Dorothy Blake Fardan: The Right of Sovereign Nations to Self Determination

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The Right of Sovereign Nations to Self Determination as Pertains to Descendants of Enslaved Africans and Indigenous Peoples in America

From Sovereignty to Chattel

The case of African captives in America is somewhat different, and perhaps more complex than the case of the Indigenous peoples native to this continent. I say "African captives" for in fact, the war against Africans captured and brought into bondage has never ended. By international law they are a people who should have had the choice of repatriation, expatriation, or remaining in the country that enslaved them at the time the US supposedly "freed" them.

The difficulty in identifying this population as a sovereign nation is related to its landless condition in the country of their bondage. There is no doubt about their sovereignty as Indigenous African people at the time of invasion and captivity on the mother continent. The Ashanti, Yoruba, people of the Gold Coast and many others, all were sovereign in their native land. But already in the slave-holding castles along the coasts of Guinea and Senegal, they were thrown together and separated from their native nations, and even more confused and alienated in the holds of slave ships.

Once in America, oceans away from their birthing nation, the captives were processed not only into bondage but into stateless people, people without a homeland. Though they did indeed have homelands, the processing was designed to sever that connection to sovereign status and cultural nativity. They were processed from African to negro; from sovereignty to chattel.

Some say it took three generations to make the negro. The first generation having memory and knowledge of self were the hardest to subdue and break in; the second generation, however, was born in slavery and twice removed from their original culture, except through oral transmission by elders in the secret recesses of their huts and gathering times. The third generation was born in slavery, thrice removed, and the umbilical cord severed in their minds. Some calculate this from 1555, their first arrival, to 1619, the American version of their first arrival. These are the 64 years lost in the history pages that in actuality were the years of processing time, "seasoning" and "ripening" the enslaved Africans, and deprogramming and reprogramming in the interests of white economic success.

The Black Holocaust began in the invasions and continues, it could be said, until this day. But the major portion of this people's destruction occurred in the first centuries of captivity and enslavement. Thousands, most say millions, died in the course of transport due to disease, slaughter of rebellious captives, broken hearts and spirits, suicide. Thousands more died beneath the lash of the slavemasters; or in the process of resistance and escape; they died of disease, grueling work, not only in cotton, but rice, tobacco and sugar. If we were to look at South America and the Caribbean, which are not the focus of this paper, we would see as early as the 1540's, thousands of enslaved Africans brought by the Spaniards to the mountain of Potosi, Bolivia, where they were forced to mine silver that would fill the coffers of Europe. The mountain was 13,680 feet high, and they perished in the altitude. They built the empire of sugar for Jewish and Gentile slavemasters in places like Barbados and Jamaica. The plantation system of Barbados became the model for American plantations. For a time, South Carolina appeared to be a replica of Barbados, with Blacks outnumbering settlers at any given time.

Unlike the agenda for the Indigenous people, the settler people and government did not plan to exterminate the enslaved Africans, but to breed them and multiply their labor power. Nevertheless, there was no concern for their personal health, emotional stability, or human condition. The loss of one was easily replaced by another in the continuous purchases made at the slave auction blocks. Supply and demand; their fate hung in the balance - chattel to be entered into ledger books, and calculated into dollars and cents.

This holocaust is estimated in the millions; some say a hundred million; a quarter million would be a conservative figure. The white settlers, their masters, were constantly concerned about the numbers of Black bodies in their midst, fearful of uprisings and rebellions. They devised heinous strategies for control and intimidation: physical instruments such as whips and neck irons; grappling hooks from which one hung; chains, and lynching ropes. There were psychological strategies of divide and conquer; destroying self-worth and self-knowing; Separating family members; white Christianity with its white image of God.

This is why it was so appropriate for Min. Farrakhan to read slaveowner Willie Lynch's speech to other slaveowners in 1712, at the historic Million Man March in October 1995. It reminded white and Black America of the devious strategies that have been in constant use over the people of African descent: separate the man from the woman; put fear in the woman for her manchild; make them trust the slaveowner more than themselves; manipulate the emotions of envy, jealousy, fear, distrust, loyalty, so that people once grounded in mutual aid and brotherly love, unity of purpose and collective economics, trust and fidelity, ancestral reverence and joyful procreation - would be reduced to self-hatred, and burdensome procreation; but worst of all, being dependant on the white master and the white God. What a tragic transformation.

The Right of Sovereign Nations to Self Determination
Part 2

Sterling Stuckey, historian, maintains that a slave culture arose out of the remnants of different tribes or nations, and a common condition generated a common culture embracing language, song, secret codes, mutual strategies that in its own way unified a people so torn apart by the devices of their oppressors.

My own research has found that it is true indeed that at the end of the Civil War, captive Africans were possibly more unified in purpose and destiny than in later times. They wanted land and they wanted self-determination. Their cries were for means to be self-sustaining. And freedmen villages proved that they could be.

Like the Indigenous Holocaust, the Black Holocaust was accompanied by legislation which would guarantee continued bondage and subjugation. The Constitution did not recognize their humanity; laws governed their coming and going; passes were needed to move from one plantation to another; mates were selected and others denied.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 facilitated slavemasters in recapturing enslaved Africans who had run away in an attempt to reach free territory, and even in picking up any Blacks they claimed to be escaping, whether they belonged to them or not. And another Supreme Court Justice delivered a landmark decision as one did with the Indigenous people: in 1856 Chief Justice Roger Taney told Dred Scott, whose case had been hung in the courts for a decade, that his claim to humanity could not over-ride the white man's claim to him as property.

The Civil War was about keeping slavery, not freeing enslaved Africans. Frederick Douglass said the war began "in the interest of slavery on both sides. The South was fighting to take slavery out of the Union, and the North was fighting to keep it in the Union. Both," he said, "despised and insulted the Negro."

It is in these crucial years at the end of the War and those immediately following, that the United States failed to respect international law and restore the stolen people's right to self-determination and repair the damage done. The Emancipation Proclamation was merely a war measure, not a legal instrument of emancipation. It simply transferred "chattel slaves" into "contraband," the name assigned them during the War, indicating they had no political status in the United States. Robert Brock views the 13th Amendment as a kind of "peace treaty", an offering from the Government to end the war against African nationals. The 13th Amendment did not "free" the enslaved Africans, he says, but in effect transferred them from private hands to those of legislative government, where their descendants to this day remain.

The former enslaved Africans or "freedmen" were never really consulted about their future after the war. During the war, many had worked land for the government and themselves once the plantation owners fled. They got a taste of independence. A meeting was held in Savannah in January 1865, between the Secretary of War Stanton, General Sherman, and representatives of the freedmen. Perhaps the only time they were consulted, they issued a strong request for land and the right to support themselves. Stanton asked if they preferred to live in an area restricted to Blacks, or be scattered among the whites. They answered, "Live by ourselves."

Four days later, General Sherman issued Field Order #15 designating certain Sea Island and inland land for Negro settlement. General Saxton of the Freedmen Bureau worked hard to establish the formerly enslaved Africans on 40-acre plots of land. Congress almost passed a bill giving final sanction to land allotments, but it was vetoed by President Andrew Johnson in 1866.

In a clever political move, the Government ratified the 14th Amendment in 1868, unilaterally making the formerly enslaved Africans citizens. Brock says Congress passed the Expatriation Act a day before, stating a person's right to expatriate himself from one government to another, knowing that by international law it could not place a new government on a people it had been at war with (enslaved). No one told the freedmen this was their opportunity to exit the country. Brock says the Government should have offered repatriation, reparation and self-determination, rather than forced citizenship.

Following the war, the settler people moved quickly to hold the freedmen in bondage through sharecropping and forced labor contracts. They interrupted and derailed Reconstruction by establishing Black Codes which would hamper voting and land ownership, as well as free movement. The Africans were still captive and headed for internal colonization, only their reservations would be the urban ghetto now called "inner city.

Having no real land base on this continent, they were in worse condition for assuming self-determination than the Indigenous Peoples, for land is the basis of nationhood and sovereignty. The 15 million acres they managed to get through purchase by 1920 dwindled to less than 4 million acres - and it continues to grow less year by year.

The pressure to assimilate into white America has been burdensome, especially when such assimilation amounts to deeper bondage and captivity in the entrails of a nation that does not really want the surplus population of a people it never intended for inclusion.

Assimilation adds up to colonial laborers with a separate system of law governing them called Civil Rights legislation, and the Federal Court system being the restricted arena for any semblance of pursuing justice. State courts never intended any form of justice for the captives. The more removed sovereignty is as an option, the more likely captivity continues, mainly in the form of incarceration, especially for the male population, since their presence in the Willie Lynch type of agenda is to be curtailed, removed and distinct from their women.

The rise of the so-called "sizable Black middle class" has all the more blurred the movement towards sovereignty and self-determination. Governmental and corporate plantations have no real loyalties to their Black workforce. Their agenda already have focused on offshore and transnational basis of operation. They will leave middle class descendants of enslaved Africans in domestic or internal colonies, just as they have the Black masses.