This year, 2019 marks the 400th year since the Dutch ship White Lion arrived in Jamestown in the British Colony that was to become the Commonwealth of Virginia with “20 and odd Negroes” from Africa. The arrival of these indentured enslaved Africans was the opening chapter in one of the most horrific events in human history, the holocaust of African enslavement, the MAAFA via the European slave trade. Proud African men and women from highly civilized and accomplished kingdoms and nations were savagely assaulted by European invaders bearing terrifying weapons of war previously unbeknownst to the continent–canons and guns ignited by the Chinese invention of gunpowder. Despite fierce resistance, millions of Africans would eventually be captured and taken to ports on the west coast to face the horrifying experience of being dragged through “DOORS OF NO RETURN” at Elimina Castle on the “Gold Coast”/Ghana and Goree Island in Senegal. Thus, began the creation of the Diaspora as the sons and daughters of Africa were forcibly scattered throughout the western hemisphere on board the ships of profit seeking, profit driven conquering European colonizers, hell bent on making fortunes in the “new world.”
But, this tragic conquest and “underdevelopment” of the peoples and nations of Africa and the genocidal dispossession of the indigenous people of the western hemisphere and ruthless imposition of a plantation system supported by enslaved labor, this nadir also witnessed the continuation of the heroic resistance and historic struggle/quest for the reformation, restoration/rebuilding of African communities and nations in strange/foreign regions and lands. The “African/Black Freedom Struggle” that began with resistance to the European invaders on the continent continued under the unspeakably harsh conditions of enslavement in the form of sabotage, relentless revolts, victorious escape and formation of maroon communities throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America and North America.
From the motherland to the western hemisphere the Honor Roll of the Black Freedom Struggle is replete with the names of courageous freedom fighters, institution and nation-builders: Queen Nzingha, Yaa Asantewaa, Queen Nanny, Boukman, Toussaint, Dessalines, Marie-Jean Lamartiniere, Mambo Iwa Marinet bwa-Cheche, Cinque, Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vesey, Sojourner Truth, Richard Allen, Frederick Douglass, Callie House…Unquestionably the Haitian Revolution was the highwater mark of the widespread resistance, rebellion and quest for self-determination and nationhood. The Haitian revolutionaries shattered the myth of white supremacy by defeating the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte at the height of the European slave trade. January 1, 1804 in the City of Gonaives, Jean Jacques Dessalines declared Haiti an independent nation. He further proclaimed that enslaved Africans from anywhere who set foot on Haitian soil would be granted citizenship in the first Black Republic in the world! The African drumbeat and grapevine spread the word of this magnificent feat like wildfire, sparking inspiration and hope for enslaved and oppressed Africans everywhere!
January 1st was also an important date in the United States in North America. Faced with the economic and military reality of the multifaceted insurrection and escape of enslaved Africans from plantations in the south and the militant campaign of quasi-free Blacks, President Abraham Lincoln made a calculated decision to sign an Emancipation Proclamation. This widely hailed document only “freed” enslaved Africans in those states that were actively engaged in “belligerency” against the Union. Enslaved Africans in other states remained in servitude until the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. African freedom fighters in virtually every territory colonized by the imperialist nations of Europe waged struggles to achieve “emancipation” as a basis for independence. And, these days are celebrated/commemorated accordingly.
However, declarations of emancipation or independence did not heal and repair the wounds and damages of enslavement or colonialism. In the U.S. the promise of 40 acres and a mule, reparations to begin the process of repair went unfulfilled, setting the stage for a protracted struggle against dejure and defacto segregation and various forms of oppression and control of people of African descent. In the Caribbean, in many instances European colonizers actually compensated/paid reparations to the plantation owners for the loss of their property, while leaving behind the “mess” created by centuries of enslavement and domination. On the African continent, the ravishes and “underdevelopment” of enslavement, colonialism and neo-colonialism wreaked immeasurable havoc and harm on the birth place of humankind and civilization.
But, “truth crushed to earth will rise again” – “We have come over a way that with tears has been watered … We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered…” In the face of the unrelenting machinations of the exploitative and oppressive forces of white supremacy, the resiliency gene in the DNA of Africans has enabled an uprooted, scattered, battered, abused and battle-scarred people to keep risings, to “keep on pushing” toward the restoration of the race.
Despite the massive political and economic disruption, cultural aggression and loss of untold millions of lives during the holocaust of enslavement, the MAAFA, 400 years after the arrival of enslaved Africans in Jamestown, there are now more than a billion Africans on the continent and some 213 million in the western hemisphere. As DuBois prophesized, the “color line” remains the principal barrier to full freedom and self-determination for African people. But, Dr. Martin Luther King declared that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” On the continent of Africa and in every corner of the globe, conscious Africans are proclaiming that “Black Lives Matter,” mounting resistance to oppressive systems, storming the barrier, demanding reparations, building institutions, communities and nations and bending the arc toward the restoration and revitalization of the race.
Africans in America have yet to achieve full freedom, but, as the old folks in our community used to say, “we sure ain’t what we want to be, sure ain’t what we’re going to be, but we sure ain’t what we were.” Milestone victories in Montgomery, Birmingham, Little Rock, Selma and beyond shattered the legal barrier of segregation. Today there are thousands of Black elected officials across the country – sheriffs, city council persons, mayors, state legislators, Congresspersons, Senators. And, the “hands that once picked cotton, elected the first African America President of the United States. Blacks preside over multi-billion-dollar, multi-national corporations in Capitalist America, and Black artists, athletes and entertainers have claimed to heights that were impossible… “in the days when hope unborn had died.” Africans in America have more than two trillion dollars of economic power in our Black hands; a sum that would make Black America the eighth richest nation in the world! It’s time for Africans in America and the totality of the Diaspora to rise up to help lead an African Renaissance!
2019 will be a galvanizing moment, the historical, spiritual, cultural backdrop for a powerful surge of energy propelling people of African descent to reclaim our rightful place at the forefront of human development with mother Africa, the richest continent on the face of the earth, at the center. The daughters and sons of Africa in the Diaspora, including the descendants of those who were forced through Doors of No Return, must seize this occasion as a DOOR OF RETURN TO AFRICA moment; a time for a spiritual, cultural, social and economic connection with our sisters and brothers in the motherland.
In that spirit, Rev. Dennis Dillon, Senior Pastor of the Rise Center in Brooklyn, NY and visionary proponent of Black economic development for global Black empowerment envisions a massive initiative in this historic year. In his words, “2019 must be the year when thousands of people of African descent from the Caribbean, Central and South America, the United States and Canada make their journey back to the motherland and the year that the motherland lays out the welcome mat and rolls out the red carpet to welcome her children back home. The Door of No Return must be replaced by THE DOOR OF OUR RETURN, and a decade of return must begin. A bridge must be built, the estrangement broken, and a new era embraced that endears Africans in the Americas to work in collaboration with Africans on the continent for a new and empowered Africa. Awesome!
With the blessing of H.E. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, the dynamic and visionary African Union Ambassador to the U.S. , the endorsement of the World Conference of Mayors under the leadership of Johnny Ford former Mayor of Tuskegee, Alabama and the support of the New York based Pan African Unity Dialogue and the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, the DOOR OF OUR RETURN 2019 Initiative has the potential to be a momentous undertaking. Rev. Dillon envisions a contingent of hundreds of conscious and dedicated Sojourners, business and professional leaders, entrepreneurs, elected officials, youth, faith, civil rights and human rights leaders, embarking on a spiritual, cultural and economic Pilgrimage to Ghana, Senegal, Ethiopia, Benin and Nigeria culminating with a climatic gathering in South Africa!
Up from the trials and tribulations of enslavement, colonialism, segregation, neo-colonialism, ongoing racial oppression and economic exploitation, the triumphant sons and daughters of Africa in the Diaspora must continue to rise up to finish the unfinished struggle for genuine “emancipation” and self-determination; emancipation that none but ourselves can realize; self-determination with a firm African based economic foundation that will make the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey smile from on high. 2019 will be a milestone moment in the victorious history of Africans in human history. “Up you mighty race, accomplish what you will!”
Authors Note: Persons interested in participating in the Door of Our Return 2019 Initiative should click here to provide your contact information.
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer Emeritus, York College City University of New York. His articles and essays appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com. His weekly radio show, Vantage Point can be heard Mondays 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM on WBAI, 99.5 FM, Pacifica in New York, streaming live via WBAI.org. To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org