Book pages 18-22


Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy!
As far as your eye can see,
men, women, and baby slaves
coming to the land of Liberty,
where life's design is already made.
So young and so strong
they're just waiting to be saved...

Lord, I'm so tired
and I know you're tired too,
look over the horizon,
see the sun
shining down on you...

Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy!
Can't you feel the motion of the ocean,
can't you feel the cold wind blowing by?
There's so many fish in the sea,
we're just, we're just, we're just
riding on the waves...
the waves... the waves...

There are hardly any surviving slaves left today, but in Florida I met an ex-slave who was also the oldest citizen in the United States - 134-year-old Charles Smith, who told me about how he was captured in Africa:

- I come to the United States, when I was only twelve years old.
- Were you sold as a slave to the U.S.A.?
- Yeah, wait let me tell you now. They brought me from Africa... That was in slavery time. I had never seen a white person in Africa. Well, I asked my mama, could I go down to the boat and see the white man. She said yeah, and I ain't seen mama since. Grown people carried the children on hoard to see the "sugar trees" down in the hatch-holes. We felt the boat was moving, but thought it was the wind. He never did bring us back. We never saw the sugar trees. The colored wanted to throw me off. I remember it as if it was yesterday. Legree, the captain on the boat, didn't want me thrown off. We got into this country, and were sold in New Orleans. Put up on a block and bid off. The highest bidder won...

A black social worker, who had picked me up while I was vagabonding in Florida, had told me about Charles Smith, and brought me to his little house. Both he and the other blacks in the area told me that Charles Smith is different from other blacks and in fact looks down on them. Smith does not understand why the Africans would throw him overboard, which according to historians was quite common in order to save the children from slavery. But the reason Smith and many other Africans are not able to understand black Americans today is their lack of understanding of just how much centuries of slavery affect the mind. Charles Smith was never brought up to be a slave, with all the subjugation of the mind this involves. And it dawned on me that if this subjugation had left such deep scars on the mind, then the abolition of slavery was not, after all, tantamount to freedom.

Many of the things I recalled reading about in the newspapers during my schooldays I now, in my journey, saw in a new light. I remembered how only in the 1960's did the U.S. finally become a democracy, when all its citizens gained the right to vote. I was surprised to find that, for instance, the state of Louisiana has more than 257,000 illiterates. Is it not the duty of a democracy to educate all of its citizens?

Martin Luther King - and the thousands of civil rights demonstrators he came to symbolize - changed the most overt and primitive forms of discrimination. But when his struggle for economic equality began, he was killed - and this most significant part of his dream seemed to die with him.

"I have a dream, that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character. I have a dream, that one day every valley shall be exalted and every hill and mountain made low..."

Martin Luther King's beautiful dreams hung continuously in my consciousness, but it soon became obvious that the only dream which perhaps has come true is the one that blacks are no longer entirely judged on the color of their skin, but also on the content of their character - a character which will be forever separate from the white until the "hills and valleys" of society are leveled. The depressing thing is that the character traits one has after centuries of oppression do not match the ideals of those whites whose character has been molded by having been oppressors for centuries.

When I realized how much the character traits of underclass blacks deviate from those of whites and of Africans, it made me understand the enormous subjugation of the mind which slavery had brought about - a system which was not only based on violence, but which raised people to understand primarily the language of violence. The fact that today this language is not only understood but is also spoken by those who have had to hear it for centuries should come as no surprise.

But when like me you come from Europe and have, for instance, never seen a pistol, you receive a shock you will never forget the first time you hear the tone of this language. After only a few days in this new country, I was held up by gunmen - a type of character I had never met. The fear I felt was a fear I had never experienced before: the fear of another human being.

My journey afterwards became to a large degree a journey into this human being. And the more I came to understand and like this human being, the more irrational seemed the society which had created him. I did not then understand that sunglass-covered hatred, yet it reflected such a shocking distortion of my own perceived humanity that it forced me to ask how I could possibly he seen in such a way. Could I myself be the cause of that anger? Could I myself ever end up harboring such anger? Even such questions were beyond my imagination, hut from the day I faced that cold "piece" of American reality I began to understand to what degree fear and anger have come to characterize black/white relations.



Copyright 2005 AMERICAN PICTURES; All rights reserved.

Previous Home alt="Next"






the show
the photos
the reviews
Jacob Holdt