Autobiographies from the Dead – Chima the Slave

For the next several weeks, my blogs are going to consist of “autobiographies” written by some very special people.  They have one thing in common.  They are all dead.  Some have a burial place and some were simply discarded like pieces of trash.  Their stories will be told by the deceased themselves.  They cry out from the fields, rivers and graveyards to speak.  I have heard their cries.  They want me to tell their stories to you.  They want you to know what their living and dying was for.  This week, Chima will tell you the story of his life and death.

Chima the Slave

igbo boyMy name is Chima.  My slave name is Julian.  My family and I were Igbo people.  I was 9 when I was brought to the United States.  My father and mother also came with me.  We were captured one night by Arab slave traders who sold us to the British slavers.  The year was 1790.  We were chained together with other Igbo tribe members and forced to walk many miles to the coast of Africa. Slaves_ruvuma

Once on the coast we were loaded like cargo into the hulls of the British slave ships.  Nearly 600 of us were loaded onto one slave ship.  As we were loaded into the vessel, we were branded with red hot irons on our arms or chests or legs with the marks of various slave owners.  We were crammed so close together below decks that there was no room to move or change position.  We sat between each other’s legs and could not lie down.

Freed-Slave-Ship-by-Granger-in-Fine-Art-America-665x385There were numerous pails placed among us to use for feces and urine.  Several people were selected to dump the pails overboard each day.  Usually they were overflowing before they could be dumped.  The smell was horrible.  Many of the people selected to dump the pails overboard never returned.  We often heard how they had jumped overboard to drown rather than return to the hull.  Other slaves were then selected to replace them.

We were fed on deck twice per day.  We ate rotten meat and a mixture of oats and gruel.  We were given water to wash our food down with.  The amount of food was never quite enough to make one feel satiated and there was always a gnawing sense of hunger that was pervasive among us.  Many of use died from starvation or dehydration.  The slavers deliberately underfed us in the belief that the stronger of us would survive and bring better money at the auctions.

Slave-hung-on-ship-1Some of my tribal members tried to attack our captors.  This would end in either being thrown overboard or hung upside down from the Yard Arms until they died from starvation or dehydration.  Screams and cries were a constant sound at all times of the day from sick or hungry slaves.  My father died from some disease before we reached shore.  Diseases were rampant aboard ship and no one received any treatment.  Smallpox and scurvy were the most common disease killers.  Probably one third of all the slaves who boarded our ship died before we reached port either through starvation, beatings, suicide or disease.

slave-auction-virginia-PMy mother and I were still together when we reached the harbor in Charleston, South Carolina.  We were brought to an auction house with many other slaves and placed into large rooms with no furniture or windows.  We were kept locked in these rooms like animals in a pen.  They discussed whether to sell my mom and I separately or together and it was decided that because of my age, they would keep us together for a while.

cottonculture-1875After some White people purchased us, we were loaded onto a cart with the other purchased slaves and taken on a two day journey to our new home.  We arrived at a large white building with big columns set in the middle of a large field.  In the field and around the house were many other slaves and White people riding large black horses.  The horse riders all carried whips and riding sticks.  We heard constant yelling and orders which we later learned were instructions to speed up and work harder.

born-in-a-tar-paper-shack1_scruberthumbnail_3My mom and I were brought to a single room shack where an old Black woman lived.  She was given instructions to wash us and show us what the rules were around the plantation.  She was told to get us out in the fields as old slave womansoon as possible and to show us how to pick and tend the crops.  Anna, as she was called, told us that she had lived on this plantation for over fifty years now.  She told us we would both be field hands and that if we worked hard enough we might someday become workers in the big white house.

I first ran away ten years later.  I was nineteen years old.  I did not get very far as some other field workers yelled to the Master that I was running off.  When they caught me, I was tied to a large oak tree and given twenty five lashes.  I was warned never to try it again.  As soon as my wounds healed, I ran away again.  I ran away at least five more times in the next three years.  Each time I got further and further from the plantation.  Each time I was caught the beatings got more severe.  They hung me by the neck once for about three minutes before cutting me down.  I was told that the next time I ran, the hanging would be for real.

My mom and some of my slave friends told me to never quit or give up.  “No matter what they do to you” said my mom, “never give up your freedom.”

I have heard tell of how happy slaves are and how much better off we are on the farms then if we were left on our own.  I never met a happy slave.  I never met a slave who did not want their freedom.  I never met a slave who did not want to go back to their home in Africa.  If we were so happy on the plantations, why do they beat us, chain us, brand us and torture us?

Slave_Hung_1I see my body now hanging from the trees.  It looks like a big celebration going on beneath me.  My eyes are bulging out, my skin is flayed off my loins and I am bleeding from many wounds made by the whips and dogs.  Some people are throwing rocks and sticks at me while other people look like they are having a picnic with their families on blankets below where I am hung.  I see a large pile of sticks being placed under me.  I assume they are going to burn my body now.  It won’t matter much to me because I am already dead.  My soul left my body several minutes ago and I am simply dead meat hanging there.  I am finally free.

I am wondering what I ever did to these people to make them hate me so much.  Why do they treat us as like animals when we have souls and dreams just like they do?  I have heard that White people fought for their freedom and declared the following:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” 

How could any people who believed in the above saying treat other human beings as we were treated?  The phase says “all men.”   Was I not a man?  Were my people not men and women?  Did we not want to have happiness and liberty?   How could we have a life and happiness if we were treated as animals and beaten and chained and whipped daily?  I do not understand.

Furthermore, the White people on our plantation all said that they were Christians.  They said they believed in a God who wanted peace and love among all people.  I heard it said that their savior (whom they wanted us to believe in) was a savior of compassion and mercy and forgiveness.  But these people never showed my people any love or mercy or compassion or forgiveness.  They treated us with contempt and scorn and intolerance and hatred.  Everything they showed us was the opposite of what they said their savior stood for.

They have lit the pile of sticks below me now and they are burning my body.  The smell is awful and many people in the crowd are holding their noses while many others are laughing and patting each other on the back.  It is time for me to leave.  I want to go find their God.  I need to see why he would let my people be treated like this.  What have I done to deserve such a fate?   Maybe he will be able to explain it to me.

Time for Questions:

Do you think the slave were happy down on the plantation?  Do you think the Confederate flag is about “heritage and not hate?”   Do you practice tolerance and love to only people of your own color or do you love all people regardless of color?  Why or why not?  What do you do to help fight racism and discrimination?  Do you think it is only a Black fight?”

Life is just beginning.   For some people anyway!

The facts cited below are from:  Center for American Progress

  1. While people of color make up about 30 percentof the United States’ population, they account for 60 percentof those imprisoned. The prison population grew by 700 percent from 1970 to 2005, a rate that is outpacing crime and population rates. The incarceration rates disproportionately impact men of color: 1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.
  2. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black mencan expect to go to prison in their lifetime.Individuals of color have a disproportionate number of encounters with law enforcement, indicating that racial profiling continues to be a problem. A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.
  3. Students of color face harsher punishments in school than their white peers, leading to a higher number of youth of color incarcerated.Black and Hispanic students represent more than 70 percentof those involved in school-related arrests or referrals to law enforcement. Currently, African Americans make up two-fifths and Hispanics one-fifth of confined youth today.
  4. According to recent data by the Department of Education, African American students are arrested far more often than their white classmates.The data showed that96,000students were arrested and 242,000 referred to law enforcement by schools during the 2009-10 school year. Of those students, black and Hispanic students made up more than 70 percent of arrested or referred students. Harsh school punishments, from suspensions to arrests, have led to high numbers of youth of color coming into contact with the juvenile-justice system and at an earlier age.
  5. African American youth have higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison.According to the Sentencing Project, even though African American juvenile youth are about 16 percent of the youth population, 37 percent of their cases are moved to criminal court and 58 percent of African American youth are sent to adult prisons.
  6. As the number of women incarcerated has increased by 800 percentover the last three decades, women of color have been disproportionately represented.While the number of women incarcerated is relatively low, the racial and ethnic disparities are startling. African American women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated, while Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely than white women to be incarcerated.
  7. The war on drugs has been waged primarily in communities of color where people of color are more likely to receive higher offenses.According to the Human Rights Watch, people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites, but they have higher rate of arrests. African Americans comprise 14 percentof regular drug users but are 37 percent of those arrested for drug offenses. From 1980 to 2007 about one in three of the 25.4 million adults arrested for drugs was African American.
  8. Once convicted, black offenders receive longer sentences compared to white offenders.The U.S. Sentencing Commission stated that in the federal system black offenders receive sentences that are 10 percentlonger than white offenders for the same crimes. The Sentencing Project reports that African Americans are 21 percent more likely to receive mandatory-minimum sentences than white defendants and are 20 percent more like to be sentenced to prison.
  9. Voter laws that prohibit people with felony convictions to vote disproportionately impact men of color.An estimated 5.3 million Americans are denied the right to vote based on a past felony conviction. Felony disenfranchisement is exaggerated by racial disparities in the criminal-justice system, ultimately denying 13 percentof African American men the right to vote. Felony-disenfranchisement policies have led to 11 states denying the right to vote to more than 10 percent of their African American population.
  10. Studies have shown that people of color face disparities in wage trajectoryfollowing release from prison.Evidence shows that spending time in prison affects wage trajectories with a disproportionate impact on black men and women. The results show no evidence of racial divergence in wages prior to incarceration; however, following release from prison, wages grow at a 21 percent slower ratefor black former inmates compared to white ex-convicts. A number of states have bans on people with certain convictions working in domestic health-service industries such as nursing, child care, and home health care—areas in which many poor women and women of color are disproportionately concentrated.
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