Middle Passage Pix
Historical Focus

The Diaspora

"A Dispersion, or scattering throughout the world of a homogeneous people."

The word originally referred to the dispersion of the Jews, after the capture of Babylon, throughout the Gentile World. In the context of African history, the diaspora consists of people of African descent scattered throughout the World. Thus, black people on the Caribbean Islands, in South America, in the United States, in Great Britain, and in Europe are part of the African diaspora.

The Middle Passage

African endured a harsh journey into slavery from the West African coast across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World. Usually, they were taken to the Caribbean where some remained as slaves, while many other were shipped to North and South America. Historians refer to that journey as "the middle passage." From the moment of capture in their villages African suffered, and their suffering increased during the middle passage.

Some captains had the slaves branded with red-hot irons as soon as a trade was completed. This was done if the slaves were to be left ashore in the barracoons for any length of time. It prevented dishonest traders from substituting old or sickly slaves for the healthy ones already paid for. One captain noted that in the branding "care is taken that women, as the tenderest, be not burned too hard."

The Caribbean and South America

Many African who were enslaved on the Caribbean Islands and in South America did not forget their African culture, in spite of the cruel treatment they received and slave masters’ attempts to stamp out the African way of life. Today African culture is clearly visible in Caribbean and South American music, food, dance and folk literature —strong evidence of the resiliency of African culture.


Following the civil war which ended in 1865, Congress passed several acts to help freed slaves make the transition from slavery to freedom. Among those passed were the Freedmen’s Bureau Act and the Civil Right Acts, both aimed at assuring equality before the law for blacks. These Acts were not solely benevolent, however. Newly freed slaves were often used as pawns in a battle for power between Republicans and Democrats. Another law, the Reconstruction Act Of 1867, placed the South under temporary military occupation.

Protected by federal troops new governments in the South, headed by Republicans who garnered the support of recently enfranchised blacks and a sizeable white minority, established state law that outlawed discrimination, instituted the first state —supported free public school systems and made labor laws fairer to employees. Many blacks were elected to local, state, and even federal offices. The 14th Amendment (which essentially declared blacks citizens) and the 15th Amendment (which enfranchised blacks) were ratified during this period that historians call "Reconstruction."

The Reconstruction period lasted from 1865 to 1877. It ended when Rutherford B. Hayes replaces Ulysses S. Grant as President and removed the troops. Once federal troops were removed, southern whites quickly seized control again. They terrorized blacks and passed laws that disenfranchised and relegated them to second class citizenship. Institutionalized racism became the rule and terms such as "separate but equal," "Jim Crow," "grandfather clause" became a part of America’s vocabulary.

copyright 1998 Afrocentric News

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