Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Forgotten Fifth by Gary B. Nash

This morning I finished one of many books that is on my summer reading list....

As I was reading this book, The Forgotten Fifth, I had almost every emotion that a person could experience: powerful, proud, and anger just to name a few.

Being a lover of history but not a historian, Nash made me rethink many of the ideas that I had formed about slavery, the emancipation of slaves, if the Civil War could have been prevented and on and on and on....

Nash starts this short book by explaining that "the American Revolution was the first mass slave rebellion in American history, initiated the first civil rights movement, produced the first reconstruction of Black life, brought forth the first written testimonies from African Americans who wanted the world to hear of their strivings and their claims to freesom, and involved the first budding of what W.E.B. DuBois would call the talented tenth." (The First Page of the book!)

Powerful right?????

In the first part of this book Nash tells of:

Barzillai Lew, "a Black man who was born free who served in the Seven Years' War, enlisted in the Massachusettes 27th Regiment, he was one of one hundred fifty African Americans who fought at Bunker Hill, and he enlisted to march to Fort Ticonderoga." (This man wanted his freedom!)

Jenny Slew, a Black woman of Salem, Massachusetts who sued for and won her freedom.

Mum Bett , a black woman who sued for her freedom, won, and changed her name to Elizabeth Freeman.

Richard Allen, a slave who bought his freedom. He became a preacher and was sent to preach in Philadelphia. He was "instigator of the Free African Society, which ministered to the needs of the people coming out of slavery, the creator of one of the first independent black churches, the co-author of one of the first published black texts opposing slavery and white racism, the organizer of Philadelphia's first Black school, and the founder of the African American Episcopal Church."

And, Nash also tells of countless other African Americans, in the 1700s, who were fighting for their freedom mostly along with the British who promised them freedom. (You can read an awesome fictitious account of African American's working for the British to gain freedom in The Book Of Negroes.)

Now, I thought I was over the anger, and I am over the anger of slavery, but evidently I am not over the fact that it is not common knowledge that Blacks have always actively participated in the struggle for their freedom and were not just sitting around waiting for their free papers.

In the second part of The Forgotten Fifth, Nash poses the question of whether or not slavery could have been abolished, and he gives the reader different perspectives?

Now sure about you, but I was told over and over and over again that the main reason why slavery was not abolished is because the ending of slavery would weaken "The Union." And, for some reason, I believed this. However, I am grateful for Nash who gave me something new to think about.

He proposes that Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and many more could have made different decisions. And, in contrast, he gave examples of people like Robert Carter III who did make a different decision.

Carter was from a huge slaveowning family in Virginia, and he felt that it was 'his duty' to free his slaves. Carter freed all 509 of his slaves and many other slaveowners followed in his footsteps.

In the last section of this book, Nash goes on to explain that the mixing of the races was a huge issue for people who were against abolishing slavery; Black blood would corrupt White Blood. The idea was thrown around that freed Blacks should consider going back to Africa. However, African American were very clear that they would stay in the States and fight for their rights, and the fight continues......

I finished this book feeling even more liberated and empowered knowing that 'my people' were not passively waiting to be freed but were actively participating in gaining their freedom.

On the other hand, I am still grappling with my feelings toward quite a few of the forefathers, including Thomas Jefferson, who felt that Blacks were innately inferior yet he had a long-term relationship and fathered children with an African American: Sally Hemings.

This book was quite enlightening and left me wanting to know more.......

So, to that end, I'll be reading David Ruggles: A Radical Black Abolitionist and the Underground Railroad in New York City. 

This book was written by Graham Russell Gao Hodges who will be my fearless leader this summer as I study Abolitionism and the Underground Railroad at Colgate University.

Reading can be liberating, My People!


Unknown said...

Jacqueline, you have inspired me to read this book first. I think it will help me "set the tone" of understanding who I am and what I should be. I anticipate that my reaction will be very similar to yours. Just like as we find in our politicians of today. Many people know the difference between right and wrong but only a few will stand up for what is right. Never give up hope, as the old folks always would say. "Stand on the word, and wait on the Lord" I look forward to seeing you in July! Cedric Hairston

Jacqueline said...

Thanks for stopping by The Big Sea Cedric. This is the first book that we will discuss this summer, and I think that it is a good place to start. I am enjoying these readings so much. See you soon....No cooking, cleaning, being grown...I can’t wait.

Unknown said...


I am doing a book project on The Forgotten Fifth. I appreciate your blog! I have to ask: what is the connection of the title to the story? There are countless names in the book. What is, The Forgotten Fifth?


Jacqueline said...

Victoria, The Forgotten Fifth is the fifth of the population, African Americans, during the age of the Revolution that were largely ignored. Thanks for stopping by, and good luck with the book project.

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