The Black experience in the United States cannot be compared to refugees and others who have come to the United States from other countries seeking the American dream. African Americans did not come through Ellis Island. We came on ships called Antelope, Clotilde (landed at Mobile, AL), Elizabeth, Tecora, Hope, and others. There were more than forty-four ships involved in the African Slave Trade that sailed to Europe, the Caribbean, and the United States.
Our arrival to the “New World”, beginning in 1619, did not receive rapturous applause from those who had come from Europe as Pilgrims, eventually forcing Native Americans to surrender their land. Rather, we were brought here as savage beasts, hard labor to build the infrastructure of a burgeoning nation, to supply free labor for the plantation system that was primarily in the South, the industrial revolution in the North, and the expansion in the West. Our presence in the United States is not by accident, but was a part of a well thought-out plan.
There have been moments when our dream of hope for liberation found great success and disappointment. We can point to the Emancipation Proclamation as a good day for slaves. The Dred Scott Decision and Plessy v. Ferguson were times when Supreme Court made decisions that did not benefit our people. Brown v. Board of Education was a major landmark case that broke the walls of segregation in education.
Slave revolts, the Underground Railroad, the Civil Rights Movement, Civil Rights Act, and Voting Rights Act opened the door wider for the election of African Americans to congress, state and municipal offices. We saw the appointment of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court, the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, and so many others significant successes.
Yet, much of our successes in this nation did not come easy. We have had many nightmare experiences. Many sacrificed their lives. Children and adults protested and were jailed. Churches and homes bombed. Properties were destroyed. Poll taxes and gerrymandering made the right to vote challenging and impossible. The dream of the slave became a nightmare as we struggled for equality. Desegregation has become, for the most part, segregation again as White flight left major urban communities.
Despite the harsh treatment, we cannot surrender hope to fear. As our ancestors have taught us, we must “march on till victory is won.” Two institutions continue to be the major source of strength for us. Our families nurture and protect us. Our faith sustains us. When we neglect the value of family, we are doomed. When we neglect the importance of our faith, we are doomed.
Our ancestors did not neglect their struggles, but mustered the necessary strength to fight the good fight. We have not fully actualized or experienced the American Dream. Today, we commit ourselves to rolling up our sleeves, digging in deep, praying with earnest fervor, and trust God for more successes and victories. “Deep in my heart, I do believe; we shall overcome someday.” Amen.