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ColorLines - August 27, 2020

At the time of the Yes!/Colorlines Black Lives Matter publication, there have been close to 70 days of ongoing national and global protests against police killings and anti-Black racism since the police killing of George Floyd on May 25.

Yet, even with protesters in the streets daily, police killings of unarmed Black people have continued.

Some folks have asked, “What does protest ever get us?” Many have said, “Rioting never solves anything.” And still, others have declared, “Marching and protesting are outdated and don’t work if they ever did.”

But they do.

Protest as an act of resistance to oppression is a staple of American culture, the very founding of the United States is connected to protest, which exists in myriad demonstrations.

Here are the receipts.

The Beginning

In 1767, the British government passed the Townshend Acts, which placed high tariffs on many British imported goods. Almost immediately, in the British North American colony of Massachusetts, there were violent protests against the acts. Numerous riots broke out.

From 1768-1770, there were constant protests and street battles between the American colonists and British soldiers culminating on March 5, 1770 when British soldiers fired on a crowd of 300, hitting 11 protesters, and killing five, including a Black man named Crispus Attucks. What came to be known as the Boston Massacre, and the later protest—the Boston Tea Party—are often cited as the beginnings of the movement for the American Revolution, which brought about the independence of the 13 colonies from Great Britain, and the establishment of the United States of America. But it did not lead to independence or freedom for Black people.

However, before Crispus Attucks joined the protest at the Custom House on King Street in 1770, Black people had been protesting and resisting oppression by British, French, Portuguese, Dutch, and Spanish citizens who were the perpetrators of the Transatlantic Slave Trade—the largest forced migration in history.

Beginning in the mid-1400s, the capturing, trading, warehousing, and enslaving of Africans by Europeans as well as the transporting, selling, and buying of these enslaved people was aggressively protested by African people. Many know of the Amistad mutiny and the Nat Turner rebellion against slavery, but the resistance to slavery did not begin on the plantations or the slave ships.

It began on the continent of Africa.

Much discussion has centered the role Africans, particularly African rulers, played in the slave trade, yet there has been less discussion about the fight West Africans waged against slavery. Villagers and townspeople built fortifications and set up warning systems to prevent slave raids by both Europeans and slave traders from enemy ethnic groups.

King Mvemba, also known as King Afonso I, of the Kingdom of Kongo, in the 1500s, began writing letters to the Portuguese condemning the slave trade in his kingdom. These anti-slavery writings of an African ruler are the prototype for the anti-slavery newspapers of the 1800s in the United States.

In the 1600s, after failed negotiations and treaties with the Portuguese, Queen Nzinga Mbande of the African kingdoms of Ndongo and Matamba (present-day Angola), went to war with Portugal, largely over slave trading in her kingdom.

She not only led her soldiers in battle, but also fought a guerrilla war using trenches and hidden caves, and accumulated supplies to prepare the people for a long war. She decreed her kingdom a safe haven for people escaping enslavement by the European colonists. Queen Nzinga is just one example of the fact that Black women have always been at the forefront of the struggle against oppression.

Even after being captured and forced onto slave ships for the Middle Passage, enslaved Africans resisted by organizing hunger strikes and rebellions. Many committed suicide by jumping overboard. About one-tenth of all slave ship voyages had major slave revolts. Many more experienced other forms of resistance.

Slave ship rebellions were so costly for European slave traders that many began to avoid certain regions known for revolts, such as Upper Guinea. Subsequently, there would be fewer enslaved Africans from this region.

When Africans were brought into the “New World”—the Caribbean, Brazil, Central America, and what would become the United States and Canada, they resisted on every level. They broke the tools, burned the crops, refused to work, worked slowly on purpose, made fun of the slaveowners, poisoned the food, and organized slave rebellions. ...
Read full commentary at Common Dreams