Chronicling the land of the free, home of the slave

Book: Africans in America, America's Journey through Slavery

Book: Africans in America, America's Journey through Slavery

Publisher: Harcourt

Authors: Charles Johnson, Patricia Smith and the WGBH series research team

Reviewer: Namhla Tshisela

"The conquest of the earth, which mostly means taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much."

This quote from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness sums up the history of colonisation and the exploitation of Africa, its people and its riches.

This exploitation was at the heart of the slave trade in the US and laid the foundation of the American Dream.

Africans in America is a companion to a television series that chronicled the history of this ghastly colonial enterprise.

The book traces the history of slavery back to a more "humane" form of slavery practised in Africa. Under this system slaves were "domesticated" and entitled to liberties such as the ownership of property and could surprisingly own slaves themselves.

Slavery then was a question of class, not of race.

As Africa's riches became known and enticing to explorers from Europe, the need for the enslavement of "heathens and atheists", mostly from the "dark continent" grew.

This was made worse by a burgeoning need for cheap and subservient labour.

By the 16th century 200000 Africans had been shipped away to Europe, the Caribbean islands and the US to work in the sugar, tobacco and cotton plantations.

The entire journey is chronicled from their transport in slave ships in the infamous "middle passage" to their struggle, ironically, for freedom in the land of the free.

This meticulously researched work features accounts from pamphlets and extracts from books and from some of the most symbolic documents in US history such as the Declaration of Independence.

It contains the accounts of slaves and their masters. It also has stories from observers.

The book is graphic and unsettling in its description of the horror and cruelty experienced by the slaves.

It draws the reader into their frustrations, struggles and their victories, which makes for awesome and worthwhile reading.