September 20, 2020

Local author Charles Blockson examines BET’s historical miniseries ‘The Book of Negroes’

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doc54dfe0d2275fa7429540451By Arlene Edmonds 21st Century Media News Service From Montgomery Media

Philadelphia: Historian, bibliophile and author Charles Blockson has his own take on the forthcoming BET miniseries “The Book of Negroes.” His most recent book. “The President’s House Revisited behind the Scenes: The Samuel Fraunces Story,” is one of the many stories that relies on information from the historical document that records the names and descriptions of 3,000 formerly enslaved Africans who worked for the British army during the American Revolution.

Consequently, Blockson — a Norristown native who resides in the Northwest Philadelphia area — is quick to point out the merits of the six-part historical drama that was slated to air in two-hour installments on three consecutive evenings from Monday, Feb. 16, to Wednesday, Feb. 18. He also feels it falls short in some regards.

The miniseries focuses on the story of Aminata Diallo, an enslaved West African woman who was kidnapped and brought to South Carolina. She escaped to New York during the American Revolution and eventually found refuge in Nova Scotia. The series culminates with her return to Sierra Leone at the turn of the 19th century.

“Many did escape to Nova Scotia,” Blockson said.

Blockson said he hopes that with the BET series, more will delve into the records of enslaved Africans in the “Book of Negroes.” It contains many church burial grounds so that researchers will find how interconnected people of African heritage are. He said that many Africans traveled, sometimes escaping from slavery the moment they arrived in the Americas.

“One thing you will learn is that Africans are all connected,” Blockson said. “In the Caribbean, they traveled from island to island. Some came to the United States and then found their way to Nova Scotia. Others went from the United States to the Caribbean. It’ll show us how connected we really are and it doesn’t make sense to point to other Africans and believe they are different from us. The only [fallacy] in the BET program is that Aminata returned to Africa. She did not.”

Additionally, Blockson said the historical records will debunk the myth that Quakers did not have slaves. He readily admitted that many of the abolitionists were Quakers and some Quakers were opposed to owning slaves. Yet, he said that many of Philadelphia’s prominent Quaker families in fact owned slaves.

“It’s all recorded in the ‘Book of Negroes,’” Blockson said.

Blockson is quick to point out that there are many more stories to be told beyond the miniseries. In fact, like Diallo, many of the city’s African Americans have relatives who fled to Nova Scotia.

“Samuel Fraunces founded a tavern in Philadelphia before the famous one in New York City,” Blockson said. “His daughter, Phoebe Eliza, was a member of the historic Christ’s Church in Center City. Many of those she associated with were previously enslaved Africans or their children and they attended St. Peter’s Episcopal Church at Third and Pine.

“So they were all there with George Washington when the Declaration of Independence was signed. Some were biracial, a mixture of African, French and English. It’s all in that ‘Book of Negroes.’ That’s where I learned the amazing facts about Samuel Fraunces, the Pennsylvania black man who started the tavern that is now located on Wall Street where few of us can eat lunch,” Blockson said.

On another note, Afrocentricity International founders Molefi Asante and Ama Mazama are upset that the French colonists planned to erect a monument to commemorate the colonization on the West Indian island of Guadeloupe. They feel that this is an affront to the honoring of African ancestors who were enslaved against their will.

“We are appalled to learn that a group of bekes, that is descendants of the French colonists who illegally and forcibly occupied Guadeloupe, an Eastern Caribbean country, and enslaved thousands and thousands of Africans after slaughtering Native Americans, intend to inaugurate [this] monument,” Mazama said.

In a joint statement from Asante and Mazama, it was noted that the Spanish arrived in Guadeloupe in the 16th century gradually exterminating the Karibs, the aborigines of the island. The enslaved Africans lived under deplorable conditions when the island was part of the French Antilles, according to the scholars.

“The descendants of the French colonists still hold most of the land, and still enjoy considerable wealth amassed on black backs in Guadeloupe,” they said.

The Book of Negroes chronicles the many African Americans who escaped to the British during the American Revolutionary War became the first settlement of black Canadians. Other black loyalists were transported to settlements in several islands in the West Indies to islands around Guadalupe and some to London. Recorded in 1783, this 150-page document is the only one to have ever recorded black Americans in a large, detailed scope of work. For more information on “The Book of Negroes” series, go to bet.com/bookofnegroes.

The conversation about preserving and protecting the accurate history of enslaved Africans as well as related topics are discussed at the Afrocentricity International meetings. The group meets regularly at the MKA Institute, 5535 Germantown Ave. Its next meeting will be on Thursday, March 5, at 6 p.m.

Blockson will continue his discussion of the “Book of Negroes” and his new book on Samuel Fraunces when he gives a talk at the Grace Epiphany Episcopal Church of Mount Airy, 224 E. Gowen St., during March. For updated information, contact the church at 215-248-2950.

IMAGE: Historian, author and bibliophile Charles Blockson discussed “The Book of Negroes.” Blockson is pictured among the book collection he donated to Temple University.

For more on this story go to: http://www.montgomerynews.com/articles/2015/02/20/montgomery_life/news/doc54dfe0d2275fa742954045.txt

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