A Response to “A Terrible Transformation, Africans in America”

After having watched the documentary today in class that Sarah had previously mentioned, Dr.McCoy gave us about ten minutes to reflect on any significant connections that we could see between the documentary and Toni Morrison’s A Mercy.  While Sarah had already started this discussion with her post, I think it is only appropriate to continue this discussion.  The historical background that the documentary provides on the evolution of slavery is hugely relevant to Morrison’s novel, as it is set in the 1680s when the slave trade in America was still in it’s infancy.  This infancy in fact, was born out of the many (mostly white) indentured servants that were commonly found within the newly created English colonies.  Relied on for labor within the colonies, many of the indentured servants provided on average 4-7 years of labor in return for being brought to the new colonies. Interestingly enough, it was actually an English law that Christians (of any color) could not be enslaved for life, this however would become one of the many evolutionary shifts in the terrible transformation from servitude to slavery. This shift can be seen within A Mercy with the introduction of the character of the Blacksmith.  A free African American, the Blacksmith “had rights, then and privileges… he could marry, own things, travel, sell his own labor” very much so like the real life Anthony Johnson, a free African American in the 1620s, who served his term of servitude and afterwards married and owned his own property as a free man for the rest of his life. As we continue reading however, we will see if the Blacksmith lives out the rest of his life as a free man similar to Anthony, or if he becomes a victim of this evolutionary shift.

This documentary can also be applied to the larger scale of the class, as I believe that one of its greatest significant connections to be reflected on has to do with the question that Dr.McCoy prompted the class with during the introduction of the documentary.  In taking this class as a white female, I can whole heartedly relate to the many of you who have asked the question of how we are supposed to read the works of Toni Morrison which simply were not written for us, but Dr.McCoy posed a different question at the beginning of the video of how one is supposed to navigate a country that was not written or read for them? Both of these questions have me thinking, and will continue to have me thinking throughout the course of the semester as we attempt to answer them together through these selected works of literature and discussion.

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