Black Legacy: America's Hidden Heritage

By William D. Piersen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
The Aristocratic Heritage of Black America

Normally, when we think of African immigrants to the New World, we consider them in terms of their ascribed social status as slaves; indeed, not long ago historians did not even refer to African arrivals as "immigrants." But slavery was a caste position most Africans acquired only because of the existence of servitude in the Americas. In Africa, these same bondsmen had usually been free,1 and many were of aristocratic or elite heritage. Indeed, an elite of African headmen, chiefs, nobles, and royalty came to the Americas in considerable numbers along with their families.

Unlike emigrants from Europe and Asia, who were most often the flotsam and jetsam of their homelands, Africa's forced migrants were not the "teeming refuse" of their native shores; instead, many of the enslaved Africans were a true people of class--a reality almost antithetical to the stereotyping of slaves as simple "black folk." The commonly held notion that the population of the United States is derived from lower- or middle-class origins may be true enough for whites and Asians, but it is often not true for African Americans. Given the wide-branching nature of inheritance, by now a majority of black Americans may have the blue blood of African royalty and aristocracy mixed in their veins.2

The nobles of Africa did not forget their heritage upon arrival in the Americas; if a bitter fate had made them other men's servants, they nonetheless continued to feel the innate superiority of their inherited status and elite upbringing.3 Moreover, their pride was reinforced by the esteem of fellow countrymen who loyally continued to hold them in highest regard. Even the whites of the master class, who, after all,

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