice and equality by Dr. King and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Discussing a speech that Marcus Garvey gave in Columbus, Ohio in September 1923, on repatriation to Africa, Chistian (2004) notes that: “One can argue that it was unrealistic to expect African Americans and other black groups in the United States to agree to uproot and leave for Africa after generations in the African Diaspora” (p.431). Lewis (2011) writes that although Marcus Garvey viewed Africa as central in his political belief:
“… he stated: Understand this African program well. I am not saying that all the Negroes of the United States should go to Africa; I am not saying that all the Negroes of the West Indies should go back to Africa, But I say this: That some “serious attempt must be made to build up a government and nation sufficiently strong to protect the Negro or your future in the United States will not be worth a snap of the finger ... Without an independent Africa – without a powerful Africa you are lost” (p.480).
Lewis (2011) also adds that Garvey emphasized that: “‘to fight for African redemption does not mean that we must give up our domestic fights for political justice and industrial rights’” (p.480). According to Haynes Jr. (2005), Dr. King said the following after the Montgomery bus boycott:
We will match your capacity [that of whites] to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force .... Do to us what you will and we will love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children; send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities and drag us out on some wayside road, beating us and leaving us half-dead, and we will still love you. But we will soon wear you down by our capacity to suffer” (p.66).
Haynes Jr. (2005) adds that Dr. King “… considered violence to be both immoral and impractical. Violence was immoral because it was based upon hate instead of love; violence was impractical because it was counterproductive” (p.68).
During the height of nation-wide Black Lives Matter protests across the United States in the summer of 2020, for the killings of Black people in the United States, many prominent national politicians, religious leaders, college and university leaders, and corporations supported the peaceful protests, with some of them marching with the protesters. For example, according to CNN exit polls, of 15,590 voters in the 2020 U. S. Presidential election who responded, 87% of those who voted for Biden said that racism in the United States is the most important problem and 37% of those who voted for Trump said racism is an important problem. Also, 92% of those who voted for Biden said that racial equality was the most important reason for their vote (“Exit Polls,” 2021). Parker et al. (2012) report for Pew Research on June 12, 2020 that 67% of Adults in the United States, 85% of Blacks, 77% of Hispanics, 75% of Asians, and 60% of Whites expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
According to McDonald (2016): “The public discourse about the Black Lives Matter movement has often invoked Martin Luther King Jr. to frame, situate, understand, defend, or criticize the movement” (p.148). McDonald (2016) adds that:
“… King’s legacy is an appropriate lens to engage Black Lives Matter because of his prominence in the American public imagination. He has become the exemplar by which American society measures all protest movements, especially those focused on racial justice. Thus, Black Lives Matter, as an organization seeking racial justice for black people, has the burden of responding to King’s legacy…” (p.149).
According to Dunkley (2018), “While physical and psychological repatriation are not mutually exclusive, it is possible to invest in psychological without physical repatriation. It must also be noted that psychological repatriation facilitates visiting the place called home, which can help with maintaining that mental connection that is crucial to the extension of the place considered home to any location” (pp.178-179). I have spent hundreds of hours watching YouTube vlogs, reading newspaper and magazine articles, and some scholarly journal articles that show that in the past decade, Black Americans have been travelling to Africa to spend several weeks to several months at a time in one country or in two or more countries and return to the United States. They would repeat their travel again a year or two later. This phenomenon of the back-and-forth travel to African nations for a period of time by Black Americans appears to be a Hybrid model that has emerged. Many of the diaspora Africans visiting African nations are being adopted into African families in the societies where they frequently travel.
This model has the potential to become the most preferred by Black Americans because as noted above, it is difficult to cut off ties with a land where they and their ancestors have lived continuously for over 400 years. This is a very practical idea because by 2021, with a population of almost 50 million (48.2 million as of 2019), Black Americans have become very crucial to the survival of American democracy. They are not only the core of the Democratic Party, but they have come to be the group that protects the country’s democracy. Furthermore, there is clear evidence of the efforts by the Republican Party to disenfranchise Black American voters. For example, when they Republican Party lost the 2020 presidential election, party officials and Donald Trump filed dozens of lawsuits specifically challenging the votes cast by people in mostly Black majority communities (Robinson, 2020; Rutenberg and Corasaniti, 2020). The persistent efforts by the Republican Party to disenfranchise Black American voters to overturn the 2020 presidential election culminated in a January 6, 2021, speech in which President Donald Trump incited an “… attack by a violent mob on the U.S. Capitol…” on that day in what is widely reported to an insurrection against the federal government of the United States (“Science groups call for Trump’s removal over insurrection,” 2021:216). As a result, it is important for Black Americans to maintain and protect the rights they have earned and the wealth they have accumulated in the post-Civil War era and continue to remain actively involved in the politics of the country. A hybrid model of spending time in Africa and remaining American citizens and actively participating in the country’s politics appears to be a very practical decision, especially with the use of social media.
This lecture began by presenting background information explaining that when the Amistad ship left the waters of what is today Sierra Leone in 1839, Freetown had already become a entity where a very large number of Black Africans from Western Africa and other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, and from the New World were already residing together starting in the late 1870s. From 1807 to 1840 alone, over 60,000 liberated Africans were resettled in Freetown. By the 1850s, there were hundreds of languages spoken in Freetown. As a result, there was a need for the creation of a common language to communicate, the Creole/Krio language. The second part of this lecture presents three models for fighting injustice in the United States: the Amistad/Marcus Garvey model; the Black Lives Matter/Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. model; and the Hybrid model.
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