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Disputing the Acquiescent Slave Myth: Black Rebellions You Should Know About

By Malika McCoy

The fight for autonomy is innately human. Black people have been in a perpetual war to possess the inalienable rights preached of in U.S. Constitution long before its existence. It seems, however, that more often than not our efforts to combat enslavement and the other numerous adversities as a result of white supremacists’ megalomania and other foreign colonization throughout history are remotely publicized, acknowledged, or learned. If you were to inquire amongst our black youth (or any age group within the black community) as to whom was responsible for the end of slavery unanimously they will proclaim: Abraham Lincoln. Yet again, as frequented in religion, organizational structures and media our savior is a white man. A man whose interests weren’t wholly invested in the welfare of African people overshadowed with the simple flick of a pen the blood, sweat and tears of unsung black warriors.  Proceed further into discussion as to how we ourselves have mutinied against our oppressors or sought retribution and the responses or lack thereof would imply that we sat idly.

 Our history books are deliberately void of blacks in roles that depict much other than inferiority or subordination. Widespread knowledge of our history often only occurs after reaching the box office. A majority of these releases, for which we are to be grateful, are limited to portrayal of our non-violent resistance. In the attempt to emasculate the black population by exhibiting us as uniformly docile and educated only when its entertaining, we become less than human, unequipped with the zeal for independence. While non-violent resistance is necessary and often successful there arrives the time when fighting is imperative and undeniably honorable. Unfortunately, warfare is only deemed gallant and meritorious when non-ethnic people are the initiator or victor. Black people have yet to be afforded that privilege. Our crusades against oppression are either expunged from history or condemned as feral demonstrations.

 Contrary to publication, the Black Community is a heterogeneous nation that consists of Martin Luther Kings and Malcolm Xs, WEB Dubois’ and Marcus Garveys. And while it may not be commemorated in the media or our textbooks, History remains. We have opposed, protested, rebelled, rioted, fought and died for our intrinsic desire to be and remain free. Our minds are that of scholars, our hearts are that of peacemakers, our bodies are that of warriors and our souls are that of revolutionaries. As Black Excellence prevails let these uprisings be known and remind you of our efforts to be rightfully autonomous:


  1. The Zanj Rebellion

       Iraq, 869-883 A.D.


Hundreds of thousands of East Africans known as the Zanj enslaved in Iraq under the Abassid Caliphal Empire, organized a rebellion that lasted more than a decade. Led by Ali Razi, they successfully formed an army and were victorious in hundreds of battles against the empire. They established a Zanj capital, Al Mukhtarah, gained control of southern Iraq and seized more cities expanding into Iran. The Zanj were defeated in 883 A.D. by the caliph’s armies only after they were aided by Egyptian military forces and the Zanj Capital was conquered.


  1. Gaspar Yanga’s Rebellion

       Mexico, 1570

Gaspar Yanga, captured from Gabon and sold into slavery in Mexico led a successful revolution in 1570. He escaped and led fellow slaves to the Highlands which served as a natural fortress to protect a colony for free black people. The colony flourished for 30 years before the Spanish began a campaign to regain the territory. Gaspar Yanga allied with another freedom fighter from Angola, Francisco de la Matosa, to combat the Spanish militia. Battles erupted and Gaspar Yanga proposed a treaty for which the Spanish denied. After the Gaspar Yanga’s settlement was burned and destroyed the inhabitants fled deeper into the Highlands which resulted in an impasse. The Spanish unable to win agreed to the terms Gaspar Yanga had previously proffered, a treaty was signed in 1618. In 1630, the town was named San Lorenzo de los Negros de Cerralvo. Today the town is named after its liberator, Yanga.  


  1. The Stono Rebellion

       South Carolina, US 1739


About 20 slaves led by an Angolan known as Jemmy escaped and set on a journey to Spanish colonized Florida where Africans were free men. They armed themselves, ransacking a firearms and ammunition shop. Seeking retribution they executed any slaveholders they encountered as they travelled southward and recruited more enslaved Africans. Marching from the Stono River to the Edisto River where, unfortunately, they were met by and outnumbered by militia. Defeated, some slaves fled, but many were caught and murdered.


  1. The Haitian Slave Revolution

       Haiti, 1791 -1803


Haiti, formerly a French colony known as Saint Domingue, was home to upwards of half a million black slaves. As the French Revolution was underway, an already prevalent history of slave rebellions and Africans outnumbering the colonizers, Saint Domingue was the perfect grounds for a complete overthrow of its ruling oppressors. Led by Toussaint L'overture, in August 1791, the African inhabitants began a rebellion that by 1792 had afforded them control over a third of the island. French and British forces arrived in 1793, unable to defeat the African insurgents withdrew in 1798. The revolution expanded and soon the entire island of Hispaniola (Today’s Haiti and Dominican Republic) was under the control of Toussaint. Toussaint, unfortunately, was eventually captured, deported to France and imprisoned where he died in 1803. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a military leader under Toussaint, led the rebellion into the Battle of Vertieres in 1803. France was defeated. On January 1st, 1804 the nation was declared independent and named Haiti.


  1. The German Coast Uprising

       New Orleans, Louisiana 1811


Charles Deslondes, a Haitian slave revolutionary, led more than 200 slaves in an uprising against oppression. Armed, they marched along the Mississippi River towards New Orleans seizing plantations, killing slave masters and recruiting more enslaved Africans, increasing the number of insurgents to upwards of 500 men. Word of the rebellion spread and local militias banded together to oppose the Army of Slaves marching its way to New Orleans. The Rebellion came to an end after several battles with the militia. Charles Deslondes along with the other slaves were executed.   


  1. The Baptist War

      Jamaica, 1831/32


On December of 1831 an estimated 50,000 enslaved blacks began a revolution in Jamaica. Also known as The Christmas Riot, these men and women led by a Baptist Deacon, Samuel Sharpe, were responsible for one of the largest rebellions in the West Indies. Samuel Sharpe intended only to lead a strike for emancipation and fare wages, but the event escalated to a full scale rebellion. The legion of slaves rioted, looted and burned plantations before being defeated by British troops. Although they were conquered, the actions of these liberators contributed to the British abolition of slavery in 1833.


  1. The Malês Revolt

      Salvador da Bahia, Brazil 1835


A community of African Muslims in Brazil known as the Malês led an uprising during Ramadan against its European adversaries in January of 1835. Organizing approximately 600 men, non Muslim Africans included, they set out into the streets of Brazil prepared for bloodshed. A large number of the insurgents headed for the Palace Square, where they would attempt to free one of there imprisoned leaders. Unable to succeed, they proceeded to attack military barracks in the pursuit of additional firearms and ammunition. Unable to defeat the military, they fled. Many of the slaves were sentenced to death, imprisonment, forced labor, and flogging. The remaining rebels were deported back to Africa. The efforts of these freedom fighters contributed to the legal termination of the import of slaves from Africa in 1850 and the 1888 Abolition of Slavery in Brazil.


  1. The Amistad Mutiny



53 enslaved Africans were captured and forced aboard the Spanish built Schooner, Amistad, headed for Cuba. Aboard the ship they seized control, killing two, and ordered the ship to be directed towards Africa. Unfortunately, their orders were not followed and they were intercepted by an American Ship near Long Island, New York. They were imprisoned and the matters were set to be handled in court. A judge ruled that they were not guilty due to being enslaved “illegally”. An appeal was made to the Supreme Court upon which President John Quincy Adams defended their freedom. The Africans were recognized as free men and returned to Sierra Leone.


  1. The Cherokee Nation Slave Rebellion

       Oklahoma, US 1842


The Cherokee Nation had the largest black slaveholdings of the “Five Civilized Tribes” and feared slave rebellion as much as their European counterparts. 25 slaves in November of 1842 brought those fears into reality. They locked their oppressors in their homes while they were sleeping and escaped. The group gathered as much supplies as possible, including ammunition, food, horses and mules. Travelling south to Mexico for freedom, they were eventually tracked down and captured by the Cherokee Militia. 5 of the insurgents were executed and the rest were forced back into labor. The Cherokee Nation believing the free black Seminole population that coexisted in the territory inspired the rebellion passed a law for free blacks to vacate the nation.   


  1. The Zanzibar Revolution

     Zanzibar, 1964


A racial revolution to empower the African majority emerged in Zanzibar in 1964. After establishing independence from British rule just a year earlier in 1963, the African population was determined to be autonomous. After more than 200 years of Arab dominance, led by John Okello, they organized more than 600 men to fight in the Capital of Zanzibar. They sought to overthrow the monarchy ruled by Sultan Jamshid bin Abdullah and propel forward beyond a colonial Africa. Riots and bloodshed consumed the cities. The foreign rule was terminated, Zanzibar merged with Tanzania remaining semi autonomous and Zanzibar Revolution Day is celebrated every year on January 12th.

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