Sunday, September 16, 2012

The International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of the Slave Trade and Trans-Atlantic Slavery


The United Nations celebrates March 25 as an International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. It is one of many holidays about the slave trade – see Juneteenth marking the freeing of slaves in Texas here – which the United States as a whole does not mark.

Juneteenth is celebrated mainly by black people in Texas and Denver, inter alia, and even anti-racist whites in Texas and Denver sometimes do not know of it.*

Crispus Attucks day – March 5 - celebrated by pre-Civil War abolitionists, has now faded. See here.

The Lincoln Memorial, commemorating emancipation, is the one great public sign of the passage of this great evil, challenged but not defeated in the American founding. The holiday for Martin Luther King centers on segregation and Vietnam, but of course, the fight against bondage is also there. Nonetheless, like every thing else about this history which shapes America to this moment, there is much hidden, silent, forgotten...

Heraldo Munoz, my friend and former student, a longtime battler against Chilean fascism and American support of it, has served in the United Nations for many years. As head of the Security Council, he cast a deciding vote against Bush and Blair’s attempt to annex the UN to their criminal aggression in Iraq. See Bishop Tutu's recent statement refusing to appear with Blair here. Now assistant secretary general and in charge of UNDP (the United Nations Development Program) for Latin America and the Caribbean, Heraldo has long been a supporter of March 25th, the day of remembrance about the slave trade.

Heraldo sent me the song Samba Lando of his friends in Inti-Illimani. Among its lyrics are these:

“La gente dice qué pena 
que tenga la piel oscura 
como si fuera basura 
que se arroja al pavimento, 
no saben del descontento 
entre mi raza madura.

Hoy día alzamos la voz
 como una sola memoria. 
Desde Ayacucho hasta Angola, 
de Brasil a Mozambique
 ya no hay nadie que replique, 
somos una misma historia”

“People say it is such a shame
 that my skin is dark 
as if it was trash 
that throws itself on the asphalt,
 they don't know about the discontent 
between my ripe race.

Today, we raise our voices 
like a sole memory. 
From Ayacucho to Angola,
from Brazil to Mozambique
 no one challenges this anymore,
 we are one history."

Listen here.

In Black Patriots and Loyalists, I set the American Revolution in its rightful and much neglected context, the international revolt against bondage starting in Jamaica in 1750 and extended through 20 anti-slavery rebellions up to 1770. American sailors, black and white, some escaped to the comparative freedom of the seas, some seized or impressed by Royal “press-gangs,” identified with the slaves and brought word of abolition to London and Boston. The fight for freedom of blacks who escaped to the British or who were enlisted by the Americans, in exchange for freedom, in the First Rhode Island Regiment is of a piece with this international movement, and extends beyond American shores to the struggles for freedom and against economic oppression of black Loyalists in Canada and the founding of a radical democracy in Free Town in Sierra Leone, to Saint-Domingue where the slave revolt led by Toussaint L’Ouverture created Haiti, to Bolivar who proclaimed gradual emancipation along with independence in Venezuela, and to the Emancipation Proclamation and the recruitment by the North of 184,000 black soldiers in the American Civil War.

Many whites also fought for abolition. And those who did understood that there is no freedom for some without the freedom of all. As Pastor Martin Niemoller put it,

"First they came for the communists and the jews
And I did nothing

And then they came for the unionists,
And I did nothing...

And then they came for me
And there was no one left to protest.”

Listen again to Inti-Illimani:

"La gente dice qué pena 
que tenga la piel oscura 
como si fuera basura 
que se arroja al pavimento,
 no saben del descontento
 entre mi raza madura.

Hoy día alzamos la voz 
como una sola memoria. 
Desde Ayacucho hasta Angola,
 de Brasil a Mozambique
ya no hay nadie que replique,
 somos una misma historia."

The song is of international solidarity and revolution...

Black Patriots and Loyalists places the American Revolution in the setting of this great international uprising. (Here is the University of Chicago Facebook page about the book where it can be purchased for $21. Black Patriots and Loyalists is now in a second printing). It remedies the awful one-sidedness of considering the American Revolution for independence as a white revolution - see here - or an inspirer, as with R.R Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution, only of independence movements in Europe. For the crowds in the American Revolution were abolitionist, and many British soldiers and sailors had also been touched by these revolts, particularly black sailors.

The fight against bondage is not only the logical completion of the American Revolution as a revolution for freedom; it is at its heart.

The politics of black Liberation was not identity politics (that of the “forgotten fifth” in the title of Gary Nash’s nonetheless striking 2006 book); it was the politics of the Revolution which pro-slavery leaders like Madison and the Constitution – as opposed to gradual emancipation throughout the Northern states by 1804 – betrayed.

Americans should celebrate the UN day for Remembrance of the Slave Trade on March 25. Heraldo put me in touch with Crispin Gregoire, the United Nations ambassador from Dominica, and one of the proposers of the original day. Here are some of Crispin’s words about it:

“In my former role as Ambassador of Dominica to the UN, I worked closely with the Ambassador of Jamaica, H.E. Raymond Wolfe, in leading the Caribbean Community's sponsorship of the General Assembly resolution, 'Permanent Memorial to and Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.' As you are probably aware, this resolution calls for the annual commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery on 25 March.

During that week in March, there are a number of activities at the UN headquarters and at various UN Information Centres (UNICs) around the world..."

"American history has so many gaps when it comes to true representation of the contribution of the people of African descent."

The United States needs holidays commemorating the death of bondage. The country today jails 2.3 million people, many black, 25% of the world’s prisoners and has another 5.1 million on probation. The forgetfulness about blacks in the Revolution or the racism in the prevailing characterization of the Revolution - see here and here – is linked to a continuing oppression to this moment.

Next year I will look forward to celebrating March 25th. As the Inti-Illimani song Samba Lando underlines, the sense that this is an international movement is powerful. “Somos una misma historia,” the song ends. “We are one history.”

All of us in the Americas, all of us in Africa, become one with this great and powerful sentiment.

***

http://lyricstranslate.com
Samba Lando

Sobre el manto de la noche
 esta la luna chispeando.
 Así brilla fulgurando
 para establecer un fuero:
 "Libertad para los negros 
cadenas para el negrero"

Samba landó, samba landó
¿ Qué tienes tú que no tenga yo?

Mi padre siendo tan pobre
 dejo una herencia fastuosa:
 "para dejar de ser cosas
- dijo con ánimo entero-
 ponga atención, mi compadre,
 que vienen nuevos negreros".

La gente dice qué pena
 que tenga la piel oscura 
como si fuera basura
 que se arroja al pavimento, 
no saben del descontento 
entre mi raza madura.

Hoy día alzamos la voz
 como una sola memoria. 
Desde Ayacucho hasta Angola, 
de Brasil a Mozambique 
ya no hay nadie que replique,
 somos una misma historia

English
Samba Lando

Above the night's coat
 the moon is sparkling. 
It's shining thus, flaring, to establish a code:
"Freedom for the blacks 
Chains for the slave trader"

Samba landó, samba landó
 What do you have that I don't?

My father, being so poor, 
bequeathed a splendid inheritance:
 "To stop being things
 - he said with his whole mind - 
Pay attention, mate,
 for new slave traders come."

People say it is such a shame
 that my skin is dark
 as if it was trash
 that throws itself on the asphalt, 
they don't know about the discontent between my ripe race.

Today, we raise our voices
 like one memory.
 From Ayacucho to Angola,
 from Brazil to Mozambique, no one challenges anymore,
 we are one history.

***

*Juneteenth is the oldest celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that blacks were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Robert E. Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to overcome slave-owner resistance.

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