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From Point Comfort to Poitier

December 11th, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe · 2 Comments

In June 1969 Ebony magazine celebrated the 350th anniversary of “The Birth of Black America” by remembering the arrival, in 1619, of the first Africans:

In August when the shadows are long on the land and even the air oppresses, the furies of fate hang in the balance in Afro-America. It was in August, the eighth month of the year, that 300,000 men and women marched on Washington, D.C. It was in August that Watts exploded. It was in August, on a hot and heavy day in the 19th century, that Nat Turner rode. And it was in another August, 344 years before the March on Washington, 346 years before Watts, 211 years before Nat Turner’s war, that a Dutch man of war sailed up the river James and landed the first generation of Afro-Americans at Jamestown, Virginia.

A couple quibbles: although John Rolfe did describe the ship as Dutch, it was English. And it did not sail up the James River to Jamestown. Instead, the Africans were sold at Point Comfort. Like I said: quibbles. Ebony has bigger fish to fry:

Rolfe had an eye for Indian maidens and a nose for nicotine but he was obviously deficient in historical matters. For he added that the ship “brought not anything but 20 and odd Negroes.” Concerning which the most charitable thing to say is that John Rolfe was probably pulling his superior’s legs. Not anything but 20 and odd Negroes? An inconsequential ship? How out of it can you be? For in the context of the meaning of America, it can be said without exaggeration that no ship ever called at an American port with a more important cargo. In the hold of that ship, in a manner of speaking, was the whole gorgeous panorama of Afro-America, was Jazz and the spirituals and the Funky Broadway. Bird was there and Bigger and Malcolm and millions of other X’s and crosses, along with Mahalia singing, Gwendolyn Brooks rhyming, Duke Ellington swinging, James Brown grunting, Paul Robeson emoting, Poitier walking. It was all there in embryo in the 160-ton ship.

IMAGES: Cover and page 31 of Ebony magazine, June 1969 (Google Books)

Tags: Life Magazine · Virginia History

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Michael C. Lucas // Dec 11, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Ok and your point is what? Ebony Magazines own propagandizing is far more distorted, aggrandizing and racist, than John Rolfes consideration. The notion of a Black America is offensive there isn’t a Red, White, or Black America, however there is a North, South and Central America. The boat was apparently flying Dutch colors, but it was English crewed. They weren’t even the first Africans in the New World let alone North America the first Africans were brought into Florida and South Carolina.

  • 2 Brendan Wolfe // Dec 11, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    Nice to hear from you, Mr. Lucas. As always.

    I’m not sure why you’re offended, and I’m not sure why Ebony magazine is racist. If you care to explain in more detail and using examples from what I wrote, you’re always welcome.

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