Cheryl Wills Uncovers Family’s History
Die Free: A Heroic Family Tale: Cheryl Wills Uncovers Family’s History from Slavery to Freedom
In this year marking the 150th anniversary year of the Emancipation Proclamation, we speak to NY1 anchor Cheryl Wills, who uncovered the story of her great-great-great-grandparents, Sandy and Emma Wills. Sandy was a slave who escaped from his master and joined the United States Colored Troops to fight in the Civil War. Wills based her book, “Die Free: A Heroic Family Tale,” on thousands of documents from the National Archives. The book’s title comes from a quote by Frederick Douglass: “Who would be free themselves must strike the blow. Better even die free than to live slaves.” We speak to Wills one day after the United Nations marked its sixth annual International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Somi, an American singer-songwriter of Rwandan and Ugandan descent, performing Friday night at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City as it marked the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. During the “Forever Free Concert,” Somi dedicated her performance to the Nigerian literary icon Chinua Achebe, who has died at the age of 82.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, as we turn right now to our final segment. On Monday, the U.N. marked its sixth annual International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The almost 400-year period saw the largest forced migration in history. From 1501 to 1830, four Africans crossed the Atlantic for every one European. During the inhumane exodus, Africans were spread to many areas of the world, but most of them arrived in cramped slave ships at ports in the Americas and the Caribbean islands. The U.N.’s week-long series of events to mark this dark chapter of human history comes during March, which is internationally recognized as Women’s History Month. During one of the U.N.’s panels, Sasha Turner, assistant professor of history at Quinnipiac University, drew connections to women’s rights and slavery.
SASHA TURNER: Slavery in the British territories, specifically Jamaica, which is the focus of my address, ended through a series of legislations, beginning with the 1807 act to abolish the slave trade and the 1833 Emancipation Act that would end slavery after a four- to six-year period of apprenticeship. With the passing of the 1807 act to end the slave trade, slaveholders revisited their labor management strategies from one that simply emphasized the production of tropical commodities—sugar, molasses and rum—for the export market towards new tactics that placed emphasis on obtaining replacement laborers by biological reproduction. In reality, this meant that British-Caribbean slaveholders monitored and interfered with enslaved women’s sexual habits and childbearing practices in hopes of securing greater conception rates and increases in the number of babies born and raised into slavery. Slaveholders arbitrarily paired enslaved women with men, built hospitals and delivery rooms. They also increased pregnant women’s food allowances, mitigated punishment, and altered women’s working responsibilities into, quote, “protecting unborn children.”
AMY GOODMAN: That was Quinnipiac University history professor Sasha Turner speaking during an event that marked the U.N.’s—Monday’s International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. This year’s theme: “Forever Free: Celebrating Emancipation,” a reference to the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s announcement in the middle of the U.S. Civil War that declared free all persons held as slaves.
Well, it was two years ago this week that our next guest spoke before the United Nations, becoming the first journalist invited to speak inside the United Nations General Assembly hall for the International Remembrance of Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. This is an excerpt of her address.