Anthony Johnson - African American Trailblazers

Uploaded by LibraryofVa on 05.03.2009

These chains do not define me.
No man,
no woman is born a slave.
We are forced into it.
We are whipped into it.
We are stolen from our families, but I be refuse to accept slavery as my fate.
I refuse to wear these chains!
I am a man.
I make my own way.
My ancestor
Anthony Johnson,
the slave Antonio,
destroyed his shackles too.
For the great factories,
before the automobiles and television,
the foundation of the American economy
was the harvest.
Vast farms built America.
Land was available in wide open areas.
A man could put down roots, claiming hundreds of acres and build generations
of wealth.
Unless the man
was enslaved.
Slavery has been a part of a tapestry of America from the very start.
Indentured servants--both whites and blacks--came here to work for their
freedom shortly after the first settlers landed in Jamestown in
In 1621 an indentured servant called Antonio
landed in Jamestown as one of those captives.
He knew nothing of this land.
He knew nothing of its customs.
He was a man no longer free.
Antonio was among the first wave of Africans who were transplanted to North
The first wave of nearly half a million Africans sold into slavery for nearly
three centuries.
Yet within twenty years of his arrival in the new world,
Antonio rose in class and determined his own destiny.
Antonio the indentured servant became Anthony Johnson,
one of early America's first land owners.
How is this possible?
Slavery was different in those first years of America.
It was a economic issue more than one of race.
There are distinctions between
a servant
for set period of time, usually five to seven years,
versus a slave,
which would be a person
who is a servant for life. He served an Englishman named Richard Bennett
on a tobacco plantation near James City.
Impressed with Antonio's ability to comprehend the mechanics and businesses
of farming,
the Bennetts allowed him to farm independently,
marry the only African-American woman on the plantation,
and even baptise his children.
And then Anthony won his freedom
and purchased his own land, freeing himself of the shackles of slavery.
Like so many Africans brought over to the new world, Anthony most likely was
highly skilled when he arrived.
Anybody could be kidnapped.
Anybody could be taken on board the slave ship.
Might not be just be farmers-- probably weren't.
Probably people who had great knowledge in medicine,
great knowledge in metalwork,
great knowledge in carpentry, woodwork.
So, you could say Africa lost a lot
probably of its
best people, its most skilled people. Anthony's story is impressive enough,
but with it comes an ironic twist.
As he continued to purchase more and more acres of land, Anthony needed help
to farm that land.
Like landowners across the new America, he purchased his own indentured
Anthony Johnson, a former slave,
was now a slave owner.
In fact,
records of the time show the Johnson actually went to court to beat back an
effort by a slave named John Caysor [?]
to be freed after seven years.
Anthony won his case and his slave remained with him for the next seventeen
years. With Anthony Johnson,
to lend even more irony to this, claimed the John Caysor
uh... by being an African was his servant for life,
which in effect is saying 'slavery' with, well, without saying it.
But times and attitudes were beginning to harden.
The kind of freedom of former slaves of African descent would enjoy was becoming a
Between 1622 and 1705,
Virginia passed a series of laws that established nearly all Africans as slaves,
removed all rights, all privileges, and all manner of equality.
Most importantly,
the legislature mandated that every African-American child born into the
system of slavery would remain in slavery for life.
Once again, economics played a big part in the process.
Some very shrewd
and crafty owners said, "Well, if we can make a distinction
or to somehow separate
one person--
not because of their religion because
anyone can become
part of a particular religion--
but the thing that you cannot change is the color of your skin."
So if you can say that this one person
should always be a slave because he is not white, always within that society it's
going to be easy to capture
runaways, or those individuals, to keep them in a situation which
could make it
hard for such an individual to ever obtain freedom.
I think there was a lot of fear
of a
strong, um...
strong, free
African population emerging.
I think partially it had to do
with with,
well, fear of the other. Fear of whoever was different.
Fear of maybe another group
rising, maybe probably challenge
the uh...
control of the white aristocracy. The consequence of that is that the idea of
people being inferior,
or people not having the same rights
toward democracy, or freedom, or the opportunity of movement, or any of these
we still feel today.
It took one hundred eighty two years and a bloody Civil War
before slavery was abolished in America,
with the Emancipation Proclamation declared by Abraham Lincoln.
That made Anthony Johnson
the rarest
of American pioneers.