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For a long period of time, Black people in the history of humankind have not been treated evenly. Eslanda Robenson, a writer and political activist who lived in 1896-1965 in the USA, traveled to Africa in 1936 (Culley, 1985). Eslanda spent some time with the local, which she described in her diary. She wrote that the locals asked her questions such as “do black people and white people go to the same schools” or “are black people allowed to do every kind of work” (Culley, 1985, p. 239). Eslanda’s diary shows that even at the beginning of the XX century, there was a difference in the acceptance of race. An important aspect of looking at this difference is whether Black women were treated differently from Black men and how Black women learned to stand up for themselves.
Black Women in History: Origin
More often than not, Black women have been looked overlooked. African women arrived in the territory of modern America in the XVI century. Although history barely mentions their presence, those women were free upon their arrival (Berry & Gross, 2020). However, in the XVII century, more Black women were forcibly brought there due to the transatlantic slave trade. Unwillingly transported from home, those women were not aware that it was just the beginning of captivity for generations of their descendants. In 1662, lawmakers of colonial Virginia passed the law according to which “the status of a child would follow that of … mother” (Owens & Fett, 2019, p. 1343). Despite that, Black women were not only hard workers but did their best at protecting their families in their own ways.
Journey Across the Atlantic Ocean
At the beginning of the XVII century, African women were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to become slaves in New World. Their lives were in danger before they got down to the shore, as they were physically and sexually abused on the ships (Berry & Gross, 2020). Consequently, they were suffering mentally, which essentially lowered their capability to fight back. Yet, the women did all they could to survive. Having memorized the ship’s structure, they would inform each other about the location of supplies and weapons and the daily schedule of the crew (Berry & Gross, 2020). The captives were ready to end their lives on board rather than lose their freedom on the shore.
When a ship with enslaved people would reach the shore, the captives would be sent to work. Black women usually worked as servants or growing tobacco, rice, sugar, and wheat (Berry & Gross, 2020). Still, Black women were victims of physical and sexual abuse, which often led to pregnancy. As mothers, they wanted their children to be happy and did what they believed to be better for them. Sadly, in many cases, the women would infanticide their babies rather than bring them into the life of slavery (Berry & Gross, 2020). Subsequently, Black women will fight as hard as they can so that this does not happen to their descendants.
Fight for Freedom
Black women had constantly been fighting – both for their freedom and the country that became their home. In the XVIII century, they joined the American forces in Revolutionary War and were filing petitions for freedom. One of those petitions would let some Black women claim their free status in the XIX century (Berry & Gross, 2020). During the Civil war, Black women served as spies, cooks, and nurses, often endangering their lives (Berry & Gross, 2020). Some Black women who won their freedom became artists, poets, dancers, thus giving hope for everyone else.
The life of Black men is often described in history books, whereas the life of Black women sometimes gets unnoticed. Yet, black women have played an important role throughout history, showing that they are willing to do whatever it takes for their freedom, as they continue these days. Despite hard times, they supported each other, looking at the bright side when possible and hoping for a better future.
Berry, D.R., & Gross, K.N. (2020). A black women’s history of the United States. Beacon Press.
Culley, M. (1985). A day at a time: The diary literature of American women from 1764 to the present. Feminist Press at CUNY.
Owens, D. C., & Fett, S. M. (2019). Black maternal and infant health: Historical legacies of slavery. American Journal of Public Health, 109(10), 1342-1345.