Reframing History: Slavery Came To America Much Sooner Than 1619

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Written by Dana Sanchez
reframing history
Artifacts, some made of bone, were found during an archeological dig at the slave Quarters at Evergreen Plantation on Jan.15,2000, in Edgard, La. (AP Photo/Judi Bottoni)

If you accept that slavery started in America in 1619, you’re ignoring a significant chapter of American history — the Spanish-Afro-American historical experience in Florida — says Stetson Law School Professor Ciara Torres-Spelliscy.

To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first slaves arriving by ship at the Virginia colony, New York Times Magazine launched the 1619 Project led by reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones.

The goal of the project is to reframe the history of the U.S., understanding that 1619 is its true founding — not July 4, 1776, the officially-taught beginning of nationhood when the U.S. declared independence from Britain.

Torres-Spelliscy moved the frame again in a guest column for the Washington Post.

Spanish-speaking Black slaves helped build the U.S. in many areas that were once Spanish-occupied territories including Florida, Texas and New Mexico, she wrote.

They preceded the African slaves by a century. “Then, adding insult to injury, these early Black slaves were erased from the standard narrative of American history.”

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Slavery in Florida reveals how a multinational slave trade built on personal greed and white supremacy forced Africans and African Americans to build North American wealth in which they would not be able to share.

Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, Washongton Post

For example, in 1526, Spanish explorer Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón brought Spaniards and African slaves to build a settlement in what was then La Florida (the current Georgia or South Carolina coast.) The settlement collapsed, the African slaves burned down the housing and went to live with Native Americans in the area.

A letter from Spain’s King Charles V dated April 20, 1537, gave Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto permission to take 50 Africans, a third of them female, to Florida.

Black slaves helped build St. Augustine, Fla. — the oldest city in the U.S., in 1565, historian Edwin Williams reported in a 1949 article.

Florida only officially recognized its history with slavery in 2008.

“It’s good that Florida’s legislators have finally acknowledged the state’s history of slavery and prejudice,” Florida State University Prof. Diane Roberts said on an NPR interview at the time. I”t’s good that we Floridians, with our short memories, understand where we came from. Florida was, and is, part of the South. As William Faulkner said, the place where the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

“The year 1619 is certainly important. But so too is the more complicated historical narrative of slavery in Florida that predates it,” Torres-Spelliscy wrote.