Slavery

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True to its origins, this year’s Juneteenth combines incremental victory and continued struggle.

A woman wipes away tears after the names of Black people killed by police were read while marching to mark the Juneteenth holiday June 19, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Juneteenth is now an official federal holiday, with legislation creating “Juneteenth National Independence Day” having passed in the House and Senate and signed into law by President Joe Biden. This victory is hard-won, the fruit of decades of activism from people like 94-year-old Opal Lee, who once walked from Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C., (at 89!) to push for federal recognition.

So finally, the U.S. is getting a national holiday dedicated to the emancipation of our enslaved ancestors. But it’s happening amid a concerted right-wing effort…


The roots of name discrimination are an extension of the harms caused by slavery and colonialism

Yewande Biala attends the Paul Costelloe front row during London Fashion Week September 2019.

For the Urhobo people of southern Nigeria, like many Africans across the continent, names are a serious matter. Traditionally, an Urhobo child is given a name according to their family’s desire for who they might become, the hope being that a child will live up to the likeness of what their name means. Today, Urhobo children are often named by one of their parents, but historically it was common for a grandparent or an older relative to name a child in keeping with the gerontocratic culture.

In my family, the story goes that when my maternal grandfather was born, his…


Imagine if you learned that photographs of your enslaved ancestors had been rediscovered in a museum at Harvard. Then imagine how you would feel if someone told you that you have no right to those photographs.

Such is the plight of Tamara Lanier, who has taken on the Ivy League behemoth to secure the rights to the photos, which languished in a drawer out of sight and away from the public eye for years. The daguerreotypes depict women and men, breasts and genitalia exposed, their haunting stares a riveting testament to the degradation our ancestors endured during slavery’s shameful reign.


Monáe explains why she took on this tough role and how Black women can care for ourselves amid trauma

Janelle Monáe in ‘Antebellum.’
Janelle Monáe in ‘Antebellum.’
Janelle Monáe in ‘Antebellum.’ Photos: Lionsgate

Making Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz’s Antebellum was always going to be a challenge. Films set in the plantation South press against open wounds that are still present in the 21st century. The film follows Veronica Henley (Janelle Monáe), a race scholar who finds herself trapped in a horrific dream where she lives out her days as an enslaved woman named Eden living in the Civil War period.

Haunting and brutal scenes from the period are juxtaposed against the picturesque Southern landscapes in direct contrast to the late 19th century’s reality.


I want that blood money back

Photo of an Emancipation Day march in London, one woman carries a sign that says “WE WALK WITH OUR ANCESTORS.”
Photo of an Emancipation Day march in London, one woman carries a sign that says “WE WALK WITH OUR ANCESTORS.”
Hundreds of people of African descent took part in the Afrikan Emancipation Day Reparations March on August 01, 2017 in London, England. Photo: Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Im/Barcroft Media/Getty Images

Emancipation Day, or August 1, is to Black Britons what Juneteenth is to African Americans, but the difference is that just five years ago, we finally became “free” after paying off the national debt incurred for the release of our bondage. It wasn’t until 2015 that British citizens, including those descended from enslaved Africans, finished paying off the $25.7 million (an estimated $21.6 billion in 2020 dollars) our government borrowed from the treasury to pay 46,000 British slave owners. They profited from the loss of their human property in 1833, and my direct family and I were taxed to pay…


My whole life, my mother told me, ‘Always remember — you’re a Madison. You come from African slaves and a president.’

An illustration of an open locket that has James Madison’s portrait scratched out on one side, and Coreen, one the other.
An illustration of an open locket that has James Madison’s portrait scratched out on one side, and Coreen, one the other.
Illustration: Sophia Zarders

President Madison did not have children with his wife, Dolley. Leading scholars believe he was impotent, infertile, or both. But the stories I have heard since my childhood say that James Madison, a Founding Father of our nation, was also a founding father of my African American family.

In my childhood, whenever I whined or squirmed or got into trouble, my mother repeated the refrain: “Always remember — you’re a Madison. You come from African slaves and a president.” This is my family’s credo, the statement that has guided us for 200 years.

Though many in our family have heard…


Our ancestors lived it so our children can learn it

A photo of a young black boy with his hand raised at his desk.
A photo of a young black boy with his hand raised at his desk.
Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

There will never be an easy way to introduce the painful aspects of Black history to a Black child in America. On a cold day in February, I headed to my four-year-old son’s preschool to pick him up. Unbeknownst to me, his life had changed that day. Usually, he would run to me and greet me with a huge hug and smile. This day he ran to me, trembling and sobbing. He fell into my arms, his voice barely audible as he whispered, “I’m scared of the Underground Railroad.”

Sobbing uncontrollably, he recapped what his class learned that day: a…


I traversed her journey to freedom in order to make sense of both the past and present

Photos courtesy of the author.

In the summer of 2017 I found myself in the Bucktown Village Store in Maryland, the same store where Harriet Tubman almost died. The history goes that when asked to help restrain an enslaved man resisting his overseer, Tubman refused. The overseer then threw a two-pound metal weight at the man, but struck Tubman instead. The force of that blow cracked her skull, placing her in a feverish coma for weeks. Both her mother and master were unsure if she’d live.

Yet according to Tubman, that injury gifted her with powerful visions that helped her on her numerous journeys along…


Unearthing her origins required keen detective work and diligence

Henry Taylor, Wilmington, North Carolina, circa 1875.

SAY MY NAME! To honor the memory, sacrifice, and very being of our ancestors, we say their name. If we don’t know their name, they may call to us to seek it out.

Popcorn ready, I was on the couch, feet up and glued to the TV. Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s senior adviser, was being featured on Finding Your Roots, the PBS TV show that helps celebrities explore their family history. I was watching this particular episode because our own family drums had beaten, via the frequently used family group text, to give everyone the heads-up to tune in because…


Illustration: Geneva Bowers

Henrietta Wood’s brave fight predates the current debate over reparations

Picture this: A free Black woman is being transported along in a carriage towards Covington, Kentucky in April of 1853. She had been working for a Ms. Rebecca Boyd in Cincinnati for three months. This Black woman is not certain of the purpose of the trip. Maybe it was so that Ms. Boyd could see about some money she was owed. Maybe not. The ride between Cincinnati and Covington was geographically and culturally significant. Between these two towns was the Ohio River, also known as “River Jordan,” the aqueous portal to freedom for enslaved Blacks. It was also the bridge…

ZORA

Bold, yet refined. A publication from Medium for Black women.

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