If you were born and raised in New England, you most likely have been involved in a conversation that went something like this: “My ancestors came over on the Mayflower and we were one of the first settlers of America.” As I’m probably older than you I’ve had, or heard, this conversation dozens of times. How wonderful it must be to be able to trace your ancestors back to the fictitious origin of our country.
In the year 1620 the Mayflower landed somewhere on Cape Cod with 102 men, women and children on board. It took 66 days to make the trip across the ocean. Inasmuch as they landed in December it most likely was a grueling trip. When they finally arrived they were relegated to living on the ship for that first winter. Nearly half of them died. There’s no question that it was a very difficult voyage to make and required great courage and stamina.
White America has celebrated the landing of the Mayflower for 400 years. The voyage (or a whitewashed version thereof) that we all learned about in school was taught in a way that glorified those who came here. History tells us of the loving, warm relationship the travelers (invaders) had with Native Americans; the folks who were actually here first. Had those Native Americans been able to see what the future held in store for them no one would have made it ashore alive. Little did they know that these frozen, starving people would bring with them diseases that would nearly wipe out the indigenous people, or that years later more invaders would steal the land that belonged to “the locals.” If only.
The Mayflower was not the first ship to arrive in the New World. The year before the arrival of the Mayflower, a ship known as the White Lion landed in Jamestown, Virginia. On Aug. 20, 1619, twenty-plus “indentured servants” were unloaded at the dock. Although Native Americans had subjected others to slavery, the landing of the White Lion is recognized as the birth of slavery in America.
As badly as I feel for the 102 English men and women who suffered terribly on their ride on the Mayflower, their trip pales in comparison to the slave ships. Slaves ships would normally carry 350 Black people who had been wrenched from their families and their homeland. These people, yes they were and always have been PEOPLE, were stuffed into the bottom of the boat and chained to the floor. They were deprived of daylight, as well as their dignity. Of the 350 slaves typically 150 or so would die along the way. More Blacks would die and be tossed overboard for shark bait than would arrive on the Mayflower.
Four hundred years later, the 1619 Project was launched by the New York Times to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the landing of the White Lion. The idea was that this voyage should be taught in our schools right alongside the teaching of the Mayflower. To no one’s surprise our then-president resisted this effort calling it “revisionist history.” The real revisionist history, of course, is what has been taught in our schools for generations.
Since 1619 America has chosen to forget its past. Sen. Tom Cotton defended his proposed legislation that would deny federal funding to schools that had the audacity to teach our kids about the 1619 initiative, by describing slavery as “a necessary evil.” America was built using slave labor. That’s who we were. But who are we today?
Last week the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, signed the most egregious voter suppression legislation since the Jim Crow days. He is simply following the lead of dozens of other Republican controlled states that are working extremely hard to keep Americans from voting. As was evident in his state when more people who can vote do vote then Republicans are more likely to lose. Instead of working to promote issues that Americans favor it appears that their efforts are focused on keeping voters, predominately Black voters, from voting. In the new legislation that Gov. Kemp signed is language that makes it a crime to give a person standing in line to vote food or water. That’s correct. It will now be illegal to give a person who is thirsty a bottle of water.
Where does this end? Are our friends from the Southern states going to reinstate “whites only” bathrooms and water fountains? Are Black Americans going to be forced to the back of the bus once again? I don’t know about you, but I’m getting really sick and tired of having white racists running parts of the country. These tough guys who dress up in military grade outfits and firearms are terrified. What are they afraid of? Who knows, but maybe it’s their conscience. Maybe deep in their hearts they know what our ancestors did to Black people and live in fear that someday they might retaliate. That day has come, not with weapons, but with votes. Black America has come to realize that controlling the ballot boxes is their only hope for true equity.
While many white Americans regale us with stories of their prestigious ancestors, Black Americans still have no idea who their ancestors were or where they came from. Until all Americans come to terms with the true history of this nation then the fight will continue. Maybe the day will come when black America will take the lead. I look forward to that time.