3 West 95th Street
New York, NY 10025
Dear Parents and Friends,
Once again the New-York Historical Society is knocking the small white socks off our children! I thought I knew about slavery in New York. Turns out I know a whole lot more now! Such as:
The discovery of an African Burial Ground during construction in lower Manhattan, about 20 years ago, was the great revelation of the practice of slavery in New Amsterdam. Until then, most had thought that New York was involved in the slave trade (the money-making angle, of course), but not the actual practice. Wrong. The Dutch, needing labor, not to settle the land, but to do the back-breaking work (building roads, chopping trees) necessary to exploit its resources (beaver pelts and lumber), and unable to coerce the Native Americans, turned to Africa.
Allyson Schettino asked the BIG Question, “Why did people think it was OK to enslave people?”
1. Ignorance of cultural values other than one’s own. (If a king doesn’t wear a golden crown and furs and live in a stone castle, but rather wears leopard skin and ivory and lives in a house made of other materials, he and his culture are inferior.)
2. The arrogance of thinking one was doing people a favor to change them to “better” cultural ways. This decision is made without knowing anything about the other culture.
3. And, finally, the children’s answer, “The government didn’t think right.”
The children learned that slavery has been practiced since the beginning of the practice of war. Whoever lost was enslaved, though not forever. Slavery was not, until the African slave trade, ever based on race, or assumed to be a permanent arrangement.
The way our children talk about this issue fills me with hope that someday, not too far off, we will be free of the terrible, lingering effects of this disastrous history.
There’s only one more week until Spring Break – March 19, returning to school Monday, April 2. We are also “off” Friday, April 6, and Monday, April 9, to accommodate the religious holidays!