Jamala Rogers

Did you know the president signed the historic act for African Americans back in January 2018? Oh, I guess you didn’t hear about the 400 Years of African American History Commission Act designed to acknowledge the four centuries plus of Africans being forced into U.S. chattel slavery. And you don’t know who’s on the commission? That was all by design and part of a continuum to minimize both the harm done and the resilience in spite of it.


In August 1619, the arrival of “20 and odd” Africans at Point Comfort, VA was recorded. My people were free, world travelers w-a-a-ay before this—also recorded. But here we are, hoping that our contributions, our struggles, our resilience and our aspirations will be acknowledged and celebrated in 2019.


The Commission Act, originally introduced as HR 1242,  seeks to educate the public about how and why Africans got to these shores. It encourages groups to organize and participate in a year-long commemoration activity.


What the Act and the commission fail to consider is  the need for a serious investigation into how the application of U.S. law has impacted the lives and futures of those whose lineage is traced to Mother Africa.  There should be a compilation and examination of serious academic and anecdotal works that sum up our progress (or lack thereof) over the last 400 years. Recommendations should be advanced that bring about political, economic and educational parity in a timeline that doesn’t sacrifice another generation.


Washington University’s Jack Kirkland launched a trilogy of events to commemorate 400 years of Blacks in America. It’s not surprising that Professor Kirkland took this initiative on. His commitment to civil and human rights is long, tireless and respected.


The trilogy was kicked off during Black History Month and featured Wesley Bell, St. Louis County’s first African American prosecutor. The upcoming program will be held in alignment with Juneteenth. Juneteenth is a self-organized event by Black folks to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation. Like Kwanzaa, we didn’t need validation to institutionalize what we deemed important to us.


The next event of the trilogy is “Civil Rights-Past and Present.” It’s scheduled to take place on Sunday, June 2 at Graham Chapel. The session looks at Black identity and progress of African Americans.


These 400 years of mutating slavery is worth uplifting for a critique. It includes the captivity of a people and our enslavement. It includes Jim Crow and slavery by another name (forced, unpaid labor). It includes all forms of segregation and second-class citizenship. It includes mass incarceration. Many of these manifestations are still current and often co-exist with one another.


Full citizenship of African Americans remains elusive because of the systems of oppression that are propped up and legitimized by a corporatized government. These are all the changing faces of slavery that choke the progress of a nation of people and blame them for their societal-induced failures.

This long, unique and storied history is more than one conversation—or even three. It’s unfortunate that an ill-planned, underfunded commission will trivialize the history. Professor Kirkland is providing the forum and the opportunity to have deeper discussions on the conditions and progress of African Americans on the local and national levels.

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