In 1619, the first enslaved Africans were brought to the shores of Virginia after being stolen from a Portuguese slave ship that was intercepted by an English warship flying a Dutch flag. Laws were passed in the seventeenth century regarding the treatment and commerce of African enslaved people in the colonies and in 1705 they were codified to become Virginia’s first slave codes. These original Africans were about 20 in number; however, it was just the beginning of the horrific institution that would come to be called Chattel Slavery. By the time Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, abolishing slavery and liberating enslaved people in the United States, those original 20 Africans had mushroomed into 4 million enslaved black people in the United States of America. During the Transatlantic Slave Trade, it is estimated that over 12.5 million people were stolen from the African continent between 1525 and 1866. Due to the treacherous journey across oceans and lands, only 10.7 million survived the Middle Passage.
Almost 400 years later, there are over 2.5 million people incarcerated in the U.S.
(based on census information from 2017) and 60% of those people are of African descent. Blacks make up only 13% of the U.S. population and yet are 5 times more likely to be locked up than whites. The U.S. prison system and the way incarcerated individuals are “used” as labor and commerce within the system is analogous with the economic boon that the institution of Chattel Slavery was for the southern economy. Clearly slavery and incarceration are not the same, not withstanding that the design and origins of mass incarceration systemically have much in common with the institution of Slavery in the U.S. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution “…abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime…” and therein is the problem. That simple phrase weaponizes the American Justice System as a critically unequal system of crime and punishment by which the freedom and liberty of formerly enslaved people, without the rights of full participation in citizenship or society, are systematically the targeted demographic. There are many who believe it is merely a transformation of one heinous and inhuman institution to another that exposes the weakness and hypocrisy of an America that claims to embrace the grand ideal of Equal Justice Under the Law.
This summer in August of 2019, our community will commemorate The MAAFA, the African Holocaust of Enslavement. This is the history of the ongoing effects of the atrocities inflicted on African people by Europeans specifically in the context of the history of Chattel Slavery in the Americas. The shores of Virginia are the epicenter or infliction point for the beginning of the institutional enslavement of African people in the United States. We must RE-Member our History as citizens of this nation. We must Claim what was stolen from us as the decendants of our Ancestors and Commemorate how we came to be Americans and assess where we are now, 400 years later.