Last year Joe Biden said African Americans who don’t support him “ain’t black,” but this year the Delaware Democrat is open to reparations for slavery, America’s “original sin,” according to the composite character president David Garrow described in Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama. A neglected historical account provides enlightenment on slavery’s true origins and its most enduring practitioners.
In 1856, British Army officer John Hanning Speke set out to find the source of the Nile. Speke’s massive Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile documents the African societies he found, and the widespread practice of slavery. “To catch slaves is the first thought of every chief in the interior,” Speke wrote, “Hence fights and slavery impoverish the land.”
Many Africans were “caught in wars, as may be seen every day in Africa, made slaves of, and sold to the Arabs for a few yards of common cloth, brass wire, or beads. They would then be taken to Zanzibar, resold like horses to the highest bidder, and then kept in bondage by their new masters.”
As slaves, the Africans were “circumcised to make Mussulmans of them, that their hands might be ‘clean’ to slaughter their master’s cattle and extend his creed. For the Arabs believe the day must come when the tenets of Mohammed will be accepted by all men.” True to form, “the slave is willed to his successor.”
On Arab slave ships, “old women, stark naked, were dying in the most disgusting ‘ferret box’ atmosphere.” By contrast, “Slavery had received a severe blow by the sharp measures Colonel Rigby had taken in giving tickets of emancipation to all those slaves our Indian subjects the Banyans had been secretly keeping.”
Speke found an ally in chief Mbumi who “knew that the English were the ruling power in that land, and that they were opposed to slavery.” In some parts of Africa, Speke found, “cows, sheep, slaves have to be given to the father for the value of his daughter.” The Wahuma people kept slaves and “do not allow their daughters to taint their blood by marrying outside of the clan.”
Black Africans were not the only target for Arab slave traders. As Roger Crowley notes in Empires of the Sea, Muslims were raiding Europe for slaves well into the 1800s. Mohammed did not condemn slavery, which had been standard practice in Africa centuries before any European set foot there. So contrary to the composite character president, the “original sin” of slavery was not America’s.
Leftist Democrats, so eager to condemn the United States, seem unaware that slavery continues in African nations such as Mauritania, where as much as 20 percent of the population is enslaved. In January, Ahmed Salem Bouhoubeyni of Mauritania’s human rights commission told the Africa Report, “some of our neighbors have a bigger slavery problem than we do.” For example, in Mali, “slavery is not even on the books as a criminal offence.”
In Africa, slavery endures 158 years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, 188 years after the British abolished slavery, and 165 years since John Speke set out to find the source of the Nile. Africa’s “bigger slave problem” is more of a pressing concern than reparations in the United States.
The prime mover for reparations is Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee, who in 2000 supported the forced return of Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez to Fidel Castro’s Communist dictatorship. Jackson Lee reportedly has 173 co-sponsors for her reparations bill, but newly elected Utah Republican Rep. Burgess Owens takes a different view.
“Though it is impractical and a nonstarter for the United States government to pay reparations, it is also unfair and heartless to give black Americans the hope that this is a reality,” said Owens, whose great-great-grandfather escaped slavery through the Underground Railroad and became a successful entrepreneur.
For Larry Elder, “reparations is the extraction of money from people who were never slave owners to be given to people who were never slaves.” Elder cites Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson that America, while flawed in race relations is “now the least racist white-majority society in the world; has a better record of legal protection of minorities than any other society, white or Black; offers more opportunities to a greater number of Black persons than any other society, including all those of Africa.”
Thirty years after Patterson made that statement, slavery still thrives in parts of Africa. When John Speke went there in 1856, Africans were enslaving each other and Muslim Arabs were enslaving Africans. By contrast, the British were freeing slaves and John Speke’s African helpers were richly rewarded. As Speke noted in his Journal, “they all volunteered to go with me again, should I attempt to cross Africa from east to west through the fertile zone.”