The spiritual resistance of African peoples to enslavement and forced immigration


By Angelique Walker-Smith

Black History Month is especially memorable this year as we commemorate the Quad-Centennial of our Angolan ancestors who landed in 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia. 

Unlike popular perception, African and African descended people resisted their enslavement and forced immigration to foreign places like the United States.  It was their faith and sense of moral indignation—empowered by God’s grace and mercy that kept them alive.

In the summer of 1619, after the war of resistance in Angola, 350 enslaved Angolans were robbed of their freedom. They were put on board the ship, the San Juan Bautista, which was bound for Vera Cruz, on the coast of Mexico. Their spiritual resistance kept some of them alive despite horrific torture while others perished at sea.

While at sea, the ship was attacked by two English ship privateers, the White Lion and the Treasurer, and between 50 to 60 enslaved Angolans were taken.

“The two privateers then sailed to Virginia where the White Lion arrived at Point Comfort, or present-day Hampton, Virginia, toward the end of August. John Rolfe, a prominent planter and merchant (and formerly the husband of Pocahontas), reported that ‘20. and odd Negroes’ were ‘bought for victuals,’ according to Jamestown Rediscovery, an historical preservation organization.  

According to the preservation organization: “The majority of the Angolans were acquired by wealthy and well-connected English planters. The Angolans were sold into bondage despite Virginia having no clear-cut laws sanctioning slavery until 1704.  From 1619 to 1704 the records show that Africans fought and resisted the evolution of enslavement primarily through the courts.”

This Black History Month invites us to honor the resilience of African people and African descendants while acknowledging how the practice and policy of slavery led to policies and practices that, to this day, are rooted in racism and exacerbate realities like malnutrition and hunger.

This month, Bread for the World is honoring the work of Black leaders championing nutrition—a critical but hard-to-see component of hunger. We celebrate their commitment, perseverance, and strength to dedicate their lives to dismantling racially oppressive policies and practices that lead to poor nutrition and elevate policies and practices that ensure all communities, regardless of race, can enjoy optimal, equitable nutrition.

Throughout February we will also feature stories on Bread’s website on the importance of nutrition to end hunger and lift up the work of Pan-African leaders doing their part to champion nutrition.

And in February, “Lament and Hope: A Pan-African Devotional Guide Commemorating the 2019 Quad-Centennial of the Forced Transatlantic Voyage of Enslaved African Peoples to Jamestown, Virginia (USA),” will be available on Bread’s website.

Please join us in continuing the necessary work of denouncing racism still present in our policies and practices and honoring the hard work of Pan-African leaders as they champion for good nutrition, which will help end hunger!

Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church Engagement at Bread for the World.

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