Sourcebooks in Making Freedom: African Americans in U.S. History

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Sourcebooks in Making Freedom: African Americans in U.S. History

What's past is prologue.

-Shakespeare, The Tempest (c1611)

The U.S. Department of Education reports that 60% of the nation's high school seniors cannot demonstrate even a fundamental knowledge of U.S. history. This ignorance is especially glaring on the subject of race.

-James Oliver Horton (2004, p. xi)

In a recent class discussion with midwestern university undergraduates, most of whom were between 20 to 27 years of age, sincere indignation was expressed that the historical content in the video Africans in America: The Terrible Transformation, 1450-1750 (Bagwell & Bellows, 1998) hadn't been part of their academic history experience.

One of the most studied of the group proclaimed feeling "cheated" that she did not know the real origin of slavery in this nation and had never read or been told of the initial freedom people from Africa enjoyed in the emerging colonies of the New World. Believing that the first Blacks to come to America arrived on slave ships, they were horrified to listen to the narration and details of the colonial years, recognizing that at an early moment when people were still sorting themselves out in the New World colony of Virginia, race relations were not foreordained, not predestined, not God's will but, rather, a series of man-made laws.

Although Portuguese slavers had built slave factories (so named for the slaves, known as factors) on the coast of West Africa in the late 1400s, labor in the American colonies was provided by indentured servants, both Black and White. For some five decades the system seemed to work. But landowners reportedly feared the increasing numbers of freed servants and the cost of provisioning the people who survived their contractual terms.

The turning point was a legal decision that set in motion the wheels of injustice. Three run-away indentured servants were tried for breaking their contracts in 1640 and sentenced. As detailed in Africans in America, the contract of an indentured servant was generally indentured for a time of 4 to 7 years of labor for passage to the New World and acreage with some provisions upon completion of the contract. The three runaway servants had their contracts extended. For the two White, European heritage servants, the extension was a few years, but for the Black, African heritage servant, the contract was extended for the length of his natural life. No White servant had ever served such a sentence-slavery.

The angst the students experienced upon discovering this new piece of old history was not unusual, but perhaps more disconcerting than when my graduate students expressed the same shocked amazement at the content in Race: The Power of an Illusion or Glory or Gumboots,Amistad or American History X (observedly popular with the younger generation of students). A possible solace is that those who have been out of school for two or more decades may be the students of a different generation of teaching and content. But how do we explain the ignorance of recent high school graduates? And, how do we address their indignation?

Original documents and historical content are offered in the sourcebooks Making Freedom: African Americans in U. S. History, a 5-volume set of books each with an accompanying CD:

True to Our Native Land: Beginnings to 1770

A Song Full of Hope: 1770-1830

Lift Ev'ry Voice: 1830-1860

Our New Day Begun: 1861-1877

March On Till Victory: 1877-1970

As a culturally responsible pedagogist committed to social justice, my hope would be that these resources will shine a light on the bricks and mortar used in the early foundations of human relations in this nation and in the building of a national identity, parts of the structure that seem to be missing in the story of American history often told in our classrooms.

-Tony a Huber-Warring

Sourcebook 4

Our New Day Begun: 1861-1877 is the fourth sourcebook with accompanying CD in the five-part series Making Freedom: African Americans in U. …