Category: African American history
Sorry is the Hardest Word: Why Dutch are Not Alone in Refusing to Apologise for the Slave Trade
worker | July 7, 2021 | 8:49 pm | Africa, African American history, struggle against slavery | Comments closed



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An independent panel in the Netherlands has told the government it should apologise for the Dutch role in the transatlantic slave trade. But what would be the implications if it did, and what about all the other nations involved in the slave trade?

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte set up an independent panel last year – in the wake of the death of George Floyd and under pressure from the Black Lives Matter campaign – to look into the role played in the slave trade by the Netherlands.

After publishing the report on 1 July, the chair of the panel, Dagmar Oudshoorn said: “History cannot be turned back. However it is possible to state the intention that this historical injustice…whose ill consequences are still being felt today, be corrected as far as is possible, to make that the starting point of policy”.

​On the same day, Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema, said: “On behalf of the city, I issue an apology for the Amsterdam city council’s active involvement in the commercial system of colonial slavery and global trade of people reduced to slavery”.

Amsterdam’s bankers and merchants were key to the slave trade in Dutch colonies such as Suriname, Curacao, and Aruba.

​But Mr Rutte has said his government will not apologise for slavery because he did not want to divide public opinion by passing judgement on Dutch history.

The Dutch West India Company operated a chain of fortresses in what is now Ghana and shipped around 500,000 African slaves to the Caribbean and Brazil.

The Netherlands banned slavery in all its overseas colonies, including Suriname, in 1863.

But what about the other nations involved in slavery?

Great Britain

The British Empire – or England as it was until 1707 – did not invent slavery but it was responsible for turning it into a huge wealth-creating industry.

From the middle of the 17th century until the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, English ships were exporting iron goods, guns, cloth, and other manufactured products like glass beads to Africa where they would be used to buy slaves from local African chiefs.

The slaves would then be put in chains and transported across the Atlantic to the Caribbean or to the southern states of what would become the United States, where those that survived would be put to work on sugar, tobacco, or cotton plantations.

Protesters throw a statue of slave trader Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest on 7 June 2020.
The statue of Edward Colston is thrown into the harbour in Bristol.

The crops would then be sent back to Britain on the same ships and the triangular trade would go on.

Merchants and bankers in Bristol, Liverpool, and London played a leading role in the slave trade but the monarchy, the government, and the church all benefited from it financially and saw little unethical about it until independent MP William Wilberforce embarked on a campaign to end it.

In recent years, the Bank of England and the Church of England have both apologised for the role they played in the slave trade and there has been much debate in cities like Bristol about renaming venues and removing statues of slave merchants like Edward Colston who also happened to be philanthropists.

​In June of last year, the Lloyd’s of London insurance market apologised for its “shameful” role in financing the slave trade and promised to fund job opportunities for black people.

In 2007, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair said during a visit to Ghana: “I have said we are sorry and I say it again …It is important to remember what happened in the past, to condemn it and say why it was entirely unacceptable”.

But Hilary Beckles, chairman of a Reparations Commission set up by Jamaica and several other Caribbean countries, told Reuters: “It is not enough to say sorry. We are not asking for anything as mendicant as handing out cheques to people on street corners. The issue of money is secondary, but in this instance the moral discharge of one’s duty does require in a market economy that you contribute towards development”.


Spain bears a heavy responsibility for the slave trade as it was the Spanish monarchy which funded Christopher Columbus’ expedition in 1492 and then followed up shortly afterwards by sending a fleet of conquistadors to crush the Aztec and Inca empires and subjugate indigenous people from Mexico to Peru and Cuba to Argentina.

The Spanish were the first to bring slaves to Jamaica – which England conquered in 1655 and turned into a thriving slave-owning economy – and they also exploited the agricultural wealth of Venezuela and Colombia by using African slaves.

When Simon Bolivar – who himself owned slaves – liberated Venezuela and Colombia in the 1820s he failed to persuade local plantation owners to free their slaves and slavery was only abolished in 1852.

Slavery continued in the Spanish colony of Cuba until 1886, only 10 years before the US ousted the Spaniards and began their own period of neo-colonial rule.

The Spanish government has never formally apologised for enslaving millions of people in Latin America, or for the atrocities committed by the conquistadors, who often enslaved indigenous people who refused to convert to Christianity.

The closest it came was in 2001 when then-Labour and Social Affairs Minister Juan Carlos Aparicio, said: “We profoundly regret the injustices of the past”.


During the 18th century, France competed with Britain, Portugal, and Spain when it came to building empires and dominating trade and it was not shy in getting involved in the slave trade.

France took almost 1.4 million African slaves to the Caribbean to work on plantations in Guiana, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and the western half of the island of Saint Domingue – now known as Haiti – which would become a major sugar exporter and the jewel in the French empire.

When Toussaint L’Ouverture led a successful slave revolt in Haiti, Napoleon Bonaparte was so affronted that he ordered the island be recaptured and slavery reimposed.

But the campaign was a bloody failure and Haiti became the first black republic and abolished slavery in 1805.

France finally abolished slavery in its colonies in 1848.

In 2006, then-President Jacques Chirac oversaw a ceremony which commemorated the “indelible stain” of slavery in French history, but France has never formally apologised.


Portugal was one of the first countries to see the potential for profits in slavery.

Only 12 months after Columbus discovered the Americas, the King of Portugal had claimed what is now Brazil and this was accepted by a papal bull and then the Treaty of Tordesillas.

By the 16th century, Portugal, having pioneered slave plantations on Madeira and São Tomé, introduced the slave trade to Brazil and began bringing in hundreds of thousands of slaves from what is now Angola, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to cut sugar cane on “engenhos” in Brazil.

Brazil became independent from Portugal in 1822, but the economy was built on slavery and it was not abolished until 1888.

It is estimated that around five million enslaved people were brought from Africa to Brazil between 1501 and 1866.

Portugual has never formally apologised for its role in the slave trade, but in 2017 President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa visited Senegal and said he recognised the “injustice of slavery”.

United States

The southern states – Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Virginia, and North and South Carolina – inherited slavery when the US threw off the shackles of British control in the late 18th century.

There is even a theory that the war of independence was begun because American slave owners feared the British Empire was about to end the slave trade.

Slavery remained integral to the US economy, especially in the south, until the 1860s when the Civil War tore the country apart.

Alison Lane gestures as she celebrates Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in Texas, two years after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves elsewhere in the United States, in Washington, D.C. U.S., June 19, 2021.
Alison Lane gestures as she celebrates Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in Texas, two years after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves elsewhere in the United States, in Washington, D.C. U.S., June 19, 2021.

Abraham Lincoln finally freed the slaves and defeated the Confederacy in 1865.

In July 2008, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution apologising for slavery and for the Jim Crow laws which discriminated against blacks for decades after the abolition of slavery.

Nine US states have also made official apologies for enslaving Africans and their descendants.

African Nations

Possibly the most politically awkward subject is the culpability of various African nations – or their ancestors – for enslaving other Africans in the first place.

Toyin Falola, a Nigerian professor of African studies at the University of Texas, told The Wall Street Journal in 2019: “The organisation of the slave trade was structured to have the Europeans stay along the coast lines, relying on African middlemen and merchants to bring the slaves to them. The Europeans couldn’t have gone into the interior to get the slaves themselves”.

The author of the article, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, wrote about her great-grandfather, a chief in the Igbo tribe of eastern Nigeria, who had sold slaves in the 19th century.

The slaves tended to be from inland tribes while the slavers tended to be from tribes like the Igbo who lived along the coast of West Africa.

The Overlooked Black History of Memorial Day
worker | May 31, 2021 | 8:16 pm | African American history | Comments closed

An April 1865 photo of the graves of Union soldiers buried at the race course-turned-Confederate-prison where historians believe the earliest Memorial Day ceremony took place.

An April 1865 photo of the graves of Union soldiers buried at the race course-turned-Confederate-prison where historians believe the earliest Memorial Day ceremony took place.
Civil war photographs, 1861-1865, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
MAY 22, 2020 12:00 PM EDT

Nowadays, Memorial Day honors veterans of all wars, but its roots are in America’s deadliest conflict, the Civil War. Approximately 620,000 soldiers died, about two-thirds from disease.

The work of honoring the dead began right away all over the country, and several American towns claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. Researchers have traced the earliest annual commemoration to women who laid flowers on soldiers’ graves in the Civil War hospital town of Columbus, Miss., in April 1866. But historians like the Pulitzer Prize winner David Blight have tried to raise awareness of freed slaves who decorated soldiers’ graves a year earlier, to make sure their story gets told too.

Clubhouse at the race course where Union soldiers were held prisoner.

Clubhouse at the race course where Union soldiers were held prisoner.
Civil war photographs, 1861-1865, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

In the approximately 10 days leading up to the event, roughly two dozen African American Charlestonians reorganized the graves into rows and built a 10-foot-tall white fence around them. An archway overhead spelled out “Martyrs of the Race Course” in black letters.

TIME Explains Memorial Day
About 10,000 people, mostly black residents, participated in the May 1 tribute, according to coverage back then in the Charleston Daily Courier and the New York Tribune. Starting at 9 a.m., about 3,000 black schoolchildren paraded around the race track holding roses and singing the Union song “John Brown’s Body,” and were followed by adults representing aid societies for freed black men and women. Black pastors delivered sermons and led attendees in prayer and in the singing of spirituals, and there were picnics. James Redpath, the white director of freedman’s education in the region, organized about 30 speeches by Union officers, missionaries and black ministers. Participants sang patriotic songs like “America” and “We’ll Rally around the Flag” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In the afternoon, three white and black Union regiments marched around the graves and staged a drill.

The New York Tribune described the tribute as “a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.” The gravesites looked like a “one mass of flowers” and “the breeze wafted the sweet perfumes from them” and “tears of joy” were shed.

This tribute, “gave birth to an American tradition,” Blight wrote in Race and Reunion: “The war was over, and Memorial Day had been founded by African Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration.”

About 50 years after the Civil War ended, someone at the United Daughters of the Confederacy asked the Ladies Memorial Association of Charleston to confirm that the May 1, 1865, tribute occurred, and received a reply from one S.C. Beckwith: “I regret that I was unable to gather any official information in answer to this.” Whether Beckwith actually knew about the tribute or not, Blight argues, the exchange illustrates “how white Charlestonians suppressed from memory this founding.” A 1937 book also incorrectly stated that James Redpath singlehandedly organized the tribute — when in reality it was a group effort — and that it took place on May 30, when it actually took place on May 1. That book also diminished the role of the African Americans involved by referring to them as “black hands which only knew that the dead they were honoring had raised them from a condition of servitude.”

An Alfred Waud illustration of the.Union soldiers cemetery known as Martyrs of the Race course in Charleston, S.C.

An Alfred Waud illustration of the.Union soldiers cemetery known as “Martyrs of the Race course” in Charleston, S.C.
Morgan collection of Civil War drawings at the Library of Congress

The origin story that did stick involves an 1868 call from General John A. Logan, president of a Union Army veterans group, urging Americans to decorate the graves of the fallen with flowers on May 30 of that year. The ceremony that took place in Arlington National Cemetery that day has been considered the first official Memorial Day celebration. Memorial Day became a national holiday two decades later, in 1889, and it took a century before it was moved in 1968 to the last Monday of May, where it remains today. According to Blight, Hampton Park, named after Confederate General Wade Hampton, replaced the gravesite at the Martyrs of the Race Course, and the graves were reinterred in the 1880s at a national cemetery in Beaufort, S.C.

The fact that the freed slaves’ Memorial Day tribute is not as well remembered is emblematic of the struggle that would follow, as African Americans’ fight to be fully recognized for their contributions to American society continues to this day.

A year after George Floyd’s death, pent-up rage remains as Louisiana faces its own policing issues

A year after George Floyd’s death, pent-up rage remains as Louisiana faces its own policing issues

It began with a few dozen protesters shouting into traffic on North Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans, four days after George Floyd was killed last May under a police officer’s knee in Minnesota.

Hours later, a wave of rage over Floyd’s death and the policing of Black people in America began spilling across the state.

Thousands of protesters poured into the streets in Lafayette and hundreds more in Lake Charles, Shreveport and the state Capitol in Baton Rouge. Smaller groups took to the courthouse in Houma, the civic center in Monroe, a gritty corner in the West End of New Iberia.

Protesters gather around a Henry Lipkis mural in Jackson Square depicting the slain George Floyd.

In New Orleans the protests ran for weeks into the summer, including a clash on the Crescent City Connection in which police lobbed tear gas and fired projectiles.

The cry that echoed loudest at those protests was Floyd’s: “I can’t breathe.”

The pent-up outrage that was unleashed over the Floyd killing one year ago remains, fueled most recently by Louisiana’s own horrific contribution: police body cam footage unearthed by the Associated Press last week showing Black motorist Ronald Greene dying in a brutal, long-hidden 2019 encounter with White Louisiana State Police troopers.

How much Floyd’s death, or that of Greene, has altered attitudes in Louisiana over police accountability is uncertain — though there are indications of a shift.

Lawmakers this week are debating a host of policing reforms, including tight limits on chokeholds and no-knock warrants. Advocates also are pushing for legislation to end the “qualified immunity” that shields misbehaving police officers from state lawsuits seeking damages.

This undated handout photo provided by Christopher Harris shows George Floyd. (Christopher Harris via AP)

The bills came out of a task force the Legislature set up a month after Floyd’s killing, as a debate over the use of excessive force by law enforcement roiled nationally.

“This is really about being who we say we are as a country,” said Judy Reese Morse, president and CEO of the Urban League of Louisiana. “Quite honestly, the proof is in the pudding, and the pudding just doesn’t taste good right now.”

A survey released in April by LSU’s Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs found a wide gap between how Black and White respondents viewed racial discrimination in various contexts. But on one point the majority agreed: Black people are treated less fairly by police.

Ted Quant, a longtime civil rights activist in New Orleans, said the video of Floyd’s final moments provided evidence that couldn’t be explained away.

“People witnessed George Floyd being murdered. They could see it. And it couldn’t be covered up, it couldn’t be lied about,” Quant said. “I think it was an education for the people of America.”

The nonprofit E Pluribus Unum, founded by former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, released its own survey this week. It found similar divisions across the Southern states.

While a large majority of Black respondents said Floyd’s killing and others prove there is a systemic problem, “Whites have a tendency to want to say it’s a few bad apples,” Landrieu said of the survey results.

Still, Landrieu pointed to a broader agreement for the notion that Floyd was wrongfully killed and that more reforms need to happen, as well as support for getting rid of total civil immunity for offending police officers.

“One of the things the public is demanding now, across racial and party lines, is transparency — before you can get to accountability,” Landrieu said. “People do not think we have done enough. Everyone wants the police to treat people with great respect and great dignity. That’s a pretty high line of common ground.”

The family of African American George Floyd appealed on Tuesday for sweeping police reform on the anniversary of his murder by a white officer as they met President Joe Biden at the White House.

George Floyd’s family urges police reform on anniversary of murder
Updated 14:54, 26-May-2021

Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, talks to reporters alongside other family members and lawyers after meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House, May 25, 2021. /CFP

The family of African American George Floyd appealed on Tuesday for sweeping police reform on the anniversary of his murder by a white officer as they met President Joe Biden at the White House.

The president and Vice President Kamala Harris hosted several of Floyd’s relatives in the Oval Office after the family spoke to top lawmakers hoping for progress on police reform.

“If you can make federal laws to protect the bird, the bald eagle, you can make federal laws to protect people of color,” said Philonise Floyd, George’s younger brother, after a private meeting in the Oval Office.

Floyd’s mother, siblings and his daughter Gianna, along with family lawyers, had earlier gathered at the U.S. Capitol with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic members of Congress.

A mural reading “I Can’t Breathe” at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 25, 2021. /CFP

“We have to act. We face an inflection point,” said Biden in a statement issued by the White House after meeting the family nearly a year after their first encounter ahead of Floyd’s funeral.

Biden said he was “hopeful” that a deal could be struck on the police reforms after the Memorial Day holiday this weekend, though the president reportedly had set Tuesday as a deadline for passing police reform legislation.

Floyd, 46, who died in handcuffs with his neck pinned to a Minneapolis street under the knee of Derek Chauvin – a white policeman, has become the face of a national reckoning with racial injustice and police brutality in the U.S.

Chauvin, 45, faces up to 40 years in prison when he is sentenced on June 25. The three other officers at the scene have pleaded not guilty to aiding and abetting Chauvin, and will go on trial next year.

Local leaders and politicians, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, seventh from left, kneel for more than nine minutes to remember the murder of George Floyd in New York, May 25, 2021. /CFP

How the U.S. remembered Floyd

In Minneapolis, a foundation created in Floyd’s memory by some in his family organized an afternoon of music and food in a park near the downtown courtroom where Chauvin was convicted last month of murdering Floyd.

Later on Tuesday, mourners gathered for a candlelight vigil at the stretch of road where Floyd passed away.

By the afternoon, small crowds were gathering at the intersection for a festive, sunny afternoon of music and children’s activities. A man set out paint ready to create a fresh mural in the square, which has been closed to most vehicle traffic for a year and is filled with flowers and art commemorating Floyd and other Black victims of police violence.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey were due to join activists in a city park for a silence of nine minutes and 29 seconds – the time that Chauvin knelt on Floyd, in memory of Floyd’s murder.

Demonstrations were planned in New York City and Mayor Bill de Blasio joined activists in kneeling in silence for nine minutes and 29 seconds. Earlier on Tuesday, Shaun Donovan, a Democratic candidate for mayor, was among a group of five protesters arrested for blocking traffic near a major tunnel into Manhattan.

A bullet casing is seen after shots were fired in George Floyd Square on the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, May 25, 2021. /CFP

Events at George Floyd Square were briefly interrupted by gunfire on Tuesday. One person was reported injured as at least 20 rounds were fired. Police said the incident remains under investigation, and it is unclear if the shooting is connected to events in the area commemorating the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s death.

Legislation has been pursued in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia to increase the accountability or oversight of police, and 24 states have enacted new laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The laws have included the mandating of body-worn cameras for officers, banning neck restraints or making it easier for the public to see police officers’ disciplinary records.

Read more:

U.S. House approves police reform bill named after George Floyd

(With input from agencies)

Black in the USSR
worker | November 1, 2020 | 2:24 pm | Africa, African American Culture, African American history, struggle against racism, USSR | Comments closed

Black in the USSR

Stories of black Americans, who fled to the Soviet Union to escape race discrimination

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Racism in the US in the 1930s forced hundreds of African Americans to leave the country and move to the Soviet Union. Inspired by Soviet ideology, many came seeking a society without racial prejudice. At home, African Americans faced a lack of prospects and restrictions which separated them from society. Desperate to receive equal treatment, hundreds fled their homeland to be free of discrimination in the Soviet Union. Some of them still live in Russia and explain why they left the ‘land of dreams’ and how they gained freedom behind the Iron Curtain.

Paul Robeson: His Life as an Unfinished Symphony
worker | October 21, 2020 | 8:11 pm | African American Culture, African American history, Culture and Art, Paul Robeson | Comments closed

Paul Robeson: His Life as an Unfinished Symphony

Football star, leading man, communist, outcast: RT dives into life of black icon hounded for beliefs
worker | May 6, 2018 | 7:38 pm | African American history, Paul Robeson | Comments closed

Football star, leading man, communist, outcast: RT dives into life of black icon hounded for beliefs

Football star, leading man, communist, outcast: RT dives into life of black icon hounded for beliefs
Paul Robeson rose from poverty and early loss to become one of the most famous performers in the world. But his prickly activism and a Soviet connection cost him his career, but not his legacy.

A son of a preacher, whose mother died in a fire when he was six, Robeson was a bewilderingly talented man. At Rutgers, where he was the only black student on the whole campus, he was chosen as valedictorian, won oratory prizes, played leading parts in the theater, sang to audiences, and was voted an All-American as a football player – eventually winning a place in the College Football Hall of Fame.

His early adult career was similarly gilded. He moved between heavyweight dramatic roles, such as Othello, becoming the first black Hollywood leading man, and singing hits beloved by millions; while rubbing shoulders with the world’s richest and most powerful, and living in luxury that his runaway slave father could never have envisaged for his son.

But Robeson did not want to be just a song-and-dance man… RT explores the journey that gave him a cameo in many of the major events of the 20th century, from the Spanish Civil War, to the McCarthy trials, and the Civil Rights Movement. As well as uncovering unexpected curios from his back catalogue, like the performance of the Soviet anthem in English in his deep baritone, the 16-minute report exposes the sustained campaign of hounding that led to the one-time star living out his years in reduced circumstances. It wonders what lessons one man’s battle to remain true to himself in the face of hostility has for American activists today.