I just got off the phone with my cousin Jose. I swear that every time we talk I feel dumber for it. At first it was the usual chit chat but then the conversation devolved (as it always does) into religious views being espoused (his, not mine, I learned a long time ago that preaching to him doesn’t do any good). So much was said and I’ll probably cover the highlights in a few different posts, but in this one I wanted to talk about the all-pervasive claim of the NOI concerning the Black man in America being enslaved for 400 years. For example, in his 1969 Saviour’s Day Speech (recorded in Ch. 11 of Our Saviour has Arrived, online here), Elijah Muhammad said:
We thank Allah for His great Blessings that He has bestowed upon us, to remember us, who were lost and now found, whom He Himself came forth, leaving everything of His Glory and coming to us. He came searching the Earth to find and locate that lost member of the Aboriginal people here in the farthest part of our planet, the West, who were brought here over 400 years ago in chains. There is One that has been born to take the shackles off us and relieve us of those chains that have shackled and poisoned us for 400 years. We are happy and thankful to the God; a God that has mercy on us; a God that loves us. We are happy and thankful to be here, to bear witness that today we have on our side a God who is able to lead and guide us and protect us and deliver us back to our own. We are happy.
And again in Message to the Black Man in America (online here) Muhammad said:
One of the first and most important truths that must be established in this day is our identity. This is what God, Whose Proper Name is Allah, is guiding me to point out to you, my people, who are members of the Lost and Found Nation in North America. You, my people, who have been robbed of your complete identity for over 400 years. Is it not time for you to know who you are after 400 years of submission to the white slave-masters of American and their false religion of Christianity?
You’d be surprised, but this claim is rarely (if ever) challenged. I think the main reason is that a lot of White folks harbor some guilt about slavery (I don’t know why they would, they didn’t do it).
Anyway, my cousin claims that Genesis 15:3 is a prophecy concerning the Black man in America. It reads:
Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. (Gen. 15:13, cf. Acts 7:6)
Now let’s forget for a moment that the passage is clearly referring to Israel (he notes that this is a possible but unlikely interpretation, go figure :-| ), my problem is that by no possible mathematical wizardry can you get 400 years of slavery for the Black man in America.
I asked my cousin where he’s getting his figures and to give me the dates. He said that in 1555 John Hawkins brought the first slaves to America. OK, well, there’s a couple of problems with this:
I first pointed out that this would mean that slavery ended in 1955 which is ridiculous on its face. But he said that slavery did indeed end in 1955! Slavery officially ended with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862-63.
The second problem is that John Hawkins didn’t bring slaves to America in 1555, he went to the Caribbean (which last time I checked wasn’t one of the original 13 colonies).
The third problem is that the first record of slaves being brought to America (specifically Jamestown) is in 1619.
By my cousin’s reckoning of time slavery won’t be ending for another 11 years! So at best we have 244 years of slavery in America. Even if we say that slavery carried on after it was officially abolished (which of course it did for a few years), there is still no way to arrive at 400. Now if you want to extend the claim to reach to African enslavement in general and move it outside of America, that opens a whole ‘nother can of worms, but in doing so it nullifies the original claim. The bottom line is that Genesis 15:13 had nothing to do with the Black man in America, not even in a derivative, secondary application type of a way.