– Please click the link below and read the chapter “British North America,” from the American Yawp Textbook.
– Please read the Chapter 02: “Drawing the Color Line” found in the book A People’s History of the United States by Howard
So…how many of you have car insurance? If you have a car, you have to have car insurance here in Texas. And even if you don’t have a car, you at least know what the purpose of insurance is, do you not? Of course. Stick with me, you’ll understand in a minute.
Section A: Please compare the version of history in your American Yawp textbook to this depiction of a slave’s experience being captured and then shipped across the Atlantic in the Hollywood film, Amistad. Are they the same? Or is the Amistad version too harsh? Or is it too clean and nice? What is your reaction?
If you’re like most of my students, you’ll probably be thinking to yourself that it was probably accurate, but that there may have been some exaggerations here and there.
Well, truth be told, what you watched was kind of the “ Disney-version” of the slave trade. Source after source from this time period tells us of the unimaginable horror that was the slave ship, and yet most of us grow up never knowing most of this information. Most of us grow up never knowing how truly horrifying the slave’s experience was. But if we were to go back through the film clip and compare it to reality, I think you might begin to understand what I am talking about.
• The Capture: Most of us have heard at one time or another that Africans “sold each other” or “sold themselves” into slavery.
• This is NOT TRUE. The only way this could be true would be to say that all Africans were alike because of the color of their skin. We know this is not reality. What was really happening was enemies were selling enemies into slavery. It would be like me selling an Al Qaeda member into slavery today…or maybe a Canadian (if we happened to be at war with Canada!)
• The capture though was one of the most frightening parts of this voyage. Imagine being hit over the head and blacking out…a nd then waking up in a cage on a beach surrounded by people and things you do not know…unable to communicate with the people around you because they don’t speak the same language you do.
• The Ship: You are then taken on board a large ship…and did anyone catch what the priest was saying to all the Africans as they were being taken on board?
• Once on board, you are taken below deck and chained into a space the size of a coffin. And it is there, chained down, lying there naked, body against body with the people on either side of you, that you will stay for the next 2-6months. You are packed in like sardines.
• You will not be taken up on deck to use the bathroom. You use the bathroom where you lay, as does everyone around you. And people begin to get seasick. People develop dysentery. You end up laying in urine, blood, vomit and feces for as long as 6 months. And there are deck after deck after deck of slave’s chained up in the cargo holds where no fresh air can penetrate and the fluids from the decks above seep through the cracks in the floor until they reach the lowest deck in the hold where often the smallest slaves were stored… where the children would be forced to lay for months in this accumulation of filth.
• Every once in a while, women were taken up on deck for “ exercise.” You saw a depiction of this in the film, where the women were dancing with the deckhands. This “exercise” was often when the women were taken on deck and raped. Women were not the only ones subject to rape, men and children were raped as well. But, more often than not, women were the ones most often singled out for rape. This was a particularly cruel part of enslavement for women. Once captured and put into slavery, women were not only used for physical labor, but were often made into sex slaves as well.
• You saw in the film slaves being whipped on board the ship. This was often done to maintain control of the ships. To make an “example” out of one or two to keep the rest of the slaves under control. What you did not see was what happens to the flesh when it is whipped with a cow-hide. Once you reach 10 lashes with a whip, the entire back is lacerated. 20 lashes and your back would look like hamburger. 50 lashes and you are down to the bone.
• One other incident you saw in the film that I will touch upon…the slaves tied together, tied to a bag of rocks, and then thrown overboard. This was often done for many reasons…to lighten a ship that was running too heavy, to get rid of sick slaves, to diminish the number of mouths to feed if food rations were running low, to make an example of a few, or any other of a number of reasons.
• What was not covered by the film though was this: Often, slave traders had their cargo (the slaves) on these ships covered by insurance. But the catch was that insurance companies would only pay out for slaves that were accidentlylost at sea. I’ ll let you guess what this practice led to……. .
Suffice to say, it is estimated that over 2 million African slaves were “lost at sea.” Historians have suggested that you could literally trace the paths of the slave ships from this era by the litter of bodies lining the ocean floor.
Section B: So what if I were to tell you that some of those insurance companies that paid out for these supposedly “lost” Africans are the same companies you have car insurance with today? These same companies that made their first dollars off of this rather shady practice are some of the very same insurance companies and banks you do business with today? Would that bother you?
-When thinking about what you have been taught in previous classes, does it in any way match what these readings and videos on slavery and race have revealed to you?
Section C: Please select 3 quotes from the Howard Zinn Readings you found interesting, strange, or of importance. For each quote, please write 1-2 paragraphs reflecting as to why you chose those quotes. Consider what they have to do with history or how they are engaging your learning.