I was brought up to believe that the law was primarily a societal practice or rule for the good of the society.
Today I read the book, “The African Americans” by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and I have revised my understanding of the law to; “Law is a rule or authority imposed by those with power over those without power.” As such, it is something to be very wary of, as it can hide monstrosities. One such monstrosity is slavery, not just the appalling ownership of other human beings, also the slavery implied in the denigration or control of any other human. No wonder the Rev. Martin Luther King called for a new dream of freedom.
This book is a solid, factual recording of the 500 years of African people in the Americas. It is not just about slavery, in fact the early stories are surprisingly about free people with African heritage who accompanied the Spanish conquistadors into the new world, such as Juan Garrido who joined the 1503 expedition to Hispaniola (Now Haiti). The author, Henry Gates shows how the desire for control, and riches, led to the suppression of others in ways that deserve to be remembered. It recounts recurrent abduction, slavery and associated denigration of over 20 million people in Africa and the New World of the Americas in a tragedy on a similar scale of the massacre of the Jews, gypsies and disabled people by the Nazis in World War Two. I had not realized the numbers and the extent of slavery.
This abuse was not isolated to white slave traders or European law. Queen Nzinga of Ndongo (now Angola) is described in this book as one of many who used slavery of her enemies to on-sell to the Portuguese, as a typical example of the fact that slavery was between slave-traders on the African coast and the Americas.
I found several of the stories personally touching, and a sense of impotent rage was burning in me for individual suffering, and for the scale and extent of the damage to human worth. It is even more disturbing that the slavery problem continues even more today, just in a differing form.
It is worth reading the book just to keep reminding ourselves of what harm slavery and its acceptance can inflict. The Law was repealed in the USA after the Civil War, but it did not change the level of authority and control over black people for over a century, indeed the book closes with alarming statistics regarding the current status of the majority of black people in the USA, despite now having a colored president.
I discovered that the book offers insights into the history of the years between the abolition of slavery to the present, and some interesting snapshots of courageous people like Rosa Parks who stood for equality in treatment for blacks and whites during the time of segregation. Rosa was arrested for being present on a bus seat allocated for whites only and her decision in 1955 was difficult. Standing up against false law is for each of us, as Rosa said in 1965; “You can’t be told what to do. You have to be motivated. You have to feel that you will not be pushed around.” Her message is still as relevant today.
There are still ‘Many Rivers to Cross’ to get acceptance between each and every human being as equal in right and in worth.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Hay House Publishing for this review. The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross
BY HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR.; DONALD YACOVONE; Hardcover