Hurricanes Following Same Path Of Slave Ships
By Kevan Carter | OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
African American culture is rich in storytelling. Many values that shape Black belief systems and Black perspectives on life have origins in folklore, rural and urban mythologies.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the most devastating storm to ever hit the American soil, one such urban myth has been circulating through the Black community. The myth stems from both folkloric and spiritual traditions.
It hinges on the notion that the suffering of Black Americans will one day be avenged by a crushing act from an all-powerful being.
“Have you ever followed the path of a hurricane?” asked Daniel Buford, a lecturer and historian, during a workshop on undoing racism. “Hurricanes follow the path of the slave ships,” he said.
Buford is the regional coordinator of the People’s Institute West. An institute committed to teaching organizing skills in the context of undoing racism, learning from history, sharing culture, leadership development, accountability, networking, internalized racial oppression and internalized racial superiority.
Though Buford prefaced his comments as part of his own spiritual beliefs; in the wake of hurricane Katrina — the analogy of the path of Hurricanes and the voyage of slave vessels is stirring up a great deal of dialogue in Black communities.
Few if any from the Black community are ready to contend that Hurricane Katrina was that crushing blow of vengence for the suffering of Black Americans but the analogy serves as a reminder of the death and anguish Blacks have experienced historically in the Americas.
“There is a historical indifference to the pain of poor people and Black people in this country,” said the Reverend Jesse Jackson at a press conference in Baton Rouge last week.
“I think the premise is true, that hurricanes do mystically follow the path of slave ships, but its hard to accept that this is some kind of curse when so many Black families are bearing the brunt of the disaster,” said David Saffell, a technician with Comcast cable and a student of Black history.
Whether Hurricane Katrina will gain a place in Black folklore only time will tell. However, it is true that the path of hurricanes in many instances have followed the course of the slave ships during the Trans Atlantic Slave trade.
The W.E.B. DuBois Institute reports that over the span of 400 years, more than 27,000 voyages were made by slave vessels from the West Coast of Africa to the United States. It is difficult to get an exact count on the number of Africans that were among the ships’ “cargo.” Yet the Institute was able to track at least 27,000 voyages. Most ships contained between 300 to 500 slaves.
The conditions of the slaves on board were intolerable. They were packed in the bowels of the slave ships like sardines, chained and bound.
It was a common practice of the crews to throw overboard slaves that had become sick and could not net a profit once the ships reached their destination in the Americas. Sometimes whole cargos were thrown overboard so that the ship’s commanders could collect insurance on “lost cargo.”
It is also hard to calculate the number of Africans that were thrown overboard. Some historians estimate that as many as 10 million Africans were thrown into the waters of the Atlantic during the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade.
Many ships carrying the cargo of Black slaves have followed the same path of hurricanes today.
They set sail off the shores of West Africa and headed west often passing by the Caribbean islands. Sometimes slave ships docked in Cuba to unload cargo and many times they sailed North — through the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and docked in New Orleans.
At the time of the Civil War New Orleans was the largest city in the south and was part of the American confederacy and a major player in the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade.
Hurricane Katrina seemed to follow a historical path of Black oppression: the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, adjustment to bondage, Jim Crow and segregation. The Hurricane first slammed on the shores of Florida — a state where many Blacks were denied the right to vote in the 2000 elections.
It crashed upon the shores of New Orleans — a city where nearly 30 percent of its citizenry live below the poverty line and a disproportionate number of its poor are Black. Many of the poor did not have the money or resources to evacuate the storm.
It headed Northeast through Alabama and Mississippi — two states where hundreds of African Americans were lynched from the period following Reconstruction to the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of the middle 1960s.
Yet, when Katrina crashed upon American shores her wrath was indiscriminate. She bought death, destruction and suffering to all classes and colors of people. If Hurricane Katrina is seen as the avenging storm of Black oppression, the greatest irony will be that Blacks are sufffering the most.
Lt. General Russell Honore, who heads the military presence in the Gulf states affected by the storm said that Hurricane Katrina “is a tragedy of Biblical proportions.”
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