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NEW YORK NEW YORK – Tracing our roots northward

Tony Best

NEW YORK NEW YORK – Tracing  our roots northward

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What binds Crispus Attucks, Prince Hall, Shirley Chisholm and Eric Holder Jr? Apart from writing their names in America’s history books, they all have Barbadian or Caribbean roots.
These iconic public figures, or their parents, may have come to the United States at different times, but Attucks, the first person to die in the 18th century war of independence, Hall, a Masonic pioneer who campaigned for the education and freedom of slaves, Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the US Congress, and Holder, a US Attorney General, were probably on President Obama’s mind when he issued a White House Proclamation officially launching Caribbean-American Heritage Month.
“Immigrants from Caribbean countries have come to America for centuries,” Obama said. “Some came through the bondage of slavery. Others left behind the world they know in search of a better life. Regardless of the circumstance of their arrival, they had faith their descendants would have a chance to realize their greatest potential.”
He explained that they “prospered in every sector of our society and enhanced our national character while maintaining the multi-ethnic and multicultural traditions of their homelands. They are doctors and lawyers, public servants and scientists and athletes and service members.”
And many achieved their goal by improving their education and that of their children, bought decent and affordable homes, worked diligently, and otherwise contributed significantly to America’s preeminent role as a global power.
More than 130 years ago, Frederick Douglass, the great American trombone for Black emancipation, told a gathering of West Indians in Elmira, upstate New York that the part they played in US history wasn’t restricted to a presence on America’s soil.
He described Emancipation Day in the West Indies, the historic breaking of the chains of slavery in August, 1834 as the “first ray of hope” for enslaved millions in the US, “the first bright star in a stormy sky – the first smile after a long providential frown” that signalled to Blacks across North America that their day of freedom would be next.
“Human liberty excludes all idea of home and abroad. It is universal and spurns localization,” he added.
In the centuries that followed, people from the Caribbean worked, fought, played, worshipped and lived alongside Americans of all colours and interests to help make the country as prosperous, safe and secure as it is in 2011.
Whether they arrived as adventurers, people sold into slavery or simply to improve their education, Caribbean-Americans, as they often call themselves are known for their determination, tenacity and devotion to community. Along the way they have put their unique and dynamic culture on the stage that defines America’s identity.

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