[Blackstudies-l] the D & C today has a special section on 1619
lima at geneseo.edu
Sun Feb 2 08:19:46 EST 2020
below is only one of its articles:
Sunday, February 2, 2020
The long road home
Family lore sends her in search of first Africans taken to America
Deborah Barfield Berry and Kelley Benham French
LUANDA, Angola – Wanda Tucker stepped off the plane to a sky as gray as the
She took a breath, balanced her new bag with the straw handle, then made
her way down the stairs.
It had been 40 hours since she left Virginia. Her 61 years had caught up to
her. Something about flying over that wide, dark water had brought home the
reality of what she had come here to do. The faces around her were brown
like hers, but their words were a scramble of sound. At first she brushed
away tears, then ignored them. It was hard to breathe.
Wanda and her family knew that they are descended from enslaved Africans —
and they believed that those ancestors were among the first Africans
brought to the English colonies 400 years ago. They hadn’t proved it, but
they didn’t doubt it. Now, here she was, in the place her ancestors had
called home: dusty, mysterious Angola.
She would walk the roads they walked, by the rivers they fished, under the
stars that guided them. She would confront what happened to them.
Wanda believed her ancestors had called her here.
The story is a family treasure, handed down through generations. It’s a
story Wanda and others have worked to bolster over the years despite a
vacuum of evidence, since records for African Americans from that period
barely exist. Their names were lost to burned churches, unmarked graves and
a government that didn’t count them. What’s known is that in 1619, two
Angolans named Anthony and Isabella, along with 20 or so others, staggered
off a ship in what is now Hampton, Virginia. They’d been taken from the
Ndongo kingdom in the interior of Angola and marched to the African coast.
They’d endured months in the bottom of a ship named the San Juan Bautista.
When raiders attacked in the Gulf of Mexico, the captives were rerouted to
Virginia aboard another ship, the White Lion.
Anthony and Isabella probably weren’t their real names. Their Angolan names
were likely changed by a Catholic priest who baptized them for the journey.
The reason they are remembered when so many other Africans are not is due
to an anomaly: Someone bothered to record their names at all. A 1625 census
noted that they belonged to the household of Capt. William Tucker and that
they had a child named William. Wanda and her family believe they are
descended from William, the first named African born in what would become
The arrival of the first Africans in the fledgling English colony
foreshadowed a prosperity unfathomable without the forced labor of hundreds
of thousands who would follow. Chattel slavery launched the longest,
ugliest, most shameful period in American history. It sought to erase the
identity and culture of 400,000 people taken from Africa. It left their
descendants with a history they can never fully know.
So when Wanda Tucker traveled 7,000 miles to a country no one she knew had
ever visited, she did so on the faith of her connection to Anthony and
Isabella. But she also did it for the millions of African Americans who
don’t have the name of an ancestor to claim.
When the plane landed, the void she felt was bigger than any one ancestor,
any one tribe. It was an entire people missing its past.
Wanda learned about slavery in a freshly desegregated seventh-grade
classroom. The textbook "Virginia: History, Government, Geography,"
published in 1957, featured Confederate general Robert E. Lee on the back
cover and described 1619 as "an eventful year."
"Slavery was in many ways a harsh and cruel system," the book read. "But
slavery made it possible for the Negroes to come to America and to make
contacts with civilized life."
That the teacher would sanction and amplify these notions did not sit well
"From her perspective, slaves didn’t deserve any better," Wanda recalled.
"They had been rescued."
When Wanda objected, she was sent to stand in the hallway. Later, when a
white classmate told her "God cursed black people,’’ Wanda slugged her.
Wanda and her brothers, Vincent and Verrandall, grew up in a mostly black
neighborhood in Hampton. Much of what they learned about their history came
from family elders while helping with the grocery store, the family
cleaners or the produce truck.
Wanda learned that her people had been entrepreneurs. Wanda worked in her
grandfather’s tailor shop from the age of 12. She knew how to fit a suit to
a man in a way that made him stand taller, that commanded respect. On
Easter, her handiwork was displayed in the pews at the Providence Baptist
Her father and her uncles kept their hair trimmed and their shoes shined.
"They walked like proud men," Wanda said.
In a land that had tried to rob their people of dignity, strip them of
their identity and steal their labor, the Tuckers knew they were somebody.
As she grew up, Wanda came to realize that history was an ever-changing
story, and it depended on who was telling it.
She chairs the Psychology, Philosophy and Religious Studies departments at
Rio Salado College in Tempe, Arizona. Her academic training never
undermined her faith in her family’s history. She and others interviewed
their elders, pored over birth records and carefully tended the family
When the opportunity to go to Angola came along, Wanda packed a bag. She
wanted to be part of setting history right.
Wanda bumped along with a knot in her stomach, riding through the Angolan
capital of Luanda. Low adobe huts blurred past, roofs held down by concrete
blocks. Then came peeling high-rises with rusty air conditioners. The city
bustled with people, but few of them seemed in a hurry. On the sidewalks,
people prayed, bounced babies, grilled yams, crammed bus stops, braided
hair, carried strings of fish.
Wanda navigated an open-air market where children trailed her. It made her
nervous to be crowded like that. Yellow fever had spread through this same
market not long ago, but Wanda had gotten her shots.
"This just a part of the journey," she said.
It seemed as if everything in Angola was missing a piece of itself.
Everything was a little crooked, a little broken. But there was something
At the National Museum of Slavery on the outskirts of Luanda, Angola, Wanda
Tucker listens to the roar of the Atlantic Ocean below — the ocean that
enslaved Africans crossed on a hellish journey to the New World. She
believes her ancestors were among the first of them. PHOTOS BY JARRAD
While at the slave fort Massangano, Wanda Tucker tried to imagine the
experience of Angolans being taken from their homeland. "I can only imagine
their feelings of betrayal, confusion and fear," she wrote in her journal.
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