I embraced Islam several decades ago. A year before I did, no one could have told me I would take that step. Over the years I have mulled over why it seemed such a good fit for me. One thought is that Islam is part of my heritage and if I search, I will find, like Alex Haley did in Roots, that ‘furthest back African’—my Kunta Kinte—whose Islamic spiritual DNA emerged in my reclamation of that part of my identity.
That is not such a far fetched notion. My parents’ roots are in South Carolina, my mother’s in the Low Country near Charleston, land of the rice plantations. The crops were tended to by many Senegambian slaves selected for their rice-cultivation expertise. Islam had already been in that West African region for centuries.
Before the 1960s rise of Black Pride, “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” and Afrocentric scholarship and education in the United States, so “Made in the USA” were African Americans, they believed they had no history to be proud of. While voluntary immigrants from Europe spoke proudly of their homeland’s heritage—the Irish, the German, the Italian, and others—Americans of African descent were taught to be ashamed of their lineage. The renowned historian John Henrik Clarke, told in grade school that his people had no history, knew intuitively that this was not true. He devoted his life to uncovering and teaching about the richness and depth of African history and culture.
Much of the vast, complex and detailed history of Africans brought to the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade has yet to be uncovered and made available to the general public. Although people of African descent have been categorized by others—colored, Black, Negro, Afro-American/Caribbean/Latino, African-American—as though they are a monolithic, homogeneous group, Africans represented diverse ethnic, religious and language groups. Their commonality in the West became their enslavement, which forged a new history shaped by their condition of servitude, their past cultural knowledge and practices and those of their slave owners. The stories of who they were, what and how new identities emerged, and the fate of their pre-enslavement cultures is the stuff of some African and African American studies.
ACKI’s aim is to help fill gaps in the grand puzzle that is the story of Africans in the Americas. Its focus is on those Africans who were Muslims in their homelands and their lives in the lands of their forced migration to the West. The time frame is that of the creation of the United States of America and the nations in the Americas created by European colonization and the transatlantic slave trade. It is part of American history and the history of the world.
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