As we consider this difficult topic we want to keep in mind these essential questions:
- Why do people immigrate to America?
- What are their journeys like?
- What are their initial impressions of America?
- How are they treated by those who came before?
- In what ways do they assimilate?
- What parts of their culture do they keep?
We will begin our study considering what the term “Forced Immigration” means and what we already know about it.
Next, to give a sense of how the past connects to the present I will read to you Jacqueline Woodson’s Show Way and then show you a map which first showed you the ethnic groups in Africa and then one that shows you a more recent one with countries that were established largely because of colonization.
I will end this first lesson by reading to you I Lost My Tooth in Africa, to give you a sense of what one part of that continent is like today, as seen through a child your own age.
The Amistad Affair
The bulk of our study will be a focus on the remarkable story of one group of captives from Sierra Leone, the country in West Africa where I lived for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Our first look at it will be via Veronica Chamber’s Amistad Rising.
The Amistad captives came from what is now Sierra Leone, the country was started by former captives, and today many African Americans are discovering by testing their DNA that their ancestors came from this part of Africa.
This is a slave fort off the coast of Sierra Leone that is unique among the many that were used to house people before they were taken to the Americas. While most people were taken to the Caribbean (say Cuba like those on the Amistad) from Africa and only later brought to the United States, many of those taken from Bunce Island were actually brought directly to the United States. My own blog post about visiting Bunce Island is here.
We will explore Bunce Island and its importance through the Bunce Island Virtual Archaeology Project Website. In particular we will look at the following parts of the site:
- Where is Bunce Island?
- Video Tour of the Ruins of Bunce Island
- Importance for African Americans
- Bunce Island Slave Castle
- Putting the Puzzle Together
- Clues from History and Archaelogy
- Bunce Island Reconstructed
- The Castle Complex
- Visit Bunce Island in 1805
This famous hymn was written by John Newton, someone who spent the early part of his life as a slave trader around Sierra Leone, often buying and selling slaves at Bunce Island. He eventually became a minister and turning against slavery, worked with others to abolish it in all of Britain. His pamphlet, “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade” is both a record of the horrors of this and an argument against it. In 1807, the year of Newton’s death, Britain passed the Slavery Abolition Act, but slavery persisted far longer elsewhere. You can listen to the song and see the lyrics in many languages here.
Forced Immigration Poetry
You will be taking a look at a variety of poems about the Amistad before writing your own. We will also be reading poetry by others about the experiences of enslavement in the Americans.
- I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery by Cynthia Grady
- Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet by Andrea Cheng
- Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies & Little Misses of Color by Elizabeth Alexander and Marilyn Nelson
Africa is My Home: A Child of the Amistad
We will culminate our study of the Amistad with a look at my forthcoming book about a child on the Amistad. I will read it to you, share my experiences writing and researching it, and my editor will come and talk about the process too.
The Gullah are a community of descendants of enslaved people who, most likely, came from what is now Sierra Leone. We will look at how they are still similar to those people across the sea from them and how they maintained their culture under such difficult conditions. Some of what we will be doing:
- Listening to Ms. Edinger reading the picture book, Circle Unbroken, written by Margot Theis Raven with illustrations by E. B. Lewis.
- View a presentation about the Gullah and Sierra Leone.
- Explore Gullah Net in the gdoc worksheet Ms. Edinger has provided. (Go to your gdoc account to find it and then follow the directions it provides.)
The African Burial Ground
We will end this study with a visit to the African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan.