What Slavery Stole, and What It Couldn't

A central challenge for me in designing lessons about slavery in America was the weight of it all. I specifically designed The Black Experience in America: The Course so that it doesn’t begin with slavery; there’s so much texture and context to the Black experience that can get lost if we start there. At the same time, though, the institution of slavery is enormously important. I was determined not to minimize or dilute it.

The question then: How do we explore a tragedy without sliding into despair?

A pivotal lesson in The Course that approaches that question is Lesson 10, What Slavery Stole. It begins with a sobering analysis of the mechanics and impact of the slave trade. The focus then shifts to survival, and how Black America managed to both preserve elements of African culture and invent new culture through the struggle. We look at food, music, language and craft.

So what did slavery steal? The lesson shows that the slave trade systematically and intentionally took away foundational assets like the security of family, the clarity of cultural identity and the promise of self-determination. What it could not steal from within the human heart, though, was the echo of those things, the longing for them; Africans who came to America smuggled fragments of their cultural legacies into the new world both consciously and unconsciously.

Want to probe this further? In this final week of Black History Month 2021, download the full-color outline of The Course at forttmedia.com with introductions and illustrations for $5, or the basic version for free.

(Pictured in the above illustration: the West African Adinkra symbol Gye Nyame, often translated as “except God,” declaring that God is the ultimate authority. It is still used in present-day Ghana. My mother first introduced me to the symbol through her Afrocentric, Christian artwork more than 30 years ago.)

Even better, you can take portions of The Course online. You are among the first to know about The Course, and I appreciate your early support. Remember, you can buy a lesson bundle, and send others the link:

Also, it’s now easy to purchase a lesson as a gift:

New: Buy a $5 lesson in The Course for someone else! Fully-paid access to an interactive lesson will go to the email address of your choice. This is a great option for introducing kids to the lessons.