The Mayflower’s nameless sister ship, presumably a Dutch vessel, which stole into the harbor of Jamestown in 1619 and unloaded her human cargo of 20 of us, was but the first such ship to touch the shores of this New World, and her arrival signalized what was to be or trial for centuries to come. More than 14,000,000 of us were brought to America alone. For every 100 of us who survived the terrible journey across the Atlantic, the so-called “middle passage” of these voyages, 40 of us perished. During three hundred years-the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries-more than 100,000,000 of us were torn from our African homes. Until the dawn of the nineteenth century, slavery was legal and world over.
Laid out spoon-fashion on the narrow decks of sailing ships, we were transported to this New World so closely packed that the back of the head of one of us nestled between the legs of another. Sometimes 720 of us were jammed into a space 20 feet wide, 120 feet long, and 5 feet high. Week after week we would lie there, tortured and gasping, as the ship heaved and tossed over the waves. In the
summer, down in the suffocating depths of those ships, on an eight-or ten-week voyage, we would go crazed for lack of air and water, and in the morning the crew of the ship would discover many of us dead, clutching in rigamortis at the throats of our friends, wives, or children.