I Married an African

Anita and Benjamin Dennis Wedding Photo

Wedding Photo

I am a 73-year-old white widow who was interracially and interculturally married to a hereditary African chief for nearly 41 years. I took college classes from him in anthropology and sociology. We wrote Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia together on the effect of racism in Liberia, West Africa comparing it to racism in America. The following are facts about slavery I learned about in our research.

Slaves to Racism Book Cover

1. American slavery was different from Old-World Slavery

Old-World slavery was similar to indentured servitude. Cultural skills were utilized. The Romans used Greek slaves to teach their children. Slavery was not based on race. People were not born into it nor was it passed down from generation to generation. Slaves could buy their freedom and merge into the general population.

In conflict or warfare between African tribes, slaves were taken. Chiefs were induced to participate in American slavery by greed or self-defense. Slave traders gave weapons to one chief to induce the others to sell them slaves to purchase guns. The African concept of slavery within a tribe was similar to indentured servitude. African chiefs had no concept of the depths and degradation of American slavery. At the same time, descendants of African chiefs were given tribal marks so they would never be taken into slavery by warring tribes. My husband, a descendant of the great Mende chief, Ngombu Tejjeh, had tribal marks on his cheeks for this reason. In his Gbandi tribe, his grandfather owned a slave who chose to remain with him after his service was completed because he was treated so well.

2. Racism went to new heights in American slavery

Before machines came to America, land without labor was useless. Christian slave masters and the South based on slavery went to great heights to justify such cruel oppression. Black slaves became “sub-human.” There was no compunction against breeding them, separating families, selling them, beating them, maiming runaway slaves, or killing them. Rudimentary care was provided so they could continue to produce. White slave masters lived in fear of slave revolts.

Blacks were made inferior in slavery and kept inferior in freedom. They were forbidden to read.  In many cases, they built their cramped quarters with thatched roofs with ten sharing a hut – beds made of straw or old rags. They were dressed raggedly and were disgustingly dirty according to a white Downtown Vahunobserver. The work lasted from sunup to sundown. Some slaves had one day off a year; others had Sunday off – all at the whim of the master. Some slave owners permitted Christianity to induce slaves to obey their masters. In addition to the grueling work, some maintained gardens to supplement their diet of fatty meat and cornbread. They were indoctrinated by white opinions with no time or energy to train their children. Some mammies valued their white wards more so than their own children.

After the Civil War, freed black slaves still needed to be controlled and could be easily exploited since they had no resources of their own. Reconstruction was merely a continuation of slavery in the form of sharecropping. Farmers ended up in debt after the crop was harvested. Any financial or political gains by black people were openly or subtly quashed throughout America’s history.

1970's & 1980's Liberia Photo - Two Story Building3. While most slaves didn’t live on large plantations, the large plantation set the cultural tone and became the social standard of Southern black life.

The vast majority of slaves lived on small farms of two or three slaves.  However, the pattern of black behavior was molded on the large plantation. There the skills of slaves were utilized in blacksmithing, carpentry, and household tasks, etc. Black congregations were formed on large plantations.

The dichotomy of field slaves and house slaves became the prototype of social status and behavior as slaves in the Big House had slightly better housing, clothing and food. They spoke better English. “Mulattos,” the offspring between the master and slave, primarily served as house slaves—caregivers, nannies and maids—while dark-skinned slaves continued to work in the fields. The first black colleges, such as Hampton Institute, were first established to educate the mulatto children of white slave masters.

4. At one time, the breeding and sale of slaves was more profitable than their labor.

With the end of the transatlantic slave trade in 1808, the breeding and sale of slaves in Virginia produced the most income. The invention of the cotton gin in 1793, which facilitated the separation of cotton seeds from its fiber, exploded the profit of growing cotton. Between 1790 and 1860, this resulted in the forced migration of over a million slaves from producing tobacco in Virginia to working in new cotton and sugar plantations in the Deep South. Families and communities were suddenly broken up. Slaves transported in trader coffles headed south in chains by foot, boat, or rail. Some died along the way and all were forced to begin their lives over.

5. Liberia was founded to get rid of black people despite the philanthropic image of the American Colonization Society.               

During the 1800s, slave masters feared the subsequent burgeoning population of slaves in the South because of the possibility of revolts. America, as a whole, wanted to get rid of blacks. The American Colonization Society was founded in 1816, by a Presbyterian minister and included powerful and influential slave holders such as Henry Clay and John Randolph, as well as slave compromiser, Daniel Webster.  With glowing aims, approximately, 12,000 blacks were transported to Liberia, West Africa – 3,000 between 1820 and 1831, 2,000 between 1848 and 1860, and surprisingly, 2,000 during Reconstruction when blacks realized they would never receive full citizenship rights.

Their destination was the west coast of African called the “white man’s grave.” Most of the first boatload and many others died of malaria. Africa was no paradise destination for free black people. Slaves were freed on the condition they leave America. Only rudimentary farm tools were provided. In 1830, the society ended payments and local and state branches as well as churches provided some rudimentary funds.

Our Love Story                                                                                 Beyond Myself Book Cover by Author Anita Katherine Dennis

When my husband died in 2009, I coped with my grief by writing our love story, Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl and the African Chief. It tells a lot more about us!