YEAR IN REVIEW: NNPA’s Series on Slavery Among Most Read of 2018
By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
The shootings of unarmed African Americans by law enforcement officers continued as a hot topic throughout 2018.
As 2018 ends, justice, perpetually denied and hidden behind the “blue wall” of unaccountability, has finally come out of the shadows with the trial, conviction and imprisonment of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. Van Dyke was convicted by a jury of his peers for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, whom dashcam video showed was walking away when Van Dyke opened fire.
Upon his conviction, Van Dyke was immediately remanded into custody, saw a later bail request denied, and now faces a possible 20-year prison term upon sentencing, which is scheduled for Jan. 18, 2019.
Along with racially-charged shootings, alt-right protests and the emergence of white supremacists who’ve been vocal in their support of President Donald Trump and his anti-minority policies, there are reminders aplenty of what African Americans and other people of color have had to endure since the founding of the United States.
Three years ago, Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, wrote an op-ed warning individuals of color that, “we have to be vigilant and concerned about any scheme to desensitize, trivialize or to downplay the actual genocidal realities of African slavery.”
On Aug. 18, the United Nations held an observance that likely made Chavis, and others like him, proud. They remembered that on that date five hundred years prior, in 1518, Charles I, Spain’s King, issued a charter authorizing the transportation of slaves from Africa to the Americas.
Up until then (from at least 1510), African slaves were generally transported to Spain or Portugal and then trans-shipped to the Caribbean. Charles’s decision to create a more direct, more economically-viable Africa-to-America slave trade, fundamentally changed the nature and scale of this terrible human trafficking industry.
During the 350 years that followed Charles’s decision, at least 10.7 million black Africans were transported across the hemispheres. An additional 1.8 million died on route. In August, the NNPA at Chavis’ direction, began a series on the diabolical history and continued impact of the transatlantic slave trade.
To date, the NNPA has published eight parts of an ongoing series on the transatlantic slave trade – none was more controversial than Part Two, “The Catholic Church Played Major Role in Slavery.”
The trans-Atlantic slave trade was introduced by the coming of the Europeans who came with the Bible in the same manner that Arab raiders and traders from the Middle East and North Africa introduced Islam through the Trans-Saharan slave trade, according to AfricaW.com, a premiere informational website available throughout the continent.
“In fact, the Church was the backbone of the slave trade,” the authors wrote. “In other words, most of the slave traders and slave ship captains were very ‘good’ Christians.”
For example, Sir John Hawkins, the first slave-ship captain to bring African slaves to the Americas, was a religious man who insisted that his crew “serve God daily” and “love one another.”
His ship, ironically called “The Good Ship Jesus,” left the shores of his native England for Africa in October 1562. Some historians argue that if churches had used their power, the Atlantic slave trade might have never occurred.
By the same logic, others argue that the Catholic church and Catholic missionaries could have also helped to prevent the colonization and brutality of colonialism in Africa. However, according to a 2015 Global Black History report, the Catholic church did not oppose the institution of slavery until the practice had already become infamous in most parts of the world.
In most cases, the churches and church leaders did not condemn slavery until the 17th century.
The five major countries that dominated slavery and the slave trade in the New World were either Catholic, or still retained strong Catholic influences including: Spain, Portugal, France, and England, and the Netherlands.
“Persons who considered themselves to be Christian played a major role in upholding and justifying the enslavement of Africans,” said Dr. Jonathan Chism, an assistant professor of history at the University of Houston-Downtown.
“Many European ‘Christian’ slavers perceived the Africans they encountered as irreligious and uncivilized persons. They justified slavery by rationalizing that they were Christianizing and civilizing their African captors. They were driven by missionary motives and impulses,” Chism said.
Many Anglo-Christians defended slavery using the Bible. For example, white Christian apologists for slavery argued that the curse of Ham, in Genesis 9:20-25, provided a biblical rationale for the enslavement of Blacks, Chism said.
In this passage, Noah cursed Canaan and his descendants arguing that Ham would be “the lowest of slaves among his brothers” because he saw the nakedness of his father.
However, a further understanding of the passage also reveals that, while some have attempted to justify their prejudice by claiming that God cursed the black race, no such curse is recorded in the Bible.
That oft-cited verse says nothing whatsoever about skin color.
Also, it should be noted that the Black race evidently descended from a brother of a Canaan named Cush. Canaan’s descendants were evidently light-skinned – not black.
“Truly nothing in the biblical account identifies Ham, the descendant of Canaan, with Africans. Yet, Christian apologists determined that Africans were the descents of Ham,” Chism said.
The reporting, viewed by tens of thousands, received numerous comments – some who claimed the Church was being picked on.
“This is certainly ill-informed. Someone needs to do more homework. Many Popes condemned slavery: Eugenius IV (in 1435 the Papal bull Sicut Dudum), Paul III (1537 bull Sublimus Dei), Gregory XIV (1590 bull Cum Sicuti), Urban VIII (1639 bull Commissum Nobis), Innocent XI (in 1676), Benedict XIV (1741 bull Immensa Pastorum), Gregory XVI (1839 bull In Supremo), Leo XIII (in 1888 and 1890),” said reader Stephanie Jones.
Another reader, Deborah, commented: “Thank you Stephanie, you know, this makes me feel like it wasn’t a coincidence that this author and this news media purposely chose this time to bash the Church once again. Just to kick us while we are down.”
However, reader Lisa Catranides defended the article, writing:
“Along with the practice of extraction of Africans from their homelands for enslavement on other continents, slavery of Africans IN Africa was brutally manifested under Christian Missionaries who imprisoned and enslaved thousands of Africans during the development of the rubber extraction industry.
“Christian missionary forces built numerous Stockades to hold and torment Africans forced to harvest rubber trees under direction of Dutch King Leopold with assistance of Christian Missionaries from Great Britain.
“An Irish missionary accompanying the British, named Rodger Casement, was knighted by the king of England for revealing the brutality of imposed slavery of rubber trade within Africa, leading to the cessation of Britain’s involvement in the rubber trade partnership with the Dutch at that time.”
“The enslavement of people of color by the rubber trade also continued into South America, with Rodger Casement again exposing the crimes. “An excellent historic account of these atrocities is written by prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa in a novel entitled ‘The Dream of the Celt.’ It provides astonishing insights into this era, as lived by spirited Irishman Roger Casement, including excerpts from his personal journals …No spoilers here… a must-read.”
Parts of the series have tackled the responsibility of others.
(Read the entire series: Slavery Part 1, Slavery Part 2, Slavery Part 3, Slavery Part 4, Slavery Part 5, Slavery Part 6, Slavery Part 7, Part 8)