In August of 1619 a ship carrying enslaved Africans sailed into Point Comfort in the British colony of Virginia. Next year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the British ship, the Mayflower. It’s time to teach the whole truth about the impact the English and other Europeans had on this continent. Sixteenth Century Reformer Martin Luther describes Christians as “simultaneously saint and sinner.” This both/and approach is the Lutheran bedrock for understanding human nature and human relationships with God and one another.
The history of our country contains both wonderful, heroic saintly moments and equally horrific, sinful acts of aggression and oppression. In order to become a more perfect union of multiple cultures, we need to know our whole history. These two anniversary events give us the opportunity to learn parts of history that have been ignored, misrepresented, or told incompletely.
Author Phyllis Brown Tells The Story
Author Phyllis Brown is one of many authors telling us a more complete version of the history behind the United States of today. She’s telling some of our history in a three-volume historical novel series, The Legacy of the Gold Banded Box. The series focuses on a special treasure a young West African girl named Folayan receives from her mother and passes on to her descendants. Folayan was born in Ghana in 1780, into the Kwantuni family, a family of traveling merchants. As the age of capturing Africans to enslave and sell in the New World is coming to an end, she grows to maturity. She hopes she’ll soon know what it is to be in love and live with the man she loves. However, in her culture her father will determine who she marries.
Though she lives in the shadows of slaveholding castles and forts, Folayan focuses on becoming a diligent, prosperous Fanti woman, living up to her name which means, “One who walks in dignity.” Meanwhile, Kwabena, her father, plans for his only daughter to prosper, in spite of the constant threat of danger from predators routinely coming with empty ships with holds they intend to fill with new captives.
Folayan’s Promise – First in Series of Three
In the series’ first book, Folayan’s Promise, Brown gives readers the background of Folayan’s family history across the continent and the start of the slave industry, with focus on this girl coming of age and being wary of the lingering slave industry in Ghana. The second book traces Folayan’s life enslaved on a plantation in America. The third book follows the trail of Folayan’s descendants up to the 21st Century. The theme running through all three books is how, in the midst of horrific circumstances, betrayal, capture, friendship with other captives and the mistress on the plantation, Folayan remained determined to maintain the dignity instilled in her by her family and village.
Brown decided she had to write about this topic so her students, her own children, and all children who are heirs of this ugly chapter of history, might realize they need not be ashamed to descend from people who were captured. What their ancestors managed to survive and overcome is cause to be proud of them and determined to persevere through their own challenges. Initially Brown focused her teaching career on students who struggled with reading; then taught High School English for 25 years, before retiring after more than 30 years in the classroom.
She says she was a senior in college before she learned about the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing. “I was helping my roommate pack up some music and saw it in a drawer. I was 21 years old and that was the first time I ever heard of it. I decided then that I would do all I could to teach my future students about our African American heritage.
Teaching the Whole Truth
“From the moment I first learned there was a Black National Anthem, I decided I didn’t want anyone to not know about this. That inspired me to teach my students the song and teach other important aspects of African American history. I think a lot of America’s problems are because we never really went through therapy as a country. We had about ten years of progress after the Civil War; then the fear of the night riders terrorized people.”
When she returned to the classroom after staying home to raise her own children, she had an epiphany one day while reading to a group of second graders. “I read them a story about George Washington Carver. When I finished one little boy pumped his fist up and down and told me, ‘Those slaves were stupid. I’d never let anyone do that to me!’ I knew I had to keep teaching my students about the history of what’s really happened among the African Americans in this country.”
“Young people need to know this, but they don’t learn it from their parents, because the parents don’t know this history. There has always been slavery, long before it came to Africa. As in Europe and Asia, African slavery shared the same reasons for a person to be enslaved – for stealing or murdering, or because they were prisoners of war, or debtors, or criminals that had to work off a restitution. Sometimes they were indentured servants that had to work off a financial hardship when their own family couldn’t take care of them.
The big difference between indentured servants, who could work off their debts, and enslaved Africans was skin color and laws in this land that made them “now and forever slaves.” Their skin color made them identifiable, so they could not escape easily as could their European counterparts. Enslaving people because of their color is part of our national heritage and we need to look back to see what happened and realize how this has been affecting us, so that we can finally arrive at a healthy and happy situation.”
Phyllis Brown is doing her part in writing and publishing the historical fiction series about Folayan. We can do our part by educating ourselves about the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of our history. Four-hundred-year anniversaries are a good time to acknowledge the not-so-beautiful parts of our collective history, so we can learn from them and move on to a brighter future for everyone. We cannot overcome problems we until we acknowledge they exist.
Thank you for taking time to read about author Phyllis Brown’s books that tell a part of American history we haven’t always taught our children. I hope you found this interesting and inspiring. If so, please take another minute to forward this to a friend. If you got this from a friend, you can have your very own subscription by signing up at up at HowWiseThen. I’m currently giving away a list of books I recommend for the book lovers in your life.
Learn more about Phyllis Brown and her books here.