Phyllis C. Murray: There is Nothing New About Slavery

Roundup: Talking About History

[Ms. Murray is UFT Chapter Leader, P.S. 75, Bronx, NY 10459.]

Slavery is by no means a new phenomena. Therefore, it should not be used synonymously with the word African in America. Slavery is older than the Bible. The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt. It is not anomily that people throughout history have sunk again and again to the bowels of the earth to demonstate the worst case scenario of man's inhumanity to man: the enslavement of another. Lest we not forget Adolf Hitler. And if each one would objectivly research his/her ancestral past, he would find the remnants of slavery buried with the other societal skeletons. The difference maybe that Slavery in the United States was institutionalized and race was the issue. Although there has been blatant discrimination by religion and place of origin in America, race has always mattered when enslaving persons of color (Native Americans as well as Africans).

Although the exhibition at the New York Historical Society is important, it does not predate the ten years of research which had been conducted as part of the African Burial Ground Project. To say that New Yorkers are
are in "Anger and Shock of a City's Slave Past" is bizaare. It would be better to say that New Yorkers do not read or New Yorkers are sleeping as the world turns.

If we take another look at the effort to educate New Yorkers, we would find that The New York Times has reported on the discovery and re-interment of the African Remains in Lower Manhattan from 1991 its beginning to the present. The New York Times reported on these events during the Dinkins Administration, Guiliani's Administration and throughout Mayor Bloomberg's Administration. Even President George W. Bush has spoken out regarding the significance of the African Burial Ground as a National Historic Landmark. And while the decisions were being made about the remains. and research was conducted at Howard University....Historic Hudson Valley was reinterpreting its sites to reflect the early African Presence and contributions of enslaved Africans; the Gilder Lehrman Institute made its formidable mark in an inclusive American History granting educators opportunities for study and research. And I am
indebted to them all.

The article "Anger and Shoke of a City's Slave Past" by Feleicia Lee states the following: "After all, slaves in New York worked sunup to sundown. Slaves helped build the wall on Wall Street (and were sold there) and built the first City Hall and Trinity Church. Slavery was the lifeline for hundreds of city businesses. During British rule, about 40 percent of the city's households owned slaves. Institutional exhibitions about America's slave-holding past are relatively new and help foster a national conversation about race, said James Oliver Horton, the chief historian for "Slavery." This show's size and location facilitate that dialogue, he said."

What we should also state is not only did the African in New York change the landscapes in New York State which includes places like Scarsdale, White Plains, and Mount Vernon, the African American has fought in every major battle in the history of this country. Case in point: Lest we forget the heroism of Crispus Attucks: the first man to die for American Independence in 1770; Nicholas Biddle, the first American to die for the Union during the Civil War in 1861. Today, the ole cemeteries of Westchester are filled with the remains of our African ancestors who fought for a freedom that was not yet their own. And the decedants of these soldiers are still involved in reclaiming these cemeteries.The cemetery of Stoney Hill in Harrison, NY is only one example.

On April 20, 1994, the New York State Legislature mandated the following:

"In order to promote a spirit of patriotic and civic service and obligation and to foster in the children of the state moral and intellectual qualities which are essential preparation to meet the obligation citizenship in peace or in war, the Regents of the University of the State of New York shall prescribe a course of instruction in patriotism, citizenship and human rights issues, with particular attention to the study of the inhumanity of genocide, slavery and the Holocaust to be maintained and followed in all the schools of the state."

If the reactions to the exhibition at the New York Historical Society are one of" anger and shock," it is apparent that this mandate by the State has not been fully implemented in its schools. Perhaps this exhibit might serve as a new beginning.

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