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Lee Mixashawn Rozie is a Jazz Musician, Educator and ‘The Wave Artist’. He has a fabulous take on the world in terms of waves from light speeds, to sound, to the slow waves of the mountains, to the sea that connects the world and brought colonialism. His take as an indigenous American, to Cornish, to African roots and looking at identity.

In his own words:

“Lee Mixashawn Rozie has been a practicing multi-disciplinary and internationally acclaimed Jazz artist for the past three decades. Mr. Rozie holds a degree in History and Ethnomusicology from Trinity College and is equally at home in academic and cultural settings. Beginning from the point of Indigenous artist, using ancient cultural principles, maritime arts and historical data, both written and oral, he has developed a system of “Hemispheric Principles” to inform and guide his artform, more directly referred to as “Wave Art”: sonic, aquatic percussive and harmonic. Mixashawn offers musical performance and educational workshops on Indigenous music traditional and contemporary, as well as original, workshops that utilize his extensive experience as performer, Indigenous artist and educator to inspire creativity and natural expression for all ages.”

He’s a descendant of the ‘exquisite violinist’ and composer, Joseph Antonio Emidy who was abandoned in Falmouth, Cornwall, England in 1799. He had been pressganged by Admiral Sir Edward Pellew from Lisbon, when Pellew heard him play as the virtuoso violinist in the Lisbon Opera. Pellew was the grandson of Humphrey Pellew, who built half of Flushing on his wealth gained from enslaved Africans who worked his tobacco plantation in Maryland.[1] Born in Guinea in 1775, Emidy had been enslaved by Portuguese slave traders and recognised for his musical talent he was given a violin and taught to play it. Emidy went on to set up and lead the Truro Philharmonic Orchestra.[2]

Thanks to Marjorie A Emidy who traced her ancestors and her distant cousins. She cam to Falmouth in 1999, to bicentenary of Joseph Emidy’s arrival in Falmouth. A plaque for Joseph Emidy was placed in the local King Charles Church of England church and the Tunde Jegede Ensemble put on a performance.[3]

This is a wonderful interview with Lee Mixashawn Rozie:

And here with some of his more traditional jazz music:

And here spanning 2 decades as a musician and educator:

Read more

Mixashawn has some lovely posts in his Facebook, you might want to listen to Didgeridoo Meets Orchestra or Mixashawn Trio in Concert late last year

Or see the Lee Mixashawn Rozie website

[1] See Susan Gay’s book Old Falmouth page 122 and in Wikipedia,_1st_Viscount_Exmouth

[2] Joseph Antonio Emidy in Black History Bootleg

[3] Tunde Jegede website and Emidy: He Who Dared Dream

Ernest Just was a pioneering African American scientist. He was an outstanding research biologist and was known as the “scientist’s scientist”.  He studied egg fertilisation and the structure of cells, mainly how a fetus develops and how an animal cell functions. His first two years at college were lonely and discouraging but he saw them through.  This Black boy from South Carolina made himself one of the greatest scientists in the early part of 20th century.

He was not interested in awards and praise.  He just wanted to get on with his work.  In 1914 he even tried to refuse a medal, but anyway he was given the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Springarn Medal. The first to receive the medal. 

Although he tried to stay away from the limelight, the news of his work spread all over the world. 

In all, he wrote two major books and over sixty scientific papers. His book, the Biology of the Cell Surface, which was used in many U.S. colleges and universities, represented his lifetime of research, and was published in 1939, just two years before he died. The other book Basic methods for experiments on eggs of marine animals, was the scientists handbook for experimentation.

In his early years, Just’s father died. He was brought by his mother Mary Matthews Just.

She worked in the phosphate mines [on James Island near Charleston] and according to Hutcheson, “negotiated a solid investment in one of the sought-after plots in the village in 1888.” In Kenneth R. Manning’s biography of Ernest Just, Black Apollo of Science: The Life of Ernest Everett Just, Manning uses Just’s letters as supporting evidence that the [all Black] town was named for Ernest’s mother, Mary. He writes: “she became a strong community leader, canvassing the inhabitants, mostly men, and persuading them to transform the settlement into a town. They called the town, Maryville, after its prime mover.”

Internet archive and Charleston Public Library

When he graduated from Dartmouth, Just faced the same problems all black college graduates of his time did: no matter how brilliant they were or how high their grades were, it was almost impossible for black people to become faculty members at white colleges or universities. Just took what seemed to be the best choice available to him and accepted a teaching position at historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 1907, Just first began teaching rhetoric and English, fields somewhat removed from his specialty. By 1909, however, he was teaching not only English but also Biology. 

In 1910, he was put in charge of a newly formed biology department by Howard’s president, Wilbur P. Thirkield and, in 1912, he became head of the new Department of Zoology, a position he held until his death in 1941. Not long after beginning his appointment at Howard, Just was introduced to Frank R. Lillie, the head of the Department of Zoology at the University of Chicago. Lillie, who was also director of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, invited Just to spend the summer of 1909 as his research assistant at the MBL. During this time and later, Just’s experiments focused mainly on the eggs of marine invertebrates. He investigated the fertilization reaction and the breeding habits of species such as Platynereis megalops, Nereis limbata, and Arbacia punctulata. For the next 20 or so years, Just spent every summer but one at the MBL.

While at the MBL, Just learned to handle marine invertebrate eggs and embryos with skill and understanding, and soon his expertise was in great demand by both junior and senior researchers alike. In 1915, Just took a leave of absence from Howard to enroll in an advanced academic program at the University of Chicago. That same year, Just, who was gaining a national reputation as an outstanding young scientist, was the first recipient of the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal, which he received on February 12, 1915. The medal recognized his scientific achievements and his “foremost service to his race.” 

He began his graduate training with coursework at the MBL: in 1909 and 1910 he took courses in invertebrate zoology and embryology, respectively, there. His coursework continued in-residence at the University of Chicago. His duties at Howard delayed the completion of his coursework and his receipt of the Ph.D. degree. However, in June 1916, Just received his degree in zoology, with a thesis on the mechanics of fertilization. Just thereby became one of only a handful of blacks who had gained the doctoral degree from a major university. By the time he received his doctorate from Chicago, he had already published several research articles, both as a single author and a co-author with Lillie. 

During his tenure at Woods Hole, Just rose from student apprentice to internationally respected scientist. A careful and meticulous experimentalist, he was regarded as “a genius in the design of experiments.” He had explored other areas including: experimental parthenogenesis, cell division, hydration, dehydration in cells, UV carcinogenic radiation on cells, and physiology of development.

Just, however, became frustrated because he could not obtain an appointment at a major American university. He wanted a position that would provide a steady income and allow him to spend more time with his research. Just’s scientific career involved a constant struggle for an opportunity for research, “the breath of his life”. He was condemned by racism to remain attached to Howard, an institution that could not give full opportunity to ambitions such as the ones Just had. 

In 1929, Just travelled to Naples, Italy, where he conducted experiments at the prestigious zoological station “Anton Dohrn”. Then, in 1930, he became the first American to be invited to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin-Dahlem, Germany, where several Nobel Prize winners carried out research. Altogether from his first trip in 1929 to his last in 1938, Just made ten or more visits to Europe to pursue research. It was during this time, that Just co-authored on a research paper with a few other scientists, called, “General Cytology,” which Scientists treated him like a celebrity and encouraged him to extend his theory on the ectoplasm to other species. J

ust enjoyed working in Europe because he did not face as much discrimination there in comparison to the U.S. and when he did encounter racism, it invariably came from Americans. Beginning in 1933, when the Nazis began to take the control of the country, Just ceased his work in Germany. He later moved his European-based studies to Paris and to the marine laboratory at the French fishing village of Roscoff, located on the English channel.

Just authored two books, Basic Methods for Experiments on Eggs of Marine Animals (1939) and The Biology of the Cell Surface (1939), and he also published at least seventy papers in the areas of cytology, fertilization and early embryonic development. He discovered what is known as the fast block to polyspermy; he further elucidated the slow block, which had been discovered by Fol in the 1870s; and he showed that the adhesive properties of the cells of the early embryo are surface phenomena exquisitely dependent on developmental stage.

He believed that the conditions used for experiments in the laboratory should closely match those in nature; in this sense, he can be considered to have been an early ecological developmental biologist. His work on experimental parthenogenesis informed Johannes Holtfreter’s concept of “autoinduction” which, in turn, has broadly influenced modern evolutionary and developmental biology. His investigation of the movement of water into and out of living egg cells (all the while maintaining their full developmental potential) gave insights into internal cellular structure that is now being more fully elucidated using powerful biophysical tools and computational methods.

These experiments anticipated the non-invasive imaging of live cells that is being developed today. Although Just’s experimental work showed an important role for the cell surface and the layer below it, the “ectoplasm,” in development, it was largely and unfortunately ignored. This was true even with respect to scientists who emphasized the cell surface in their work. It was especially true of the Americans; with the Europeans, he fared somewhat better.

Ernest Just in Wikipedia

Sadly when the Nazis invaded France at the start of WWII, Ernest Just was interned and put into a prisoner of war camp. His second wife, Hedwig Schnetzler, negotiated his release and he returned to his home country of America. By that time he was already ill and he died on 27th October 1941. He was born on 14th August 1883.

Further reading

Black Apollo of Science: The Life of Ernest Everett Just is a biography of African-American biologist Ernest Everett Just, written in 1983 by Kenneth R. Manning, African American author who gained his PhD from Harvard University.

My Black History Dr. Ernest Everett Just

Gary Krenz in LSA Magazine cited Randall and Imes for publishing in 1919 a single work that ushered in a new field of research, “the study of molecular structure through the use of high-resolution infrared spectroscopy. Their work revealed for the first time the detailed spectra of simple-molecule gases, leading to important verification of the emerging quantum theory and providing, for the first time, an accurate measurement of the distances between atoms in a molecule.”

Letter from a Former Student of Bouchet – sent to Dr. Ronald E. Mickens, Associate Professor of Physics at Fisk University

Taken from the post in Black Past:

Elmer Samuel Imes (1883-1941)

Physicist Elmer S. Imes, an internationally recognized early authority on infrared spectroscopy, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on October 12, 1883, the son of Benjamin Imes, a minister, and the former Elizabeth Wallace, an ex-slave. Both of his parents were alumni of Oberlin College in Ohio and worked as missionaries in the South. Imes attended high school in Alabama and in 1903 graduated with a bachelor’s degree in general science from historically black Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. He remained in academe, teaching physics and mathematics at the Georgia Normal and Agricultural Institute in Albany, Georgia, (present-day Albany State University) and the Emerson Institute in Mobile, Alabama, both historically black schools of higher learning in the racially segregated South.

In 1910, Imes returned to Fisk to teach and earned his master’s degree there in science in 1915. With a strong inclination for research, he enrolled at the University of Michigan and, with the assistance of a University Fellowship, earned his doctorate in physics in 1918, only the second African American to do so since Edward Bouchetat Yale University in 1876. His dissertation, titled “Measurements on the Near-Infrared Absorption of Some Diatomic Gases,” was published in 1919 in the renowned Astrophysical Journal. That same year, Imes and his former academic mentor at Michigan, Harrison A. Randall, shook the scientific world with a co-authored paper in Physical Review, titled “The Fine Structure of the Near Infra-Red Absorption Bands of HCI, HBr, and HF.”  It elaborated on the journal article by offering the first confirmation of the distances between atoms in molecules, widening the breath of appropriate applications of quantum theory, and presented evidence of two chlorine isotopes—finding that would be repeated cited by scientists and soon contained in textbooks.

In 1919, Imes married the novelist Nella Larsen, one of the luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance, which prompted a change in his residence from Jersey City, New Jersey to New York City, New York to rub shoulders with Harlem’s intellectual elite, among them W.E.B. DuBois and Langston Hughes. Despite his scientific achievements, Imes found it difficult to find employment in white-dominated schools and businesses, but he eventually landed researcher positions in the New Jersey-New York region at the Federal Engineers Development Corporation, the Burrows Magnetic Equipment Corporation, Everett Signal Supplies, and served as a consultant to Autoxygen, Incorporated. During his eight years of work in the corporate world between 1922 and 1930, Imes filed numerous patents, four of which were for instruments that gauged magnetic and electric properties.  Imes may have been better known and respected among European physicists who were unaware of his race than by white American physicists.

Imes returned to Fisk in 1930, this time to mentor black students who would succeed in obtaining graduate degrees at major universities and to become chairman of Fisk’s Department of Physics. Divorced from Nella Larsen in 1933 and later plagued by professional, financial, and health problems, he died from throat cancer in Memorial Hospital in New York City on September 11, 1941.

Read more about Elmer Samuel Imes

National Society of Black Physicists: Specifically, his (Elmer Imes’] work was one of the earliest applications of high resolution infrared spectroscopy and provided the first detailed spectra of molecules giving way to the study molecular structure through infrared spectroscopy. This work led to him being the first African-American to be published in a physics journal in the United States.

Physics Today – The life and work of Elmer Samuel Imes by Ronald E. Mickens 2018: Imes’s measurements provided accurate experimental proof that rotational energy was quantized, and he was quickly recognized as a major figure among the small group of researchers focused on spectroscopy. In 1974 Earle Plyler, a US physicist and pioneer in the fields of IR spectroscopy and molecular spectroscopy, wrote that:

“up until the work of Imes, there was doubt about the universal applicability of the quantum theory to radiation in all parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. Some held it was useful only for atomic spectra (electronic spectra); some held that it was applicable for all electromagnetic radiation…. Imes’s work formed a turning point in the scientific thinking, making it clear that quantum theory was not just a novelty, useful in limited fields of physics, but of widespread and general application.”

Letter From a Former Student of Bouchet: Appendix C Elmer Samuel Imes Scientist, Inventor, Teacher, Scholar: Elmer Samuel Imes was the first black scientist to make a significant contribution to physics. His work had a major impact on the understanding and interpretation of quantum phenomena during the period from 1919 to 1925. He also made contributions to physics instrumentation through his construction and improvements to infrared spectrometers. During his lifetime, his research was extensively quoted and referenced in leading scientific journals in the United States and Europe by physicists and chemists studying the properties and molecular spectra of diatomic molecules.

Elmer Imes – Wikipedia: Imes’ work provided an early verification of Quantum Theory. It became known in Europe as well as in the United States.

Much more than a blind Black singer songwriter

Stevie Wonder has long supported the civil rights movement in the US and the world with his music. In addition to being an award winning musical innovator, he is a humanitarian who has used his music to support a number of social causes and political beliefs. Because of his disabilities he is blind Stevie was limited to in what he could do, but because of his enormous talent and popularity he could not be ignored.

He is probably best remembered for his campaign to make Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a national holiday, Wonder released Happy Birthday (1980), a song celebrating Dr. King. The song became a hit and a rallying cry for the King Holiday.

On Monday, January 20, 1986, in cities and towns across the country people celebrated the first official Martin Luther King Day, the only federal holiday commemorating an African-American. Wonder’s song echoed as the anthem of the holiday.

But Stevie Wonder Civil Rights go much deeper than this single event.

The year prior to that in 1985 Stevie had dedicated his song ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ to Nelson Mandela. Wonder also joined a number of musicians and entertainers, including Harry Belafonte, Quincy Jones, Lionel Ritchie, and Michael Jackson to produce the song We are the World (1985) to raise funds for humanitarian aid in Africa. He teamed with Gladys Knight and Dionne Warwick, and Elton John (1988) to produce That’s What Friends Are For to support AIDS charities.

Blind from infancy, Steveland Hardaway Judkins moved with his family to Detroit Michigan when he was four years old. When his mother later remarried, he changed his name to Steveland Morris. Young Steveland sang in his church’s choir, and by the time he was nine years old, he had mastered piano, drums and harmonica. Singer Ray Charles became his role model. The child prodigy was discovered in 1961 while performing for friends.

Music mogul Berry Gordy immediately signed him on the Motown label and changed his name to “Little Stevie Wonder.” His first album, A Tribute to Uncle Ray (1962) was released when Wonder was just twelve years old.

By the early 1970s, thought provoking Stevie Wonder albums like Talking Book (1972) Innervisions (1973) and Songs in the Key of Life (1976) propelled the musical genius to the pinnacle of his career, a track from this Pastime Paradise is the basis of Coolio’s ‘Gangsta Paradise with all the strong political despair it embodied and became an anthem for, and was featured in the film Dangerous Minds, starring Michel Pfeiffer.

His 1985 duet with former Beatle Paul McCarthy, “Ebony and Ivory,” became another social statement calling for racial harmony. Stevie Wonder was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. By 2006, Wonder had been awarded twenty-two Grammy awards and eighteen American Music awards.

In 2016, Stevie Wonder sang at the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture for then-President Barack Obama, the first black US president, and his predecessor George W. Bush, as well as thousands of Americans in Washington D.C. In 2014, Wonder was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.

That same year Steve Wonder gave a moving speech to the United Nations. In it, he recalled Nelson Mandela’s struggle for democracy, human rights and social justice. Mandela, the former South African president, was “one of the most fantastic, caring and loving people who ever moved on Mother Earth,” Wonder enthused.

Wonder expressed how much Mandela meant to him by naming one of his sons “Mandla” (which means “strength”). In 1985, when the South African activist and politician was still in prison, Wonder received an Oscar for the song “I Just Called To say I Love You,” which as we mentioned above he dedicated to Mandela. The apartheid regime reacted by banning Wonder’s music, he continued to campaign for Mandela’s release.

In 2017, Wonder sang with his son Kwarme Morris in New York City’s Central Park. Like all bands performing at the Global Citizen Festival, they had an agenda: to remind political decision-makers in the USA and around the world of their responsibility to end global poverty, tackle climate change and eliminate inequality by 2030.

Stevie Wonder has not remained silent during the current world crisis. Together with Lady Gaga, Billie Eilish and other stars, he took part in One World Together At Home streaming event in April. Organised by Global Citizen, World Health Organization and the United Nations, the goal was to raise funds for the COVID-19 Solidarity Response fund of the WHO.

International Civil Rights Walk of Fame: Stevie Wonder

Black Man by Stevie Wonder

Verse 1
First man to die
For the flag we now hold high [Crispus Attucks]
Was a black man
The ground were we stand
With the flag held in our hand
Was first the red man’s
Guide of a ship
On the first Columbus trip [Pedro Alonzo Nino]
Was a brown man
The railroads for trains
Came on tracking that was laid
By the yellow man

We pledge allegiance
All our lives
To the magic colors
Red, blue and white
But we all must be given
The liberty that we defend
For with justice not for all men
History will repeat again
It’s time we learned
This world was made for all men

Verse 2
Heart surgery
Was first done successfully
By a black man [Dr Daniel Hale Williams]
Friendly man who died
But helped the pilgrims to survive [Squanto]
Was a red man
Farm workers rights
Were lifted to new heights [César Chávez]
By a brown man
Incandescent light
Was invented to give sight [Thomas Edison]
By the white man

We pledge allegiance
All our lives
To the magic colors
Red, blue and white
But we all must be given
The liberty that we defend
For with justice not for all men
History will repeat again
It’s time we learned
This world was made for all men

Hear me out

Now I know the birthday of a nation
Is a time when a country celebrates
But as your hand touches your heart
Remember we all played a part in America
To help that banner wave

Verse 3
First clock to be made
In America was created
By a black man [Benjamin Banneker]
Scout who used no chart
Helped lead Lewis and Clark
Was a red woman [Sacagawea]
Use of martial arts
In our country got its start
By a yellow man [Bruce Lee]
And the leader with a pen
Signed his name to free all men
Was a white man [Abraham Lincoln]

We pledge allegiance
All our lives
To the magic colors
Red, blue and white
But we all must be given
The liberty that we defend
For with justice not for all men
History will repeat again
It’s time we learned
This world was made for all men

The work on crop rotation, soil improvement and the use of nitrogen-fixing plants carried out by George Washington Carver is as relevant today as it was 100 years ago when he did his research. He bucked the trend for huge mono-cropping soil-depleting plantations – cotton, tobacco, sugar. He did this in such a way that was to at first feed poor farmers and secondly to develop new products from nutrient-fixing plants that were initially deemed unprofitable. His focus was on the small farmers and he set up teaching and outreach programmes for them.

This video provides views from scientists about food security today referencing the work carried out by Carver:

George Washington Carver by the Science History Institute

In the post–Civil War South one man made it his mission to use agricultural chemistry and scientific methodology to improve the lives of impoverished farmers.

George Washington Carver (ca. 1864–1943) was born enslaved in Missouri at the time of the Civil War. His exact birth date and year are unknown, and reported dates range between 1860 and 1865. He was orphaned as an infant, and, with the war bringing an end to slavery, he grew up a free child, albeit on the farm of his mother’s former master, Moses Carver. The Carvers raised George and gave him their surname. Early on he developed a keen interest in plants, collecting specimens in the woods on the farm.


At age 11, Carver left home to pursue an education in the nearby town of Neosho. He was taken in by an African American couple, Mariah and Andrew Watkins, for whom he did odd jobs while attending school for the first time. Disappointed in the school in Neosho, Carver eventually left for Kansas, where for several years he supported himself through a variety of occupations and added to his education in a piecemeal fashion. He eventually earned a high school diploma in his twenties, but he soon found that opportunities to attend college for young black men in Kansas were nonexistent. So in the late 1880s Carver relocated again, this time to Iowa, where he met the Milhollands, a white couple who encouraged him to enroll in college.

George Washington Carver seated (front row, center) on steps at the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, with staff, ca. 1902.

George Washington Carver seated (front row, center) on steps at the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, with staff, ca. 1902. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-05633/Frances Benjamin Johnston

Carver briefly attended Simpson College in Indianola, studying music and art. When a teacher there learned of his interest in botany, she encouraged him to transfer to Iowa State Agricultural College (now Iowa State University), dissuading him from his original dream of becoming an artist. Carver earned his bachelor’s degree in agricultural science from Iowa State in 1894 and a master’s in 1896. While there he demonstrated a talent for identifying and treating plant diseases.


Around this time Booker T. Washington was looking to establish an agricultural department and research facility at his Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama. Washington, the leading black statesman of the day, and two others had founded the institute in 1881 as a new vocational school for African Americans, and the institute had steadily grown. As Carver was the only African American in the nation with an advanced degree in scientific agriculture, Washington sought him out. Carver joined the faculty of Tuskegee in 1896 and stayed there the rest of his life. He was both a teacher and a prolific researcher, heading up the institute’s Agricultural Experiment Station.

George Washington Carver (second from right) with students in the chemistry laboratory at Tuskegee Institute, ca. 1902.

George Washington Carver with students in the chemistry laboratory at Tuskegee Institute, ca. 1902. Carver stands second from right, facing front (framed by the doorway). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ds-05586/Frances Benjamin Johnston

Crop Rotation

George Washington Carver standing in a field, probably at Tuskegee, holding a piece of soil, 1906.

George Washington Carver standing in a field, probably at Tuskegee, holding a piece of soil, 1906. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-114302/Frances Benjamin Johnston

Carver’s primary interest was in using chemistry and scientific methodology to improve the lives of impoverished farmers in southeastern Alabama. To that end he conducted soil studies to determine what crops would grow best in the region and found that the local soil was perfect for growing peanuts and sweet potatoes. He also taught farmers about fertilization and crop rotation as methods for increasing soil productivity. The primary crop in the South was cotton, which severely depleted soil nutrients, but by rotating crops—alternating cotton with soil-enriching crops like legumes and sweet potatoes—farmers could ultimately increase their cotton yield for a plot of land. And crop rotation was cheaper than commercial fertilization. But what to do with all the sweet potatoes and peanuts? At the time, not many people ate them, and there weren’t many other uses for these crops.

New Uses for “Undesirable” Crops

Carver went to work to invent new food, industrial, and commercial products—including flour, sugar, vinegar, cosmetic products, paint, and ink—from these “lowly” plants. From peanuts alone he developed hundreds of new products, thus creating a market for this inexpensive, soil-enriching legume. In 1921 Carver famously spoke before the House Ways and Means Committee on behalf of the nascent peanut industry to secure tariff protection and was thereafter known as the Peanut Man. When he first arrived at Tuskegee in 1896, the peanut was not even a recognized U.S. crop; by 1940 it had become one of the six leading crops in the nation and the second cash crop in the South (after cotton). Both peanuts and sweet potatoes were slowly incorporated into Southern cooking, and today the peanut especially is ubiquitous in the American diet.

Carver also developed traveling schools and other outreach programs to educate farmers. He published popular bulletins, distributed to farmers for free, that reported on his research at the Agricultural Experiment Station and its applications.

George Washington Carver, Tuskegee Institute, 1906.

George Washington Carver, Tuskegee Institute, 1906. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-J601-302/Frances Benjamin Johnston


Through chemistry and conviction Carver revolutionized Southern agriculture and raised the standard of living of his fellow man. In addition to the popular honor of being one of the most recognized names in African American history, Carver received the 1923 Spingarn Medal and was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. The George Washington Carver National Monument was the first national monument dedicated to a black American and the first to a nonpresident.

The information contained in this biography was last updated on October 15, 2020. Information from Science History.

More information about George Washington Carver

​​​​​Black History Bootleg

The American Phytopathological Society – Contributions of Dr. George Washington Carver to Global Food Security: Historical Reflections of Dr. Carver’s Fungal Plant Disease Survey in the Southeastern United States: “The primary idea in all my works was to help the farmer and fill the poor man’s dinner pail … My idea is to help the man farthest down. This is why I have made every process just as simple as I could to put it within his reach.” — George Washington Carver, January 16, 1929

Black Past: At Tuskegee, Carver launched a campaign aimed at lifting black farmers out of the desperate poverty in which most of them lived. Though his campaign ultimately failed in its aim, Carver adapted what he had learned in Ames in such a way as to put the application of its principles within reach of impoverished tenant farmers. In so doing, he anticipated the rise of organic farming and the push for the application of “appropriate technology.” As part of his larger efforts, Carver undertook research on numerous southern crops hoping to find a plant that could undermine cotton’s stranglehold on the region. For a variety of reasons, it was his work with peanuts that catapulted him into the national limelight in the early 1920s. As an icon—the Peanut Man—he was embraced by myriad groups for disparate, sometimes antithetical, reasons.

My Black History: After a lifetime of achievements, recognitions and awards, Dr. Carver died in 1943, and is buried on the campus at Tuskegee. Upon his death, Franklin D. Roosevelt sent this message, “All mankind are the beneficiaries of his [George Washington Carver] discoveries in the field of agricultural chemistry. The things which he achieved in the face of early handicaps will for all time afford an inspiring example to youth everywhere.”

Benjamin Banneker was an African-American farmer, self-taught mathematician, inventor, surveyor, astronomer and humanitarian. He was born in Maryland on 9th November 1731 and spent most of his life on the tobacco farm that was bequeathed to him. Sadly little is known about this remarkable man, remarkable because of what he achieved during the period in which he lived, in the western world, the Age of Enlightenment that included scientific discoveries.

The internet biographies have conflicting interpretations. For example, undisputedly he was of African descent but some biographies suggest that he also had Irish descent. The other is his role in the survey of the new capital of America, what was to become Washington DC.

Although he received little schooling, Banneker demonstrated exceptional scientific ability. In his early 20s he constructed a clock made almost entirely of wood, with all the internal gears carved by hand.

He built America’s first home-grown clock–out of wood

Banneker was 22 in 1753, writes PBS, and he’d “seen only two timepieces in his lifetime–a sundial and a pocket watch.” At the time, clocks weren’t common in the United States. Still, based on these two devices, PBS writes, “Banneker constructed a striking clock almost entirely out of wood, based on his own drawings and calculations. The clock continued to run until it was destroyed in a fire forty years later.”

Smithsonian Magazine Three Things to Know About Benjamin Banneker’s Pioneering Career by Kat Eschner November 9th 2017

A moveable timepiece was essential for surveying in the field, the measure of longitude and the study of the stars, astronomy. Looking at the history of timepieces, mass produced watches weren’t available until the 1800s. During the period in which Banneker lived, the race was on to find an accurate clock combined with a reference point to measure longitude. This was especially important when at sea, many lives and ships had been lost because capatains were unable to keep their precise location at sea. Banneker’s achievement was remarkable. See A Chronicle of Timekeeping below.

Thomas Jefferson appointed Banneker to the commission charged with planning the construction of Washington D.C. to work alongside Major Andrew Ellicott. He helped survey the site of the national capital between 1791 and 1793. This was despite his age and infirmities. The terrain around the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers were inhospitable.

Widely known as the compiler of The Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia Almanac and Ephemeris, which was published annually from 1792 to 1802.


Banneker spent many nights studying the stars and was able to predict a solar eclipse for April 14, 1789. Two leading astronomers disagreed with his calculations, but Banneker was right. In addition to listing holidays and eclipses, the almanacs provided weather and medical information, the hours of sunrise and sun set, and a tide table for Chesapeake Bay.

 In 1791 he sent the manuscript of his first almanac to revolutionary leader and future U.S. president, Thomas Jefferson, then secretary of state. With the manuscript, Banneker included a letter in which he protested against slavery and disputed Jefferson’s claim that blacks were intellectually inferior to whites. On receiving the manuscript, Jefferson changed his opinion and sent a copy to the French Academy of Sciences in Paris. Abolitionists used the almanacs as evidence of the intellectual capabilities of blacks.

In addition to his work in mathematics and astronomy, Benjamin Banneker proposed that the U.S. government establish a Department of Peace. He also advocated free public education for all children and the elimination of the death penalty.  

Further Reading about Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum: “In 1985, the land [on which the park and museum are located] was rediscovered as Banneker’s farmstead. A non-profit, the Friends of Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum, was founded and Baltimore County purchased the land with the goal to preserve it for the public. In 1998, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held for the newly built museum.”

Engineering Village: American Black History Month: Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806) by Megan Stalnaker on 02/01/2016: Benjamin Banneker was also an advocate to eradicate slavery. In 1791, he boldly wrote to Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State, to scold him and others of hypocrisy in drafting the Declaration of Independence. He quoted Jefferson’s words stating that, “all men are created equal” saying, “in detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren under groaning captivity and cruel oppression, that you should at the Same time be found guilty of that most criminal act, which you professedly detested in others, with respect to yourselves.” Banneker also demanded Jefferson and other Declaration of Independence participants to, “wean yourselves from those narrow prejudices which you have imbibed with respect to” African Americans.

Black Past Benjamin Banneker: In 1788, George Ellicott, a keen amateur astronomer, lent Banneker books and instruments that enabled him to construct tables predicting the positions of the stars and future solar and lunar eclipses. Three years later, Andrew Ellicott hired Banneker to assist him in surveying the boundaries of the ten-mile square site of the future Federal capital of Washington, D.C.  In that year, too, Banneker won the backing of several Philadelphia, Pennsylvania supporters of the anti-slavery cause to print his work in the popular form of an almanac. Its 1792 publication, introduced by letters pointing out how Banneker’s accomplishments disproved the myth of Negro inferiority, was a considerable success and produced twenty-seven further editions of “Banneker’s Almanac” over the next five years.  Banneker sent a manuscript copy of his work to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson along with a plea against the continuance of black slavery and received a courteous, if evasive, reply. But Jefferson praised Banneker as “a very respectable mathematician” in forwarding the manuscript to the notice of the French Academy of Sciences.

A Chronicle of Timekeeping in Scientific America

Smithsonian Magazine Three Things to Know About Benjamin Banneker’s Pioneering Career by Kat Eschner November 9th 2017

Benjamin Banneker and the Survey of the District of Columbia, 1791 by Silvio A. Bedini: Confirmation of this appointment occurs in Jefferson’s letter relating to Banneker’s almanac, which he addressed to the Marquis de Condorcet in the following year, and in which he commented about Banneker (Letter from Thomas Jefferson – later President Thomas jefferson – to the Marquis de Condorcet dated August 31, The Jefferson-Coolidge Papers, Manuscript Collection, Massachusetts Historical Society, 7S.I.38-43.) that:

I procured him [Banneker] to be employed under one of our chief directors [George Ellicott] in laying out the new Federal City [Washington DC] on the Patowmac. . . .

See also Founders Online: From Thomas Jefferson to Condorcet, 30 August 1791 the ‘negro’ in question is Benjamin Banneker

Famous Black Inventors: Like a lot of early inventors, Benjamin Banneker was primarily self-taught. The son of former slaves, Benjamin worked on the family tobacco farm and received some early education from a Quaker school. But most of his advanced knowledge came from reading, reading and more reading. At 15 he took over the farm and invented an irrigation system to control water flow to the crops from nearby springs. As a result of Banneker’s innovation, the farm flourished – even during droughts.

Reconstructing Molly Welsh: Race, Memory and the Story of Benjamin Banneker’s Grandmother – A Master’s Thesis Presented by Sandra Perot. Perot was of the firm belief that the Irish indentured labourer, Molly Welsh, was Benjamin Banneker’s grandmother. She says: Of the over one hundred biographies and stories about Benjamin Banneker that
have been published, only a handful can be said to be grounded in “reliable” sources
gathered from individuals who met or knew Banneker personally. These biographies
were authored by the Revolutionary War advocate James McHenry, and anti-slavery
advocates Susannah Mason, John Latrobe, Martha Tyson, and Tyson’s daughter, Anne
Kirk. Three of these authors met Banneker, and Tyson lived in the same small town as
him. Interest in Banneker did not wane as the nineteenth century came to a close.
Martha Tyson prepared two manuscripts on Benjamin Banneker.

Benjamin Banneker – Wikipedia

Benjamin Banneker: The Black Tobacco Farmer the Presidents Coundn’t Ignore – the White House Historical Association

‘You’re not British, you’re Black. And so I didn’t really fit into either camps (Nigeria and England). And space was that wonderful thing that transcended all of that because when you look at the earth from space, there are no countries, there are no boundaries, we’re just one people.”

Quote from interview with Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock below.

Most of us may have come into contact with Maggie Aderin-Pocock on the TV when she presented Sky at Night in 2014, Stargazing on CBeeBies, Out of this World on CBBC and other programs.

As a person, Margaret Ebunoluwa Aderin-Pocock is just awesome. Born in London on 9 March 1968 to Nigerian parents, she attended 13 schools and at one when she said she wanted to be an astronaut, she was advised instead to become a nurse. She went on to gain 4 A levels in maths, physics, chemistry and biology and went on to get her BSC in physics in 1990 and her PhD in mechanical engineering in 1994. Her PhD research:

Her research investigated the development of an ultra-thin film measurement system using spectroscopy and interferometry to the 2.5 nm level. This involved improving the optical performance and the mechanical design of the system, as well as the development of control and image processing software. Other techniques at the time could only operate to the micron level with much poorer resolution. This development work resulted in the instrument being sold by an Imperial College University spin-off company, (PCS Instruments).

Aderin-Pocock has worked on many projects in private industry, academia, and in government. From 1996 to 1999 she worked at the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, a branch of the UK Ministry of Defence. Initially, she worked as a systems scientist on aircraft missile warning systems, and from 1997 to 1999 she was a project manager developing hand-held instruments to detect landmines. In 1999, Aderin-Pocock returned to Imperial College on a fellowship from the Science and Technology Facilities Council to work with the group developing a high-resolution spectrograph for the Gemini telescope in Chile. The telescope examines and analyses starlight to improve understanding of distant stars.

She was the lead scientist at Astrium, where she managed observation instruments on a satellite, measuring wind speeds to help the investigation of climate change. She is working on and managing the observation instruments for the Aeolus satellite, which will measure wind speeds to help the investigation of climate change. She is also a pioneering figure in communicating science to the public, specifically school children, and also runs her own company, Science Innovation Ltd, which engages children and adults all over the world with the wonders of space science.

Maggie Aderin-Pocock in Wikipedia

The way she tells stories about science and space are encapsulating, softly spoken, with humour, animating. She actively inspires young people into taking up careers in science, engineeering and reaching for the stars and becoming astronauts. She has reached 25,000 young people in inner city areas busting myths about careers, class and gender.

Her own story about her youth is just lovely. Wanting to see the stars:

“When I was young we were living in a council flat. We didn’t have much money [so] I saved up some money and I got a telescope,” she says as I glance enviously at the tripod. “But it was really not very good. It suffered from something called ‘chromatic aberration’ which means that as you look through it, the light coming through gets split up into different colours.” It was a disappointment to a youngster desperate to look beyond the glare of the capital and gaze into the depths of the night sky. But then she spotted an advert for telescope-making classes in Camden, north London. Turning up to investigate, she encountered a curious scene. “There were lots of middle-aged blokes – they had large slabs of glass and they were just grinding away,” she laughs. Bizarre or not, the following week she joined their ranks.

Maggie Aderin-Pocock: how a space-obsessed schoolgirl battled the odds to become a top scientist interview with Nicola Davis 21st September 2014 in the Observer

In her own words, in vitae: Realising the Potential of Researchers Maggie Aderin-Pocock says:

“My name is Doctor Maggie Aderin-Pocock and I am a space scientist and a science communicator. As a space scientist I actually build satellites that go up in space, and as a science communicator I like to try and translate some of the complexities of science into a simple format for everybody to understand.

“Someone, somewhere, will think we need a satellite to understand the universe to probe the Earth’s atmosphere or do something. At Astrium Limited what I do is, we take that requirement and we try and build instrumentation and a complete satellite system that will meet those requirements

“So my PhD was in mechanical engineering. But before that I did my degree which was in physics. And so that was quite an interesting hybrid for me ‘cause doing the physics and the mechanical engineering turned out to be a perfect marriage for making satellites in the future. I didn’t know it at the time but it worked out very well. So I sort of had an inkling that I’d quite like to go into industry ‘cause I liked to solve problems and actually take the physics and mechanical engineering that I’d learnt and put them onto a variety of different problems. But when I actually left university I wasn’t actually sure where I was going to go, and also jobs were very scarce at the time, but I actually found a job with a branch of the Ministry of Defence, The Defence Evaluation Research Council, and was doing and making instrumentation for them. The first sort of instrumentation I was working on was something called a missile warning system. This was a quite a complex piece of equipment, but what it was designed to do was warn pilots when a missile was coming and then automatically let off flares to protect the pilot and the aircraft.

“So I did that for a number of years, travelled around the world, went out to Australia and to Rumora and did tests out there, as well as Appendine Sands in Wales. Then I actively got a promotion and I changed to working in landmine detection. That was my first management role and I was managing a handheld landmine detection group. From there I actually actively decided that I’d come back to academia. Because my dream had always been to sort of work in space and astronomy, and as a child my very first instrument that I made was my own telescope.

“So an opportunity came up to work on the Gemini telescope in South America, and this is an eight metre telescope, and I did that role at UCL, the University College London, and we were building an instrument that bolted onto the telescope. So we spent sort of two and half years building an instrument in UCL in the basement. And then it was a fantastic day when we packed it all up and shipped it out to Chile. And I spent about six months working in South America. And then I got to my dream of actually working in space science and that’s why I transferred from actually making ground-based space telescopes to space-based telescopes and space based instrumentation.

“Because I think, for me, it took me a while to realise the call for my PhD wasn’t just the technical knowledge that I picked up but it was also the transferable skills which you don’t really see at the time. But it’s things like problem-solving, taking on a challenge, getting it down to sort of the nitty gritty and working out a step-by-step method of solving a problem. To me, space was the ultimate goal, and I think it was sort of a subconscious for a long time but I could see I had that sort of goal in mind, so when I took on jobs, it was also, well you know can they lead me to space or will it go a different way? And you know it didn’t matter that I did lots of different things along the way, ‘cause I think often that helps. But that was I think, my goal.

“Because I’ve had a sort of quite hybrid career there are benefits in working in academia and pitfalls and the same in industry. But I think I’ve gone, I’ve done it sort of in a strange way where I am doing both now.

“And sort of trying to get the benefits of both aspects and trying to minimise the detriments, and it’s not something that people often consider but there are some good benefits in doing both. Sometimes that means you don’t know what hat you are wearing on what day, but there are synergies between the two. Someone once told me that you don’t actually, that for the time, extra time you spend in university doing a PhD you don’t actually get the money back until you are 40, but I think you can actually get it back sooner than that.”

Like many people Aderin-Pocock has dyslexia, if this is not picked up at school many young peoples life chances are just thwarted. Looking at dyslexia differently, as visual thinkers, people who think outside the box of the linear as in lines of text – creative people. Maggie Aderin-Pocock joins a long list of inspiring people who also have dyslexia: the boxer Muhammad Ali; another famous scientist Albert Einstein; actress Whoopi Goldberg; British writer and dub poet Benjamin Zephania; British racing driver Lewis Hamilton; the illustrator Jerry Pinkney; the rapper M.I.A….the list is endless.

As Aderin-Pocock says:

“We’re not teaching kids to think, we’re teaching kids to pass exams.”

Quote taken from: Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE – Made By Dyslexia Interview

More about Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock

Commissioner – Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities

Maggie Aderin-Pocock: how a space-obsessed schoolgirl battled the odds to become a top scientist interview with Nicola Davis 21st September 2014 in the Observer

Maggie Aderin-Pocock in vitae: Realising the Potential of Researchers

Wikipedia Maggie Aderin-Pocock

Listen on BBC Sounds Sky at Night presenter Maggie Aderin-Pocock talks to Jim Al-Khalili on The Life Scientific

African history is intrinsic to British history, yet hidden when taught in schools. We may be discussing the Industrial Revolution and the cotton mills, yet little is said about the raw cotton, where it was grown, who picked it – free labour from enslaved Africans. Nor how the wealth to start the Revolution came from – slave labour and colonisation. We may discuss medieval history, but ignore the great empires: of Zimbabwe, Benin (in Nigeria) and Mali, in Africa; Mongol and the Yuan Dynasty in China; and the Ottoman Empire. Such ommission negates England’s, Europe’s relationships with these empires.

Walter Rodney wrote the book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, so first a bit first about Walter Rodney: Foluke Ifejola Adebisi, Senior Lecturer of Law at Bristol University, gives a lovely biography in her blog Walter Rodney: Illuminating the road from mental slavery.

“In a system of knowledge that is hegemonically Eurocentric, how did he get to anpoint where he could write this? This article summarises what I have learnt about Walter Rodney, author of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, over the years….

“On the 23rd of March, 1942, Walter Anthony Rodney was born in Georgetown, Guyana (pictured above). He was absolutely brilliant in school and so in 1960, when he graduated first in his class, he won an open scholarship to the University of the West Indies (UWI). Rodney studied history at UWI Mona Campus in Jamaica, graduating with a first class in 1960. Brilliant. He then went on to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London from where he received his PhD in African History at the age of 24! From London he went to teach in Tanzania for a year before returning to Jamaica to teach. Absolutely brilliant and Pan-African.”

Walter Rodney’s book is reviewed by Tony Mckenna in 2018, in Marx & Philosophy is an excellent summary. The book itself was first published in 1972.

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

In the first section of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa Walter Rodney treats us to an image of Africa and its peoples before the horror of the transatlantic slave trade was visited upon them. He shows us a rich and complex patchwork quilt of interlocking societies and civilisations. Some involved a basic division of labour and were profoundly communal in character: the Khoisan hunter-gatherers of the Kalahari Desert, for instance, or the Kaffa cultivators, the Galla pastoralists, as well as the communities of Bozo fisherman or the nomadic Fulani herdsmen.

At the same time such groups often existed alongside more developed societies: the Benin Kingdom whose powerful industry and sophisticated division of labour underlay the creation of a plethora of great art, including the famous bronze heads, or further to the North, the great civilisation of Medieval Mali whose capital, Timbuktu, was a centre for learning across the continent and beyond (at its height a quarter of its population attended its great universities), or the Fatamid dynasty of Egypt which introduced the new industries of ‘papermaking, sugar refining, porcelain, and the distillation of gasoline’ while the ‘older industries of textiles, leather and metal were improved upon’ (page 57). That same dynasty also happened to found the world-historic city of Cairo. Or some centuries later, and far to the South, Great Zimbabwe, another monument to the history and the grandiosity of city building in old Africa:

‘One of the principal structures at Great Zimbabwe was some 300 feet long and 220 feet broad, with the walls being 30 feet high and 20 feet thick.’

Page 77

But Rodney’s purpose, in his rather far-ranging and systematic depiction of the diversity and complexity of these societies is not to provide the reader with some idealised and utopic vision of a pre-modern Africa. In actual fact Rodney recognises all too well that much of the great material and spiritual artefacts of African civilisation were often premised on a more developed division of labour in which ruling aristocracies emerged, seizing control of the means of production, thereby becoming ‘a social stratum above the clans which previously existed and which had had narrow territorial bases.’ (p73)

The development of a heightened set of class contradictions which allowed for an increased intensity in the exploitation of the direct producers was the precondition for great advances in both technology and culture, for in many places ‘communal egalitarianism was on its way out’ having become a ‘brake on the development’ of ‘collective communities.’(p72)

Many of the places which had travelled furthest along the line of development also introduced slavery, both chattel slaves and domestic slaves, though Rodney argues that slavery itself was not concentrated enough to form the central mode of production in any one region or kingdom. In any event, Rodney’s description of the great civilisations of old Africa is one which combines high culture, technological innovation, city building, art and education – with glittering powerful elites and ruthless aristocratic dynasties and more often than not the intensive and debilitating exploitation of those at the bottom.

It is not in any sense an idealised portrait. It is a highly systematic analysis of a place which most of all shows that in terms of its sociological character and the sheer diversity of various societies from the most backward to the most advanced – Africa was not greatly removed from the medieval Europe of the day and was everywhere embroiled in active, vibrant historical developments.

One of the many tragic consequences of the transatlantic slave trade was that it worked to put a stopper on such developments. At the dawn of the transatlantic slave trade, there was a level of parity between Africa and Europe in many respects.  When the Dutch first visited Benin City, they were struck by its resemblance to their own cities, with one traveller describing it thus:

‘The town seems to be very great…. The king’s palace is a collection of buildings which occupy as much space as the town of Harlem, and which is enclosed with walls. There are numerous apartments for the Prince’s ministers and fine galleries, most of which are as big as those on the Exchange at Amsterdam.’ (cited 83)

Many African leaders enjoyed honorary roles in European courts, indeed Africans more generally, on the cusp of the transatlantic slave epoch, were still able to become knights in European feudal society, a fact famously expressed in the painting The Kings Fountain (Chafariz d’El-Rey) where an Afro-Portuguese knight can be seen riding through a central square in 16th century Lisbon.

The King’s Fountain Chafariz d’El-Rey, c. 1570-80 (Colecção Berardo)

But though ‘European technical superiority did not apply to all aspects of production … the advantage they possessed in a few key areas proved decisive.’ (p90) One such area, of course, was the use of guns (a weapon which was not invented in Europe but in Yuan dynasty China). But also in terms of ships. Intra-African trade was almost always centred on the rivers and waterways inland, so that:

‘African canoes on the river Nile and the Senegal coast were of a high standard, but the relevant sphere of operations was the ocean, where the European ships could take command.’

Page 90

In addition the Europeans controlled many of the trade routes which led to Asia and thus Africa’s trade with the outside world was increasingly monopolised by Europeans.

Once the Americas had been opened up, and once the indigenous peoples there had succumbed in their millions to the genocidal activities of the Europeans and the diseases they brought in their wake, a need to find new blood to invigorate the labouring population became a pressing one on the part of the conquerors. It was a need which was met first by indentured labourers and later by an ever increasing number of (in the main) African slaves.  European commercial interests were able to create the pattern of triangulation which would define the next several centuries:

‘They engaged in buying cotton cloth in India to exchange for slaves in Africa to mine gold in Central and South America. Part of the gold in the Americas would then be used to purchase spices and silks from the Far East. The concept of metropole and dependency automatically came into existence when parts of Africa were caught up in the web of international commerce.’

Page 87

European traders and merchants were able to ‘bamboozle’ African rulers of a ‘certain status and authority’ with their luxury wares so that the latter provided more and more slaves and ‘even began … to raid outside their societies as well as to exploit internally by victimizing some of their own subjects.’ (p91) Thus the success of the transatlantic slave system depended on some level of collaboration between European commercial interests and African elites. Rodney notes, rather tellingly, that in:

‘the simplest of societies where there were no kings, it provided impossible for Europeans to strike up the alliance which was necessary to carry on a trade in captives on the coast.’

Page 91

At the same time some rulers of powerful states did resist; the Angolan state of Matamba, for example, with:

‘Queen Nzinga at its head … tried to coordinate resistance against the Portuguese … and this left Matamba isolated…. So long as it opposed trade with the Portuguese, it was an object of hostility from neighbouring African states which had compromised with Europeans and slave trading.’

Page 92-3

The figure which is most frequently provided is that of 10 million Africans; 10 million people who were ripped from their homes and converted into someone else’s property, transported across the Atlantic and condemned to a life of inhuman brutalisation which beggars belief. But the 10 million figure neither takes into account the number of people (captured slaves) who died on the journey from the inland to the great ports of West Africa and nor does it account for the number of those who died in the slaving wars which were facilitated by European commercial interests.

The true number is certainly far greater. The massive loss to the labour force in those regions meant that many local industries were weakened, which meant in turn that European products became more dominant and that the natural flow of trade which flowed from region to region within Africa was increasingly usurped in favour of the need to satisfy the commercial demands which Europeans imposed. Consequently, all sorts of industries were retarded. Rodney writes of the cloth making industry:

‘When European cloth became dominant on the African market, it meant that African producers were cut off from the increasing demand. The craft producers either abandoned their tasks … or they continued on the same small hand-worked instruments to create styles and pieces for localized markets. Therefore there was what can be called “technological arrest” or stagnation or even regression…. The abandonment of traditional iron smelting in most parts of Africa is probably the most important instance of technological repression.’

Page 119

As Rodney goes on to argue, development presupposes ‘a capacity for self-sustaining growth’ (119) and it was this which the transatlantic slave trade truncated. The consequences were stark. Rodney provides figures showing how population growth in Africa was minimal, almost flat; from 1650 to 1900 it went from 100 million to 120 million (compared with Asia which went from 257 million to 857 million in the same timeframe). (p110)

In addition, the transatlantic slave trade facilitated the growth of ‘monocultures’ – that is, local economies which were almost entirely dependent on producing one raw material for exportation to Europe. For European economic development, however, the situation couldn’t have been more different:

The African contribution to European capitalist growth extended over such vital sectors as shipping, insurance, the formation of companies, capitalist agriculture, technology, and the manufacture of machinery … the French Saint-Malo fishing industry was revived by the opening up of markets in the French slave plantations; while the Portuguese in Europe depended heavily on dyes like indigo, camwood, Brazil wood, and cochineal brought from Africa and the Americas. Gum from Africa also played a part in the textile industry, which is acknowledged as having been one of the most powerful engines of growth within the European economy. Then there was the export of ivory from Africa, providing the raw material for industries in England, France, Germany, Switzerland, and North America – producing items ranging from knife handles to piano keys. (p97)

The final section of the book concentrates on the rapacious colonialization – ‘the scramble for Africa’ – which the European powers subjected Africa to at the end of the 19th century and into the run up to the First World War. The historical context – the legacy of slavery, the decimation of local industry, the narrowing of productive technique, the interruption of internal trade, the uprooting of labour and life from local communities, the extraction and exsanguination of a plethora of natural resources – worked to abrogate the ‘capacity for self-sustaining growth’ on the part of indigenous Africa while at the same time providing a concentrated boost to European development which would culminate in the humming, high-powered engine of the industrial revolution and the most brutal impetus to global empire the world had ever seen.

The African states fell so rapidly to European power in this period precisely because European economic and productive development had developed, vampire like, by sucking the vitality out of African society and curtailing the possibility of its own. Once more, the colonists were aided by some level of local cooperation. Many of the Africans who had served in the centuries before as the intermediaries facilitating the import and export of goods to and from Europe, were already fluent in European languages and already tethered to European commercial interests. At the same time, Rodney draws attention to numerous examples of heroic resistance on the part of states and communities whose ability to resist was nevertheless meagre in light of European technological supremacy.

On assuming a political domination over the region, the colonialists sank their talons in with a savagery, rapaciousness and disregard which is even more mortifying given the way the continent had already been bled so violently.

Rodney depicts the process with a combination of historical pathos and trenchant statistical research, peppered with many revealing incidents and examples. Once individual states had been overwhelmed, land and resources were sold off at bargain basement prices.

So, for example:

‘after the Kenya highlands had been declared “Crown land,” the British handed over to Lord Delamere 100,000 acres of the best land at cost of a penny per acre.’

Page 182

These sorts of appropriations, which amounted to little more than naked robbery, were supplemented by the most incredible exploitation of African labour.

In South Rhodesia, for example, in the 1930s, ‘agricultural labourers rarely received more than fifteen shillings per month’. (p179) A more skilled counterpart – a truck driver travelling to the mines in the north of the country for instance – would receive more, but still only accruing a meagre three pounds per month. But the Europeans who did that same job (truck driving in Northern Rhodesia) would receive thirty pounds per month. (p179)

To all of this must be added the most barbaric forms of barely-compensated, forced labour which resulted in millions of injuries and deaths, most notoriously in the Belgian Congo under Leopold II. Such draconian conditions and the incredible profits they yielded helped fuse and forge the great industrial corporations of the epoch with financial giants like Barclays Bank whose capital filtered through them.

Most importantly of all Rodney’s systematic unfurling of all these processes decisively dispels the enduring myth that – despite its brutalities – colonialism nevertheless yielded a progressive modernisation of the continent. The possibilities for the development of technology, the education of the work force, the creation of a modern urban working class, the integration of communities, the development of a welfare state – all failed to transpire:

‘in other words, capitalism in the form of colonialism failed to perform in Africa the tasks which it had performed in Europe in changing social relations and liberating the forces of production.’

Page 260

The only slight qualification to this exists in the form of those technologies which were integral to transporting goods in and out of the continent.

I am here because you were there. My ancestors were not British subjects because they came to Britain. Britain came to them, sold them into slavery, profited from their labour and made them subjects. I am the sugar at the bottom of the English cup of tea.

David Lammy MP Twitter May 1st 2018

The 25th of March is the United Nations’ International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery. For this we are doing a series of blogs this week.

When we think about what made Britain, we may think about the Industrial Revolution: iron and steel; the technology; the industrialisation of manufacture; transport with trains canals and steam ships; and international trade. We can walk through some of our towns and cities and see large elegant historic buildings, repurposed waterside warehouses, now luxury flats, huge ornate museums, schools, universities and churches. Looking through the trees when driving through the countryside, glimpses of elegant mansions and estates, some of which can now be visited through the National Trust.

We may think of the British Empire, the largest in living history, where Britain colonised at its peak a quarter of the world’s land mass and a quarter of the people. In 1938 across the world there were 531 million people, all British Subjects, their king was King George VI, the father of the current British Queen Elizabeth II. When Britain needed armies to fight in World War II, millions of British subjects volunteered and signed up from across the world, from all the British colonies to fight for King and Country. To fight for the Mother Country. Eloquently put by Connie Marks about recruitment for WW II:

“When war was declared and more personnel were needed for the front line, you had English officers who came to Jamaica. I was 19 and I can remember, they would go into all the little corners of Jamaica and they would beg, literally beg you to come and fight for England because you see we were brought up that England was our Mother Country and obviously when your mother has problems you’ve got to come and help her.  So we all felt obliged to come and everybody was very happy to come.”[1]

Going further back in our history lessons, we find out that many British people were appalled about owning people, slaves, human chattels, un-British, immoral and not on British soil. Today we make great play about the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, but it took nearly 3 decades longer to legislate against the ownership of slaves in 1833.

In the 1600s and 1700s the law was grey about whether anyone residing in Britain could be a slave. Granville Sharpe was a tireless campaigner against ownership of chattel slaves and highlighted the inconsistencies in British law.[2] Plantation owners returning to Britain accompanied by their house slaves assumed that owning slaves was permissible. The sugar planters in Barbados had agreed the Barbados Slave Code in 1661 and it contradicted British law. It proclaimed that a black slave would be treated as chattel, personal property, in the island’s court[3] – like owning a cow, with the owner’s full rights to beat or slaughter, or a machine, the owner having the right to use or destroy with no legal rights. This differentiated the enslaved Africans, whose skin was dark that according to the Code would have no legal rights, from the indentured labourers whose skins were light from England and Ireland, who had legal rights. In the mid-1600s recent arrivals from Ireland may have been Catholic protagonists in the recent Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.[4] Putting this into context, the bloody European wars of religion (Protestants v Catholics) had been raging for over a hundred years by 1660 and were to go on until the early 1700’s killing millions of people.[5]

Jamaica followed suit with its own slave code in 1664 and South Carolina in 1696. Indeed, throughout the Caribbean and North America plantations worked by enslaved Africans set up similar laws, black slaves as chattel property. For over 200 years chattel slavery was legal in the British colonies until the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. But it didn’t stop there.

When we think of the slave trade and the chattel slaves on plantations producing sugar, rice, tobacco and cotton, we think of Liverpool, Bristol and Glasgow. I looked closer to my home town in Falmouth, Cornwall and found people like Humphrey Pellew (1650-1721) in Cornwall. He was a merchant and ship owner, son of a naval officer, resided at the Flushing manor-house. Part of the town of Flushing was built by Samuel Trefusis MP for Penryn; the other part was built by Humphrey Pellew. He also had a property and a tobacco plantation in Maryland, which funded building part of Flushing. Part of the town of Annapolis stands on what was, before the revolt of the colonies, the Estate of the Pellews.[6] The plantation system started in 1634 in Maryland. and used indentured English and Irish labour, and from 1690 enslaved Africans.[7]

In the grand scheme of things, Pellew seems like small fry, but the captains’ houses for the Packet Ships that started in 1685 were built in Flushing. The Packet Ships, the king’s post that took mail, contracts, money to and from the ‘New World’, the British colonies. The Royal Africa Company in the 1660s set up by the Royal Family and the City of London merchants like Edward Colston, who traded in enslaved Africans from the west coast of Africa.

Owning enslaved people in British colonised territories wasn’t abolished until 1834. What we only found out recently is that those owners of people were compensated for loss of income from enslaved labour. In the exceptionally good Guardian article by Kris Manjapra When Will Britain Face Up to its Crimes Against Humanity[8] 29th March 2018:

‘On 3 August 1835, somewhere in the City of London, two of Europe’s most famous bankers came to an agreement with the chancellor of the exchequer. Two years earlier, the British government had passed the Slavery Abolition Act, which outlawed slavery in most parts of the empire. Now it was taking out one of the largest loans in history, to finance the slave compensation package required by the 1833 act. Nathan Mayer Rothschild and his brother-in-law Moses Montefiore agreed to loan the British government £15m, with the government adding an additional £5m later. The total sum represented 40% of the government’s yearly income in those days, equivalent to some £300bn today.

‘You might expect this so-called “slave compensation” to have gone to the freed slaves to redress the injustices they suffered. Instead, the money went exclusively to the owners of slaves, who were being compensated for the loss of what had, until then, been considered their property. Not a single shilling of reparation, nor a single word of apology, has ever been granted by the British state to the people it enslaved, or their descendants.’

There are ironies in this:

  • Firstly, it wasn’t until the British Financial Crisis in 2008 did the British Government again borrow such a large amount of money, in 2008 and it was to bail out the banks. According to Mervyn King, former Governor of the Bank of England, “When governments have stepped in, whether through bailouts or quantitative easing, it has generally further enriched the rich rather than the toiling classes.” Not even in the aftermath of WWII did Britain borrow so much money. This was at a time when the National Health Service was introduced and as they had done after WWI, housing for poor people was built.
  • Secondly, British tax payers only finished paying off this “slave compensation” loan nearly 200 years later in 2015.
  • Thirdly, British tax payers of African descent living in their country of Britain had themselves been contributing to the “slave compensation” fund. Many of them are descendants of enslaved Africans whose forefathers had worked as slave labourers to create the wealth of the British Empire, and they still had to pay for the sins of the white men.

Going back to what made Britain great, the Industrial Revolution. It relied on the Transatlantic Slave Trade, to accumulate the capital and for labour intensive cotton for example, produced by enslaved Africans working on the plantations in the ‘New World’. Samuel Greg who owned the cotton mill, Quarry Bank Mill at Styal in Cheshire and near Manchester:

“Pioneering British industrialist, builder of Quarry Bank house and mill in Cheshire 1796-1797. ‘Greg’s initial capital was accumulated through profits in transatlantic trade, which his father and uncle prosecuted successfully from Belfast with the Cunninghams (who also owned a slave plantation on St Vincent). Consequently, although Greg did not rely on Caribbean estate earnings to finance entry into cotton spinning, his interest in plantations formed part of a wider family engagement in commerce that included significant slave-related business.”[9]

As Tunde Obadina points out:

“The transatlantic slave trade and slavery were major elements in the emergence of capitalism in the West. As Karl Marx noted, they were as pivotal to western industrialisation as the new machinery and financial systems. Slavery gave value to the colonies in the New World, which were crucial in the development of international trade. Trinidadian historian Eric Williams showed in his well-researched book Capitalism and Slavery, that the slave trade and slavery helped to make England the workshop of the world. Profit from slave-worked colonies and the slave trade were major sources of capital accumulation which helped finance the industrial revolution. The transportation of slaves transformed British seaport areas into booming centres. One Englishman calling himself ‘A Genuine “Dicky Sam”, had no doubt about the link between the slave trade and prosperity of seaport city of Liverpool:

“Like the magical wand, the traffic worked wonders; once poor, now rich; once ignoble, now great. Churches have been built and grand legacies bequeathed to all sorts of charities.”[10]

I can see the village of Flushing across the water from my home town of Falmouth in Cornwall. Walking through the pretty village has taken on another dimension, one that’s always been there but hidden, an uncomfortable truth. Where the wealth came from to make it happen, the houses, the affluence, built from the wealth created by enslaved Africans.

[1] Connie Marks in Black History Bootleg

[2] Granville Sharpe was a tireless campaigner against treating people as property, chattels – see Spartacus Education.

[3] Barbados Slave Code – Wikipedia and Black and British: A Forgotten History pages 69 and 70

[4] Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in Wikipedia – 50,000 indentured labourers sent to the ‘New World’, a choice between that or prison.

[5] European wars of religion in Wikipedia. These were bloody. Just one of these wars, The Thirty Year’s War killed millions of people, maybe as many as 12 million. In Ireland over 800,000 people died, 600,000 of them were Irish Catholics.

[6] See the records for Humphrey Pellew’s grandson, Edward Pellew(in Wikipedia), who famously press-ganged Joseph Antonia Emidy(Black History Bootleg) in Lisbon and left him in Falmouth in 1799. Emidy was formerly from Guinea, enslaved by the Portuguese, taught to play the violin, an ‘exquisite violinist’, and on arrival in Falmouth taught young men the violin, cello, flute and went on to lead the Truro Philharmonic Orchestra.

[7] A Guide to the History of Maryland 2007 and Old Falmouth by Susan Gay 1903 p122

[8] When will Britain face up to its crimes against humanity? By Kris Manjapra in the Guardian 29th March 2018

[9] Legacies of British Slave Ownership University College London database Samuel Gregand from the British Heritage siteHistory of the Cotton IndustryandTextile Manufacture during the British Industrial Revolutionin Wikipedia

[10] Liverpool and slavery: an historical account of the Liverpool-African 1884 Liverpool, A. Bowker & Son and Tunde Obadina in his article Slave trade: a root of contemporary African Crisis in 2000 and found in the web archives. Obadina has written 3 books: Poverty And Economic Issues – Africa Progress and Problems; Population and Overcrowding – Africa Progress and Problems; The Making Of Modern Africa – Africa Progress and Problems

There are two implications of the chattelisation of Africans: (1) the invention of the white race, and (2) the commodification of the African. In the first instance, out of a heterogeneous group of Europeans who did not claim to be of the same race, and …. did not perceive themselves in a common way, there was invented …. a new reality, ‘the white race’. What the slavers knew that they had in common was that they were not black. So long as they could not find any African in their ancestry they could become a part of this new creation, a formation of white people who were a reaction to the blackness of the enslaved Africans. This was an all-class formation, a white person could emerge from any class and be considered more privileged than a black from any class, even if one observed that the black, for example, was a descendant of African royalty.

This is one of a series of blogs this week for the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade on 25 March

In his lecture given for International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition (held on 23 August) in 2007, Dr Molefi Kete Asante provides a brilliant analysis of how the ‘Black’ and ‘White’ races were created. This lecture was given for the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, which is on 23 August.

Slavery Remembrance Day memorial lecture 2007

Transcript of the Slavery Remembrance Day memorial lecture at Liverpool Town Hall, 21 August 2007. The lecture was given by Dr Molefi Kete Asante, a distinguished author, most recently of ‘The History of Africa’, and professor in the department of African-American Studies at Temple University, USA.

In the lecture Dr Asante looked at the motivations and beliefs behind the transatlantic slave trade.


Whenever I am in the city of Liverpool I feel quite connected to it like I am in an American city, a city with familiar images, histories, and dynamics. In many ways it is like Charleston, Savannah, Baltimore, and my own city, Philadelphia. Of course the link is truly historical but Liverpool has a visceral impact on me, a descendant of enslaved Africans whose ancestry goes to Sudan and Nigeria. I will never know if the ships that took my ancestors to the Americas were built and outfitted here at the Mersey.

Nevertheless I am honoured to be able to give the inaugural lecture for the new International Slavery Museum in this city so intimate with the history of slavery and its abolition. Voices and faces that sent their grand goodbyes to sailors and soldiers as they boarded vessels that would take them to Africa and the Caribbean must haunt the inner chambers of old buildings on some of these ancient streets.

I will now raise another voice, a voice crying from the wilderness, a voice seeking to make sense out of what was senseless. How ironic that a descendant of captured Africans stands now in this place to speak of the awful horror for which this city and nation was one hub.

The degradation of slavery

Slavery is not a passé subject although it has an ancient history. Modern countries in Africa, Asia, and the Americas still suffer from relentless and peculiar forms of human bondage, whether it is the Saudi Arabian businessman who holds a Filipino against her will or an American who employs a Mexican and works him for endless hours without relief knowing that the Mexican without legal papers will not report abuses for fear of deportation. In these cases, of course, we have individuals willing to “sell” their labour for food and shelter. There are severe situations of labour stress in economies like China and India where people are forced to work in horrible conditions for little pay. They are often taken advantage of but it is not the same as the slavery that uprooted millions of Africans.

Slavery is a pernicious activity. It was not outlawed in Saudi Arabia until l963 and in Mauritania until l980. Even now in 2007 we still hear and read of cases of human slavery in Sudan and Mauritania. What is it about societies that support and encourage the enslavement of people deemed infidels, inferiors, pagans, or just workers? It is often true today as it was true from the 15th to the l9th centuries that the dissonance between personal greed and personal morality overwhelms the situation. Greed tends to win out. Obviously there is fundamental hypocrisy in all attempts to degrade other humans as less than one’s self. What could be any more revealing than the European whites in America who declared for their own independent rights while they held in bondage more than 100,000 Africans?

Contradictions of the American Patriots in the 18th century

Thomas Jefferson went so far as to pledge his fortune, which included nearly two hundred enslaved Africans, in support of the belief that all men, except Africans, are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This remarkable ability to erase humans, who were considered inferior except when Jefferson took the young black teenager Sally Hemings to his bed, is nothing short of an amazing moral contradiction. Slave-holding founders of the American ideal of liberty based their own drive for independence on high-sounding words and doctrines that they denied to the humans they held in bondage.

Even today one asks, “How could the most beautiful words of liberty be uttered by those who prosecuted the most heinous of crimes against Africans?” Of course, this contradiction did not escape the English Loyalist Governor Thomas Hutchinson who observed that the there seemed to be;

“some discrepancy between the declaration that all men are created equal and the practice of depriving more than a hundred thousand Africans of their rights to liberty.”

The Englishman Thomas Day said it was truly;

“something ridiculous in nature to see an American Patriot signing resolutions of independence with one hand while holding a whip over enslaved Africans with the other” (Wallace, 2006).

The thread that held these contradictions together was the acceptance of the idea that Africans were chattel, property. By the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the English Colonies of North America had experienced more than one hundred years of steady indoctrination in the legal idea that Africans were chattel and on the moral idea that Africans had no rights to life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness that whites had to respect.

Dehumanisation of Africans

Thus, the origin of race and racism in the seventeenth century became a basis for categories of subordination and hegemony. Although today we are aware that the race myth is problematic the European colonists and slave traders of the 17th and 18th centuries were sure that there were genetic, and biological differences that constituted whites as superior beings to blacks. Thus, what whites were constructing was something more sinister than ritualistic racial bigotry; they created an oppressive systematic form of dehumanisation of Africans. One might claim that the leading opinion-makers, philosophers, and theologians of the European enslavers organised the category of blackness as property value. We Africans were, in effect, without soul, spirit, emotions, desires, and rights. Chattel could have neither mind nor spirit.

Georg Hegel had argued in the 18th century that spirit was the leading national characteristic because it contained the past and the future in a pregnant moment of the present. All people had spirit, emotion, and desires. Of course, the continental European ideas of Hegel and the subsequent notions of Marx played a role in the articulation of the property idea though ostensibly not about black people. Hegel was the philosopher of importance in Germany during Marx’s youth. Almost all of the universities taught the Hegelian idea of historical development and Marx soon gave up legal studies to pursue philosophy so enamoured was he of the Hegelian devotion to history. In fact, Hegel believed that each period in a nation’s history had its own leading characteristic that included ideas that preceded it as well as being pregnant with ideas that would succeed it. Hegel was able to advance the notion that world history was nothing more than the self-realization of the Absolute, a personification of the world-self.

Marx, many years later would argue that it was not ideas or national personalities that ruled history but the economic conditions of human lives, and that all alienation is economic and social not spiritual or metaphysical. Since slaveholders owned enslaved people these people, who were not human in the sense of rights and aspirations, according to the whites, were simply means of production and capital accumulation. We could have been robots as far as the slaveholders were concerned.

Actually the enslavement was something far more brutally inhuman in its end result because although Africans were defined legally as chattel; Africans could be hurt physically and mentally. One has to understand that the enslaved Africans were not labourers but slaves and slaves in the mind of the capitalists-colonialists were less, much less than labourers. We were, in fact, nothing but chattel. Our alienation was deeper than any social or economic conditions could render humans; we were, in the minds of some whites, sub-human. There is the moral and ethical problem of our situation during the enslavement. Chattel produced chattel. Humans defined as chattel made products and created wealth that is directly linked to the present condition of status in the West.

The impact of the slave trade on British industry

Let me add here the sentiment of Eric Williams in Capitalism and Slavery that the triangular trade stimulated British industry. In fact, Africans, who were not kidnapped, were often purchased with goods manufactured in Britain. Because of British dominance on the seas, Africans were largely transported on British ships. The sugar, cotton, molasses and indigo produced in the Americas by Africans created new British industries. Furthermore, the maintenance of the plantation system, including owners and the enslaved, produced new markets for British companies.

According to Eric Williams by the middle of the 18th century there was hardly any British town of any size that was not in some way connected to the slave trade or colonial rule. Thus, the accumulation of capital in England that helped to fuel the Industrial Revolution was made on the back of the trade. As enslaved Africans made the sugar colonies the sweetest prizes of imperialism in the Caribbean, the Africans in the American South made cotton king of the realm in Manchester. My point is that there is a direct line from the past to today.

A better understanding of chattel slavery

Various forms of human bondage still exist in our world today. As horrendous as they seem to us in our modern sensibilities they are nothing compared to the massive holocaust that struck the African continent during the great disaster called the European slave trade. This search for wealth was equivalent to the madness of a gold rush; it was the iconic capitalist venture of its era, just as information technology might be today. If a European person was not in the game, he or she felt that they were missing out on an opportunity for great wealth. Given the strength of the idea that Africans were property, chattel, that could bring great wealth some Europeans dubbed Africans, ‘Black Gold’.

Let us see now if we can shed more light on the meaning and processing of the term chattel slavery. This term is at the very core of the debasement of Africans that accompanied this massive transfer of people against their wills from one continent to another. Chattel slavery has been rudely misunderstood, treated almost gingerly like it was some decent term to describe a quaint practice that was acceptable to high society.

The demand-for-labour theory

There are reasons for the way chattel has been understood or misunderstood by contemporary society. In the first place, there is this belief that the forced migration of Africans to the Americas and Caribbean was simply the outgrowth of a demand for labour on the part of an expanding Western economy. The theory is that the population decimation of the native peoples in the Americas and Caribbean led to a more intense demand for labour for the production of goods and metals. Labour, of course, is one thing; chattel slavery and entirely different thing.

Thus from the 15th to the 19th century the colonizing empires led by Portugal and Spain, but eventually being dominated by the Dutch and English, found an overwhelming demand for labour that could not be satisfied by the ordinary settlement of European colonists. They were unable to meet the demands of the commercial-agricultural and mineral production.

Although by 1650 there were 800,000 white settlers in the Americas and Caribbean (Rosenblat, l954) the demand for labour persisted and was coexistent with the requirements for larger profits. The whites exploited the native peoples eliminating them at a horrendous rate through work, disease, and sport. Ultimately what this situation led to was a demand for even more labour as Africans were kidnapped, captured, and bargained for on the coast of Africa and transported to areas that became Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Guatemala, Nicaragua, all of the major islands and many of the minor islands in the Caribbean, Mexico and the United States. Such massive removal of Africans from Africa set the foundation for the extensive African Diaspora. Despite the risks to themselves and their human cargo, the captains of the ships believed that their activities would increase their wealth. So they did it without thought for themselves and certainly with little thought for the lives of Africans whose suffering during the Middle Passage, that horrendous crossing between Africa and America, has been described by numerous writers (Asante, 2007).

According to the demand-for-labour theory, because Europeans, with the exception of some northern Europeans, did not migrate in high enough numbers due to the cost of transportation and resettlement, the only way that the colonies could survive was to turn to the enslavement of Africans. While slavery was not unknown in Europe it is safe to say that it was more common in Eastern and Southern Europe than it was in Northern Europe prior to the 16th century. The Iberian peninsula actively practiced slavery during this time but by the 15th century even in Spain there was a waning of the enslavement of Arabs, Moors, Jews, Berbers and Slavs. Africa was relatively unexploited; there had been religious enslavement, the Arab slave trade, prior to the 16th century, but there was no culture of slavery in Africa, and no chattel slavery.

The difference between slavery and serfdom

The English word slave comes from the Middle English sclave which originates in the Old French esclave, which can be found in the Medieval Latin sclavus and this term is related to the Greek sklabos, from sklabenoi, Slavs, of Slavic origin. Now this word sklabenoi is closely linked to the Old Russian Slovene. It is thought that the contemporary word slave is directly related to the Slavic people, many of whom were sold into slavery.

I think that I should point out that Europe also practiced indentureship and serfdom. Neither of these forms of service, one with a time period attached to it, and the other with land attached to it, could be compared to the chattel slavery of Africans.

Serfdom is not the same as slavery. Sometimes this is confused in the minds of the contemporary person. The current usage of the term chattel slavery is not synonymous with serfdom. They have a fundamental difference that brings me closer to my main point.

European serfs were considered to have rights because they were human beings. Enslaved Africans were people who had neither rights nor freedom of movement, and were not paid for their labour because they were seen as ‘things’. Aside from food and shelter the enslaver had no responsibility to the enslaved, but would allow the enslaved no space to have responsibility for himself or herself.

Now let us turn the screws a little bit tighter on chattel. One reason I insist on speaking of the enslavement of Africans as chattel slavery rather than slavery is because in the English language it is possible to confuse a certain idea of servitude with slavery. An African who was enslaved had no personal or private rights and was expressly the property of another person to be held, used, or abused as the owner saw fit. Imagine the hell of this predicament and you are on the edge of the nightmare of chattel slavery.

Events contributing to the ideological foundation of chattel slavery

Two events in the British occupied areas of the Caribbean and the Americas must be seen as contributing to the ideological foundation of chattel slavery. The first event was in Barbados and the second was in South Carolina. Slavery was established in Barbados in l636 but it would take nearly thirty more years for the colonists to refine their legal basis. Indeed the Barbadian Slave Code of 1661 was the first code establishing the English legal base for slavery in the Caribbean. It was adopted by the American colony of South Carolina in l696 introducing the basic guidelines for slavery in British North America. Ten years earlier in l686 South Carolina had established a slave’s position as freehold property which meant that such individual as property could not be moved or sold from the estate. This was similar to serfdom in medieval Europe. However, by the time South Carolina adopted the ideas of the Barbadian Slave Code the African had been degraded to chattel giving the enslaver absolute control and absolute ownership. Actually the South Carolina law meant that enslaved Africans, Native Americans, and mulattoes could be bought and sold like any property and the condition of their children would also remain that of the enslaved. In a more refined ideological sense, chattel kept producing chattel, even when it was one human giving birth to another.

Virginia had made its own law in l662 creating the status of chattel for Africans providing that they were slaves for life and that their condition as slaves was transmitted to their posterity. Supposedly the slave status passed to descendants through the mother as in the Virginia 1662 statute that read as follows:

“All children born in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother” (Hening, l819, 3:252).

However, the colony of Maryland provided in 1664:

“That whatsoever free-born English woman shall intermarry with any slave shall serve the master of such slave during the life of her husband; and that all the issue of such free-born women, so married shall be slaves as their fathers were.”

So in some cases the condition of the mother, if she were white and free-born, was changed to one of enslavement so that the children would continue to be enslaved. They would, of course, take the condition of the father and be chattel as well. I think what you can see is that a game was being played here. The enslavers knew that Africans were human and knew that a white could be married to an African or have children by an African woman, but to maintain the ideological subterfuge these situations had to be redefined inside of the slave code itself. A white woman could become by virtue of her marriage to a black man, black herself. However, a white man who had children by a black woman remained triumphantly white, although his children were chattel.

But where does this idea of ownership of a person begin?

The status of chattel slaves

The word ‘chattel’ is akin to the word ‘cattle’ and in fact both words share a common origin in Medieval Latin and Old French. The word capital comes from the same root.

Chattel slavery means that one person has total ownership of another. There are two basic forms of chattel, domestic chattel, with menial household duties and productive chattel, working in the fields or mines. Those closest to the enslaver by virtue of space were the domestics and they were usually accorded a higher status in slave society. But to say higher status is not to say much when the idea of chattel slavery was that the human was not a human but a thing. I do not say that the human was dehumanized because I do not hold that such is possible, but what is possible is to reduce another person in your own mind to the level of a cow, dog, cat, or chair. This is the meaning of chattel. As you would not consult your dog, you would not consult a chattel slave. As you would not concern yourself with the comfort of a tool, a plough or a hammer, you would not concern yourself with an enslaved African’s comfort. What is chattel is not human in the mind of the enslaver. A chattel could not have protection under law although there were enough codes to regulate the use of the enslaved.

Laws were enacted to strip the enslaved of all protection of law. There was hardly any restraint on the enslaver’s will, lust, and physical force. If a white person murdered an enslaved person it was only a misdemeanour punishable by a small fine, sort of a nuisance tax. An enslaved person could only attack a white person in defence of his own enslaver’s life. Africans were executed for plotting their own freedom, for burning corn in the fields or stacks of rice or teaching reading and writing to another African.

The Negro Act of 1740 in South Carolina also established death for teaching another African “the knowledge of any poisonous root, plant, or herb.” Since Africans were chattel laws had to be passed to insist that Africans be dressed. Some enslavers refused to clothe the enslaved. This is one of the dubious achievements of the Barbadian Slave Code. Enslavers complained but they had to dress their slaves plus it was considered quite erotic to see well-developed young African men and women walking around in the nude. But if chattel had to be dressed, what kind of fabric had to be used. The law said that slaves could not dress “above the condition of slaves” and that their clothes could only be made from a list of coarse fabrics. Furthermore, since Africans were chattel there was no reason for them to assemble. Indeed, those Africans in violation of these provisions were subject to flogging.

Thus, Africans who had been brought to the slave colonies during the 16th century had uncertain legal status. Some were even considered indentured servants; others could own slaves themselves. However, by the middle of the 17th century Africans who entered the Caribbean and the Americas were firmly established as chattel property.

The Law of the Admiralty

European capitalism and the European slave trade were the twin engines of world dominance from the late 1400s through the second half of the 20th century. The fact of the matter was that while labour was necessary for the sugar, tobacco, and cotton plantations, slave labour was unnecessary, except if one wanted to have excessive profits, greed without limits. In the process human beings from Africa were trampled under foot and called chattel, one more piece of property to go with the real estate, firearms, and textiles that became keys to the triangular trade. No wonder it was an accepted practice for European sea captains on the way from Africa to the Americas to throw their human cargo overboard if they observed that they were low on food or potable water.

The British admiralty made the British Isles not only the master of the sea but also the master of the slave trade. One might reasonably argue that the Law of the Admiralty, often called Maritime Law, figured in the legal definitions used in the Barbadian Slave Code. There was some legitimacy or, at least, slave owners assumed legitimacy when it came to their plantations in Barbados.

Since the Law of the Admiralty relates to events happening on the sea or in regard to the spoils of war, such as capture, rebellion or mutiny and property, those who landed their vessels in the Caribbean or in the Americas took the law into their own hands. In fact, I believe that the notion of command enforcement to maintain discipline on a ship was transferred to land.

Transferring Maritime Law onto land

There were two aspects to this law: (1) how to control the crew in the middle of the sea, and (2) how to control goods, prizes, property, real and personal. Of course, since we are talking about a landed situation in Barbados the idea of punishment was also included when it came to the enslaved Africans. We have rarely looked at chattel within the context of Maritime Law that involves navigation and commerce, and yet surely the Law of the Admiralty that obtained on the sea often spilled over to the land.

Defined as ‘things’ we Africans had no rights either on the sea or on land; we were without any protection although the captains of the ships became essentially the masters of all they surveyed. When one thinks of the fact that, to a large degree, Admiralty Law emerged out of the difficult conditions of sea-faring where the crew had no right to privacy, to trial by jury, or anything else considered rights, it is easy to see how this legacy from Corpus Juris Civilis of Justinian influenced the creation of rules, laws governing the treatment of Africans. Privileges existed by the will of the captain; there could be no rights under this type of jurisdiction. The only response to this type of situation by an aggrieved or group of aggrieved was to mutiny, that is, to rebel against the privileged position of the Captain. This was usually considered reason enough for execution if the mutiny failed. The history of rebellions of Africans in the Americas is long, bloody, and often heroic as in the cases of Yanga of Mexico, Nat Turner of the United States, Nanny of Jamaica, and Zumba of Brazil.

The implications of the chattelisation of Africans

There are two implications of the chattelisation of Africans: (1) the invention of the white race, and (2) the commodification of the African. In the first instance, out of a heterogeneous group of Europeans who did not claim to be of the same race, and as Smedley understood, did not perceive themselves in a common way, there was invented, Allen argued, a new reality, “the white race” (Smedley, 1999; Allen, 1997). What the slavers knew that they had in common was that they were not black. So long as they could not find any African in their ancestry they could become a part of this new creation, a formation of white people who were a reaction to the blackness of the enslaved Africans. This was an all-class formation, a white person could emerge from any class and be considered more privileged than a black from any class, even if one observed that the black, for example, was a descendant of African royalty.

But Africans were troublesome chattel, a fact that made a lie of the idea that we were not human and could not think. In many ways enslaved Africans assaulted the system of enslavement and sought to bring the system down.

Of course, in recent years what we have now seen is that whiteness has become a property in the same racist societies that gave us blacks as chattel property (Feagin, 1997). There is a great difference between the two forms of property, however. In the case of the property rights of whiteness one is speaking of privilege based on the acquisition of whiteness. In the United States there was a time when only English, German, and Scandinavian were whites. Over the centuries Italians, Irish, Hungarians, Jews, and Turks have become white, meaning essentially that they have participated in the privilege structure of a racist society.

On the other hand, the commodification of Africans established a pattern that would become the fundamental method of transferring wealth in a capitalist society. Who could accumulate wealth by dispossessing Africans? The whites could do it because they had acquired the privilege of whiteness regardless of their origins by virtue of the chattelisation of Africans. Thus, accumulation by dispossession became one of the principal ways Africans in the United States were systematically constrained and restrained, economically, socially, and psychologically.

Vast wealth from the European slave trade fuelled the British economy at the same time that Africans were being reduced to things. A commodity could have no rights, no feeling, no sentiments, no religion, and no thoughts. While it is good and decent that this year Britain celebrates the bicentennial of the British abolition of the slave trade by marking the end of slavery with stamps, exhibitions, speeches, and memorial services, one still asks, if slavery was wrong, irreligious, and immoral in l807, why not in 1707 or 1657?

One cannot truly see the value of abolition without discovering what it was that was abolished. Prior to 1807 the British Parliament passed numerous laws and regulations to encourage and support the trade in human beings. Yes, of course, one could argue that this was before the giants of abolition really transformed public opinion. Nevertheless, one cannot forget, even if one wanted to, that here in Liverpool the economy thrived on the building of slave ships and the transport of Africans from the continent to the Americas. Nothing is more authentic at this moment than the recognition that a great wrong was done and that Liverpool stood in the centre of the chaos. However, today with the new museum dedicated to telling the story of slavery Liverpool has leaped ahead of other cities in dealing with its troublesome past. By doing so, the people of this city and this region have gone a long way toward repairing the damage that was done by the busy slavers (Asante, 2003). Forward Ever! Backwards Never!

Further readings

  • Allen, T. The Invention of the White Race. New York: Verson, 1997
  • Asante, Molefi Kete. Erasing Racism. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2003
  • Asante, Molefi Kete, The History of Africa. London: Routledge, 2007
  • Feagin, Joseph. Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations. New York: Routledge, 1997
  • Harris, C. I. Whiteness as Property. Harvard Law Review, l06: l707-1791
  • Hening, William Waller. The Statutes at Large, Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia from the Frist Session of the Legislature in the Year 1619. 13 volumes. Richmond: W. Gray Printers, l819. 3:252
  • Rosenblat, Angel. La poblacion indignes y el mestizaje en America. Vol. 1, Buenos Aires, l954
  • Smedley, Audrey. Race in North America: Origin and Evolution of a Worldview. Boulder: Westview, 1999
  • Wallace, Elizabeth Kowaleski. The British Slave Trade and Public Memory. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006

Dr Molefi Kete Asante

Dr Molefi Kete Asante is the most published scholar of African descent. His 65 books include ‘The History of Africa: The Quest for Eternal Harmony’, ‘An Afrocentric Manifesto’ and ‘African American History: A Journey of Liberation’.

Picture credit

The photograph at the top of this page shows Dr Molefi Kete Asante © Dr Molefi Kete Asante.