The African Americans

Search for Truth and Knowledge

By Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Jr.


Part Sixteen: African American Resistance

Resistance has been a central theme in African American history. Resistance and rebellion did not just burst forth during the 1960's with the Civil Rights Movement of the South, or the Black Power Movement of the North. It is deeply rooted in the African and American past. When Africans were torn from their homes in the interior and along the coast to be sold into slavery, they resisted and many were killed. During the Middle Passage across the Atlantic Ocean to the slave plantations of the New World, African captives resisted, often rebelled from the holds of ships. After arrival in the New World, the resistance took various forms but it continued and forced the slave owners to build an elaborate system of state and individual controls in order to maintain slavery.

One of the most interesting aspects of the African American history is the suppressed story of those men and women who resisted slavery and oppression in any way possible. They resisted capture on the soil of Africa during the raiding for captives to carry into slavery in the Americas. They led the mutinies on the slave ships during the Middle Passage between Africa and the New World. During slavery, they ran away and became fugitives in the North or Maroons hiding in the hills of Caribbean Islands or Brazil. They organized the ultimate resistance which was to plan and execute a slave revolt and be willing to give one's life to obtain your liberty and that of your people.

Fugitive-slave narratives and remembrances by the freedmen reveal the personal, family, and religious lives of African Americans. These accounts give vivid pictures of life under slavery and help explain why African Americans resisted and rebelled against slavery and continuously escaped to freedom. The life stories of former slaves like Frederick Douglass and William Wells Brown who escaped slavery are masterpieces of self-expression and social analysis. The heroic struggles of Harriet Tubman and William Still of the Underground Railroad are inspiring as are the famous rebellions on board the slave ships, such as the one led by the African, Cinque, in the Amistad Mutiny.

 

The Accommodation Tradition of Petition and Protest

The eleven Africans in the Dutch Colony of New Amsterdam who protested their oppression under indentured servitude, and petitioned for their freedom and obtained it, started a tradition of protest by African Americans that continues to exist to this day. The major pattern of response by African Americans to the America Experience in order to redress their grievances and correct abuses, has been the technique of petition and protest.

The roots of this tradition go back to the first African captives who arrived on the shores of North America in the Dutch Colony of New Amsterdam and the English Colony of Jamestown, Virginia. It has continued through the protests and petitions against slavery by Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman during the Abolition Movement before the Civil War.

It was the technique that inspired Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells just before World War I to help organize the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which became the nation's major protest organization. It reached its height after World War II during the Civil Rights Movement which was centered around the protests and petitions of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These events led to the social, political, economic and educational reforms of the second Reconstruction, featuring President Johnson's Great Society legislation.

 

The Accommodation Tradition of American Response

Just as Dr. Martin Luther King symbolized the protest of African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement after World War II and Rev. Richard Allen and Absolom Jones represented the protest after the American Revolutionary War, DuBois and Douglass were the symbols of their eras. DuBois led the protest before and after World War I. Similarly Douglass led the protests before and after the Civil War.

All of these great leaders represent the outstanding represent the outstanding petition and protest tradition within the African American community which we refer to as the Accommodation Pattern of the Cyclical Response to the American experience. All of these men confronted the forces oppressing African American people and organized petitions and protest against these injustices and demanded a redress of legitimate grievances. They did not accommodate to the injustices of the system and forces oppressing African Americans. They accommodated to the accepted rules and regulations of protest within the American system. The "rules of the game" allowed them to organize individual and massive non-violent protests and all types of court actions as well as political mobilizing to satisfy just grievances against society. The Accommodation Pattern of protest has been the most prominent feature of the African American experience from colonial time. The Separation and Rebellion Patterns have nonetheless had significant impact on America.


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