America was truly founded in 1619 when African slaves first landed in Virginia – NYT

August 15, 2019 at 02:00 pm | Opinions & Features

Ismail Akwei

Ismail Akwei | Contributor

August 15, 2019 at 02:00 pm | Opinions & Features

Historical Marker -- Photo: Philadelphia Inquirer

In commemorating 400 years since over 20 enslaved Africans first landed near Point Comfort in the British Colony of Virginia in August 1619, the New York Times has launched The 1619 Project to highlight slavery and the contributions of black people in America’s founding.

“It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are,” says the NYT.

The project spotlights a collection of essays, criticism and art about how the America we know today didn’t start in 1776 — it started in August 1619, when a ship carrying enslaved Africans landed in Virginia, it added.

A dedicated page displaying captivating photographs of black struggles and compelling phrases and headlines linked to quotes, poems and essays of black Americans published on the portal takes readers through thought-provoking topics and memories.

Some of the essays touched on how black Americans made the country a democracy; the brutal nature of American capitalism linked to the plantation; race being the reason America doesn’t have universal health care; black music being the sound of freedom and the barbaric history of sugar among other subjects.

The United States of America officially observes July 4 as independence day in commemoration of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, when the Continental Congress declared that the thirteen American colonies at the time were no longer subjects of the British monarchy and were now united, free, and independent states. It actually occurred on July 2 but the declaration was delayed for two more days.

However, slavery was abolished by the 13th amendment which was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865. This means when independence was declared, the majority of black people in the U.S. were not free. They worked to build the country which rarely acknowledges their contribution. Hence, many African Americans do not celebrate independence day.

In Africa, Ghana is the only country that has tried on multiple occasions to return black Americans back to the home of their forebears. However, the multiple attempts in the past decades to settle African Americans in Africa failed due to an unwelcoming environment contrary to the promised land.

The West African country is giving it another shot in 2019 with The Year of Return programme which has already seen hundreds of African Americans visit Ghana to experience the history, culture and tradition upfront.

As part of the yearlong celebrations, the President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, has conferred citizenship on 200 members of the African-American-Caribbean Diaspora group currently settled in the West African nation.

This comes years after the country passed the “Right of Abode” law which allows any person of African descent to apply and be granted the right to stay in Ghana indefinitely.

This was followed by the launch of the Diaspora Affairs Bureau under the foreign affairs ministry in 2014 to manage the migration and engage the diaspora to provide a sustainable link with various government agencies to achieve development and investment goals.

As at 2014, over 3,000 African-Americans and people of Caribbean descent are estimated to be living in Ghana. The Diaspora Affairs Bureau has expedited the acquisition of the permanent residency which was earlier delayed by bureaucratic processes. It took some applicants years to get their official documentation when it was supposed to take six months.

Many resorted to renewable resident permits and marriages with Ghanaians to stay and work fruitfully in the country. Rita Marley, the wife of reggae legend Bob Marley, was the first person to be granted the indefinite stay in Ghana in 2014, 14 years after the law was passed.

In 2016 alone, 34 Afro-Caribbeans were granted Ghanaian citizenship to enjoy full benefits as Ghanaians. Those who have stayed on appreciate the warmth and peacefulness of the country despite the few cultural setbacks like being regarded as more American and Caribbean than African despite years of living in the country.

Former Ghanaian President John Mahama with some Afro-Carribean people who were granted citizenship in December 2016

Ghana was home to pan-Africanists like George Padmore, Maya Angelou, W. E. B. Du Bois, Pauli Murray among others who emigrated after the country’s independence in 1957 after establishing a friendship with the first president Kwame Nkrumah who himself had studied in the United States.

Most viewed

Conversations

Must Read