When our children learn history, they learn almost entirely about white people being the actors (people who make history), and Original people being the people who history happened to. Nine times out of ten, Original people don’t even seem to warrant a mention in the traditional way that history is taught in most schools. So our children grow up seeing themselves as NON-actors. People who don’t make MAJOR moves in the world. When they finally get introduced to Black history, what do they learn? That their history begins with slavery. Most teachers don’t bother to teach African history, and if they do, it’s never because African history is worth telling ON ITS OWN, it’s just to give a “little” backstory to where these slaves came from.
Not only do Black children learn that their history begins with slavery, they learn a very TWISTED version of slavery’s history. They are taught to believe that slavery happened, and only occasionally did a few looney tunes resist with violence. None of the well-known slave revolt leaders are described as heroes, of course. Not like the American revolutionaries who went to war with the British over not wanting to pay TAXES! And it’s very unfortunate that Black children don’t grow up learning that RESISTANCE and REVOLT happened EVERY DAY that Africans were held against their will on American soil.
And by American I mean North America, South America, and the Islands! Revolts happened EVERYWHERE. In fact, there were over 250 revolts (or mutinies) on the slaveships themselves! Yup, it wasn’t JUST the Amistad! There were at least 249 others! There were also at least 250 slave revolts in the U.S. alone. That doesn’t include hotbeds of African rebellion such as Mexico, Brazil, Guyana, Jamaica, and Cuba.
So who’s going to tell these stories? I realized it had to be us. One of the first books we published through Two Horizons Press was Black Rebellion: Eyewitness Accounts of Major Slave Revolts. Our goal was to introduce history students to the REAL history of revolt and rebellion during slavery, told from the perspectives of the people who were there at the time. Many of these stories are otherwise untold and unknown. For example, do you know anything about the military genius of Maroon leader Bonny, born in the woods of Surinam, modern-day Guyana? Bonny was NO Joke. In Black Rebellion, you’ll find Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s account of his experience accompanying the soldiers sent to stamp out a settlement of fugitives from slavery (known as Maroons). Higginson writes:
On Aug. 20, 1775, the troops found themselves at last in the midst of the rebel settlements. These villages and forts bore a variety of expressive names, such as “Hide me, O thou surrounding verdure,” “I shall be taken,” “The woods lament for me,” “Disturb me, if you dare,” “Take a tasting, if you like it,” “Come, try me, if you be men,” “God knows me, and none else,” “I shall moulder before I shall be taken.” Some were only plantation-grounds with a few huts, and were easily laid waste; but all were protected more or less by their mere situations. Quagmires surrounded them, covered by a thin crust of verdure, sometimes broken through by one man’s weight, when the victim sank hopelessly into the black and bottomless depths below. In other directions there was a solid bottom, but inconveniently covered by three or four feet of water, through which the troops waded breast-deep, holding their muskets high in the air, unable to reload them when once discharged, and liable to be picked off by rebel scouts, who ingeniously posted themselves in the tops of palm-trees.
You got that? The camps had names like “Come get a taste of this murder, bitch,” “Try me if you trill wit it,” and “Death before Dishonor”! (I’m translating) Higginson then describes one of their first battles:
A fight ensued, lasting forty minutes, during which nearly every soldier and ranger was wounded; but, to their great amazement, not one was killed. This was an enigma to them until after the skirmish, when the surgeon found that most of them had been struck, not by bullets, but by various substitutes, such as pebbles, coat-buttons, and bits of silver coin, which had penetrated only skin deep.
You caught that? The Maroons shot EVERY damn body. Yet they ain’t have nothing to shoot but rocks and buttons! Imagine if they’d had the same ammunition as their enemies! Following the battle, the mixed (Black and white) group of soldiers and rangers ran into more drama:
The rebels at length retreated, first setting fire to their village; a hundred or more lightly built houses, some of them two stories high, were soon in flames; and as this conflagration occupied the only neck of land between two impassable morasses, the troops were unable to follow, and the Maroons had left nothing but rice-fields to be pillaged. That night the military force was encamped in the woods; their ammunition was almost gone, so they were ordered to lie flat on the ground, even in case of attack; they could not so much as build a fire. Before midnight an attack was made on them, partly with bullets, and partly with words. The Maroons were all around them in the forest, but their object was a puzzle; they spent most of the night in bandying compliments with the black rangers, whom they alternately denounced, ridiculed, and challenged to single combat. At last Fougeaud and Stedman joined in the conversation, and endeavored to make this midnight volley of talk the occasion for a treaty. This was received with inextinguishable laughter, which echoed through the woods like a concert of screech-owls, ending in a charivari of horns and hallooing. The colonel, persisting, offered them “life, liberty, victuals, drink, and all they wanted;” in return, they ridiculed him unmercifully. He was a half-starved Frenchman, who had run away from his own country, and would soon run away from theirs; they profoundly pitied him and his soldiers; they would scorn to spend powder on such scarecrows; they would rather feed and clothe them, as being poor white slaves, hired to be shot at, and starved for fourpence a day. But as for the planters, overseers, and rangers, they should die, every one of them, and Bonny should be governor of the colony. “After this, they tinkled their bill-hooks, fired a volley, and gave three cheers; which, being answered by the rangers, the clamor ended, and the rebels dispersed with the rising sun.”
Got that? When the troops finally set up the most discrete camp possible, they were still attacked, but mostly by Maroons talking shit, particularly to the Black rangers. “Challenged to single combat” means they heard things like “Bitch-ass traitor, I dare you to come catch this fade by yourself.” (I’m translating). But it DOES seem kinda dumb for the Maroons to waste all this time talking trash, right? Maybe not. Higginson continues:
Very aimless nonsense it certainly appeared. But the next day put a new aspect on it; for it was found, that, under cover of all this noise, the Maroons had been busily occupied all night, men, women, and children, in preparing and filling great hampers of the finest rice, yams, and cassava, from the adjacent provision-grounds, to be used for subsistence during their escape, leaving only chaff and refuse for the hungry soldiers. “This was certainly such a masterly trait of generalship in a savage people, whom we affected to despise, as would have done honor to any European commander.”
From this time the Maroons fulfilled their threats. Shooting down without mercy every black ranger who came within their reach,–one of these rangers being, in Stedman’s estimate, worth six white soldiers,–they left Col. Fougeaud and his regulars to die of starvation and fatigue. The enraged colonel, “finding himself thus foiled by a naked negro, swore he would pursue Bonny to the world’s end.” But he never got any nearer than to Bonny’s kitchen-gardens. He put the troops on half-allowance, sent back for provisions and ammunition,–and within ten days changed his mind, and retreated to the settlements in despair. Soon after, this very body of rebels, under Bonny’s leadership, plundered two plantations in the vicinity, and nearly captured a powder-magazine, which was, however, successfully defended by some armed slaves.
You’d have to read Black Rebellion to see what all happened next, but I’m sure you get the picture: Military GENIUS. Ignored genius. Deliberately covered-up genius. Genius at what? Resistance, rebellion, revolution.
It is our RESPONSIBILITY to let our children know that such stories are OUR stories, not just the stories of sitting on a curb and getting firehosed in the face. Those stories are important too, but you need the CONTEXT (showing the world how violent white America was to nonviolent people) or else Black history just looks like punk history.
And NOBODY wants to be a part of punk history. So when our children rebel, they do it without any idea of CONTEXT. They rebel and revolt against what they perceive as oppression and injustice, but since they don’t know the whole story of how that’s done, they rebel against shit they shouldn’t go THAT hard against. Like US! Or they resist in unproductive, even self-destructive, ways. It’s not their fault they’re bucking the system. Original people have been bucking the white man’s rules since there’s BEEN a white world order to speak of. But it is our JOB to teach people the way that historical resistance has occurred, so they’re not just bucking without any guidance or insight. Remember, history can teach us, or it can defeat us.