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America observes 400th anniversary of slaves arrival

Stacy M. Brown NNPA Newswire Correspondent | 9/5/2019, midnight

In August 2018, the National Newspaper Publishers Association began a series on the transatlantic slave trade.

The series started in conjunction with the annual United Nations International Day of Remembrance.  With the observance of the first African landing in America, some question whether it’s the 400th or 500th anniversary.

Historians point out that the 400th anniversary is the 400th year of the Anglo-centric history of Africans in the Americas.

“Dating the history of Africans in North America to 400 years ago reinforces this narrative of English superiority,” Greg Carr, the Chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University, told Time.com.

“Remembering the Spanish and indigenous sides of the history is more important now than ever as the people are closing the borders to those who are descendants from people who were here when you came,” Carr said.

In his 2013 PBS documentary, “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross,” Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., said slavery was always an essential ingredient of the American experiment. Gates called slavery, “The supreme hypocrisy,” and “capitalism gone berserk.”

The first African to come to North America was a free man who accompanied Spanish explorers to Florida in 1513 – or 106 years before the 20 Africans who were kidnapped and brought to Point Comfort, Va., in 1619, Gates said.

“The father of our country was one of its largest slave owners,” Gates said in the documentary.

“Because of the profound disconnect between principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the simultaneous practice of slavery, we’ve had historical amnesia about slavery,” he said.

Indeed, the slave trade began in the 15th century, said Boniface Chidyausiku of Zimbabwe. It was driven by colonial expansion, emerging capitalist economies and the insatiable demand for commodities – with racism and discrimination serving to legitimize the trade, Chidyausiku said.

Chidyausiku, then the acting president of the United Nations General Assembly, made the remarks in 2007 during the UN’s observance of the 200th anniversary of the end of the transatlantic slave trade.

“Fortunes were made, and financial institutions flourished on the back of human bondage…[so] today’s commemoration must encourage everyone to live up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says: ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, and to redouble efforts to stop human trafficking and all forms of modern slavery,’” said Chidyausiku, who is now 69.

Michael Guasco, a historian at Davidson College and author of “Slaves and Englishmen: Human Bondage in the Early Modern Atlantic World,” suggests it’s the 500th anniversary.

“There’s a Hispanic heritage that predates the U.S., and there’s a tendency for people to willingly forget or omit the early history of Florida, Texas, and California, particularly as the politics of today want to push back against Spanish language and immigration from Latin America,” Guasco told Time.

The fact that slavery was underway for a century in South America before introduction in North America is not widely taught nor commonly understood, Felicia Davis of the HBCU Green Fund told NNPA Newswire.