Last summer I was fortunate enough to visit the Smithsonian National Museum of African America History & Culture. I went with my younger brother and a high school friend who sparked the revolution you probably heard of at Mizzou.
(Side note: It’s great watching people transition from high school to college, and thereafter pursuing their dreams and following their heart)
I’d recommend people from all walks of life to visit this museum, as it uncovers the untold stories of those that fought for freedom, equality, and fairness for all people.
The museum covered so many topics, most that I never knew existed; The Paradox of Liberty & The Purpose of Stereotypes to name a few. It told the stories of great abolitionist and had quotes straight from their mouths. Quotes from Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner, and everyone from the 15th century to the 21st century that played a major role in this Journey Toward Freedom.
God’s time is always near….He set the North Star in the heavens; he meant I should be free.
Harriet Tubman CA. 1859
Some of the philosophies that held true during the 15th century still hold true in the present day. A lot has changed, but then again, change has been slow. This is going to be a precursor to what I hope to turn into a full-blown piece one day. This topic is way too heavy to discuss in detail, but the recurring theme that jumped out at me, is freedom, by any means necessary.
In the time of the Revolutionary War, Africans that were both free and enslaved fought on both sides of the Revolution as Patriots and Loyalists. The joined the local militias, armies and even fought at sea. Both armies were skeptical if arming these newly found soldiers, but as the demand for soldiers grew, the British offered enslaved men their freedom in return for service. The Continental Army soon followed. Freedom by any means was the order of the day.
It seems that the transition from slavery to indentured servitude was ideal under their current circumstances. Not to get into detail about the differences between slavery and indentured servitude, but indentured servants would sign a contract that stated the would work for a certain number of years in exchange for transportation, food, clothing, and shelter.
In the case, it was fighting in a bloody war and not working in the tobacco industry. None the less, it was a path to freedom.
But what is freedom, and can you be granted freedom by someone else? The promise of freedom in exchange for serving couldn’t have been far from, well, freedom. Slavey expanded intensely and the American economy relied heavily on the labor of unpaid workers. The U.S. Consitution defended it, and Manifest Destiny would expand the nation west, not only extending slavery but leaving behind a Trail of Tears.
Despite this, enslaved African Americans sustained a vision of freedom by making prayer, family, dance, food, dress, and even work their own. They built their own identities.
Fast-forward to the 1950s, and you’ll hear about Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam. What we’re not told about the leader of the NOI, was that he split, traveled abroad and saw the African American fight for human rights as part of the larger international struggle. Freedom was much more global than what he thought it to be.
I’ve had a similar revelation during my travels. I used to think freedom was not being under the rule of my parents. It wasn’t just me, a lot of my friends deemed themselves to be “free” while in college. But that freedom ended when they either graduated or stopped attending.
I don’t believe freedom to be circumstantial, or external. There are a lot of external factors, and of course, but it’s different for everybody. What I want to do with this, is understand from a global perspective, what freedom means to others in present day.
What does freedom mean to the descendants of slaves? What does freedom mean to survivors of the Holocaust? What does freedom mean to immigrants fleeing their land? What does freedom mean to someone incarcerated?
What does freedom mean…to you?