The Little-Known History of Black People in America Before 1619
Author and professor Annette Gordon-Reed discusses the varied experiences of Black Americans overlooked in history books.
The Atlantic’s “Inheritance” project continues to explore Black history in America with Chapter Two: Uncovering Black History in the Places and Spaces “Where Memories Live.” The newest piece in the second chapter is from Pulitzer Prize winner Annette Gordon-Reed, taken from her book “On Juneteenth.” The excerpt explores the history of Africans in America prior to 1619, including that of Moroccan explorer Estebanico.
“The point is to think about Jamestown, but to see that Black people were all over [America] … the Black experience is much more varied than plantation slavery.” –Annette Gordon-Reed
Listen: Author Annette Gordon-Reed on the longer and more nuanced history of Black people in America.
Annette Gordon-Reed is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard and Pulitzer Prize winner for her work “The Hemingses of Monticello.” The Atlantic’s “Inheritance” project features an excerpt from her book “On Juneteenth,” titled “Estebanico’s America.” Gordon-Reed says growing up in Texas, her history lessons never said much about Estebanico or Black history prior to slavery. “It wasn’t until later that I began to read that people of African descent came to this continent with the Spanish.”
She says she wants to broaden the view of Black history in America. “The point is to think about Jamestown, but to see that Black people were all over [America] … the Black experience is much more varied than plantation slavery.”
Gordon-Reed says history lessons often overlook the deep roots of racism in America. “My hometown was known for lynching … a man was burned alive at the stake … and other episodes [involving the KKK] … [lynching] was used as a way to make an example of other Blacks … to terrorize them into submission.” She says the reality of these issues needs to be taught. “Context is so much a part of history, and you really have to read around a subject to truly understand it.”
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