Inside the Melting Pot
“When the nation is made
ready by enlightenment, its good fortune will make Black
History Month an anachronism. No culture should by its
spotlight eclipse another, and the reputation of one cannot
flourish at the expense of another. We are a unified but
not yet united civilization.” —Ron
In 1991, the phenomenon of unearthing 400 enslaved Africans
from a 17th Century African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan,
was the beginning of a search by many for their African ancestral
past. That road of discovery has had many twists and turns.
However, the records remain. The slavers and historians of
that era kept copious notes. And fortunately we have had access
to the incalculable research from the African Burial Ground
Project OPEI Update founded in 1991 and directed for over a
decade by Dr. Sherrill Wilson.
If we take another
look at life in colonial New York and search beyond the Dutch
West India Company’s enticement of free
land and free trade, we will see that the DWI company provided
another enticement to white settlers: enslaved Africans to
labor without compensation. In the East India Company’s
charter of Privilege and Exemption for the patrons the following
is noted: “in that document for the purpose of encouraging
agriculture, the company agreed to furnish colonists as many
blacks as they conveniently could. These “blacks” were
brought from the West Indies.
Wyckoff House which is located in Brooklyn, NY is an example
of colonial life in early NY. A recent article: “Glimpse
the 17th Century at Historic Wyckoff House,” describes
the property as one that spanned 40 acres. It was also viewed
as a property that was a highly successful working farm. Wyckoff,
its owner, became the richest man in the region. It may also
be noted that: “Slaveholdings in New York were second
only to its counterpart in Charlotte, North Carolina.”
The Native Americans and Africans helped make the Dutch wealthy
land barons as they farmed large areas, working fruit orchards
and attending the livestock for food. Flax was grown for linen
thread and sheep provided wool for clothing. A visit to Philipsburg
Manor Upper Mills today in North Tarrytown will provide additional
insight into the lifestyle of the Dutch gentry of this period.
This site was manned by enslaved Africans as the Philipses
reaped the reward from this free African labor.
writes: “in 1698,
15 percent of Kings County population were slaves. Kings
County by the 18th Century became the heaviest slave holding
county in New York State. Although 1/5 of New York State
black population were free by the end of the 18th Century
only 3 percent (46) free blacks resided in Kings County,
the smallest number in the state.
As late as 1820, only 55 percent of Kings County blacks and
a minuscule 18 percent in Richmond County were free. Blacks
older than 45 years remained slaves in 1820, because masters
were unwilling to accept responsibility for their maintenance
otherwise. Slavery in the United States existed in the North
as well as the South.
What is unique about Scarsdale is the heroic effort of New
York Governor Daniel Tompkins, a resident of Scarsdale, as
he made a recommendation to the Legislature in 1817 to abolish
Slavery by 1827. We can also witness the courage of the Quakers
who manumitted their enslaved Africans by 1782 and even required
themselves to train their former slaves to earn a living and
to find a place to live. And we can witness the beneficence
of Quakers who were active in the Underground Railroad hiding
slaves in barns and secret cupboards on Mamaroneck Road.
is merely a remnant of Slavery’s past revisited
in the present. Today, we have two separate chronicles of history:
one white and one black. Yet, the two belong together.
Understanding our true past will enable one to understand
the present. However, the care of the future is in our hands.
Yes, Ron Issacs, “When the nation is made ready by enlightenment,
its good fortune will make Black History Month an anachronism.”#
Phyllis C. Murray is an educator, author and UFT Chapter