Beginning in the 17th century, millions of African people were kidnapped, enslaved, and shipped across the Atlantic to the Americas under horrific conditions. Nearly two million people died at sea during the agonizing journey.
For the next two centuries, the enslavement of black people in the United States created wealth, opportunity, and prosperity for millions of Americans. As American slavery evolved, an elaborate and enduring mythology about the inferiority of black people was created to legitimate, perpetuate, and defend slavery. This mythology survived slavery’s formal abolition following the Civil War.
In the South, where the enslavement of black people was widely embraced, resistance to ending slavery persisted for another century following the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. Today, 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, very little has been done to address the legacy of slavery and its meaning in contemporary life.
In many communities like Montgomery, Alabama – which by 1860 was the capital of the domestic slave trade in Alabama – there is little understanding of the slave trade, slavery, or the longstanding effort to sustain the racial hierarchy that slavery created. In fact, an alternative narrative has emerged in many Southern communities that celebrates the slavery era, honors slavery’s principal proponents and defenders, and refuses to acknowledge or address the problems created by the legacy of slavery.