Charleston historian wants to observe the start of slavery
By BO PETERSEN
Aug. 05, 2017
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — They were kidnapped from towns in Ndongo, given Christian names such as Isabella and Anthony, chained onto cramped bunks aboard a Portuguese slave ship for an 8,000-mile trip to Mexico. The ship didn't make it.
It was plundered at sea by English pirates sailing under a Dutch flag. The pirates brought "20 and odd" of the African captives to the Jamestowne colony, where they were sold as "victualls," or supplies.
The date was August 1619, and the sale is considered the beginning of slavery as an institution in what would become the United States.
Joseph McGill doesn't think that should be forgotten.
McGill, a historian in Charleston, is working to launch a somewhat unusual recognition of the nation's slavery past — a commemoration of the start, rather than a celebration of its end. It's an observance many people might just as soon shun. But for him, history is heritage and there's no sugar-coating it.
He compares the 400-year mark to observances that include the assassination of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., in 1968.
"The fact is, slavery started. We have to make a note of that," McGill said. "We want to honor those people."
More than 12 million souls were brought as slaves to the New World. Hundreds of thousands of them came through the port of Charleston, by some estimates. The estimated value of labor by slaves in the nation from 1619 to 1865 is more than $97 trillion, compounded at 6 percent interest through 1993, according to Encyclopedia Virginia.
"This was the bedrock, the foundation of this nation. This was the workforce that made this nation great. A lot of what ails this nation today is rooted in that institution of slavery," McGill said. "If we can be more receptive to this story, maybe we can deal with the Native American story."
It's not the first somewhat unorthodox project for McGill, a National Trust for Historic Preservation officer who in 2010 launched the Slave Dwelling Project. McGill periodically sleeps for a night in an old slave or freedman's cabin, lecturing on the experiences and histories. The idea is to call attention to preserving the often neglected and collapsing structures.
For the 1619 commemoration, McGill wants to collaborate with other efforts underway. The problem is, not much else is out there yet. No organized effort is in the works in South Carolina or in other states, besides Virginia.
The National Park Service has no regional events planned, although other history-of-slavery recognitions and projects are ongoing, said spokeswomen Dawn Davis and Saudia Muwwakkil.
S.C. Parks, Recreation and Tourism has no plans, at least not yet, said spokeswoman Dawn Dawson-House. The 2019 significance is "most definitely on the radar, and Charles Towne Landing appears to be the perfect fit," she said.
Charles Towne Landing, in Charleston, is where the first slaves landed in what became South Carolina. That was in 1670, when cargo that included 22 Africans brought over from Barbados was unloaded shortly after the colony's founding.
Commemorations in the state tend to focus on events that occurred in the state, said Eric Emerson, the state's historic preservation officer with the S.C. Department of Archives and History. The logical time to acknowledge the onset of slavery here would be in 2070, he said.
In Virginia, events are planned centering on Fort Monroe, the site of Point Comfort, where Jamestowne would take root. They are part of a larger American Evolution Virginia 1619-2019 series recognizing a number of occurrences in that year that shaped the state and country.
McGill is brainstorming with Jennifer Hurst-Wender, among others. She is the director of museum operations and education for Preservation Virginia, which has worked with him in the past of Slave Dwelling Project events.
"We are in discussion about ways to collaborate with him to help galvanize observances," she said. McGill hopes to spur more observances than simply in Charleston, he said.
"We just want this event to be commemorated properly," he said. "I'm hoping folks from around this nation will be taking part in this."
Information from: The Post and Courier, http://www.postandcourier.com