Marking the day, August 20, 1619, when the first slave ship reached North American shores

On August 20, 1619,  20 – thought to be 20 – Africans called ‘Angolans’  but who were from the Kongo and Ndongo kingdoms,


who had been kidnapped by the Portuguese, arrived in the British colony of Virginia at Point Comfort.


It was the White Lion which docked at Point Comfort.  The English privateers traded 20 – believed to be 20 – enslaved people for food.




Knowledge of the Past is the Key to the Future:  Some Afterthoughts on Discovery, 1986, acrylic on canvas. 

Robert Colescott, 1925-2009, American.  Metropolitan Museum  of Art, NY




These enslaved were among 350 who had been force-marched to the port of Luanda and then onto a ship, the San Juan Bautista, headed to Veracuz in the colony of New Spain. 




Into Bondage, 1936, oil on canvas.

Aaron Douglas, 1899-1979, American.  Corcoran Collection of the National Gallery, Washington, DC




About 150 captives died during the crossing: the hell called the Middle Passage.




Displaced Burial / Burial at Gorée,1993, acrylic on canvas.

Denyse Thomasos, 1963 -2012, Trinidadian-Canadian. Loaned by the estate of Denyse Thomasos and her gallery to the Whitney Biennial, NY in 2022.




Not far from San Juan Bautista, two English privateer ships, the White Lion and the Treasurer, attacked and kidnapped 60 – an approximate number – of the enslaved people. 




Why Born Enslaved!, modeled 1868, carved 1873, marble. 

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux,1827-1875, French. Metropolitan Museum of Artist, NY




  Sekuru Knows; Katutura; Chitungwiza; Cup of; steel, 1986-1989.

From the Lynch Fragment series. Melvin Edwards, American born 1937.  MOMA, NY




Henry Louis Gates, the Harvard historian believes that the most complete analysis of shipping records indicates that 12.5 million Africans were transported out of Africa.


10.7 million survived the hell called the Middle Passage.


The final number of those who were brought to the United States is disputed but may be just under 500,000.




Untitled, 1969, acrylic on composition board, 1969. 

Malcolm Bailey, 1947-2011, American.  Whitney Museum, NY

The artist based this on diagrams in a 1780 English Abolitionist book of Africans being carried to the Americas.  A cotton plant is at the center.



Slavery and post-Civil War Reconstruction created huge cotton wealth for the United States and for the United Kingdom to whom a significant portion of cotton was exported


to the permanent and immense destitution of India.





The Cotton Pickers, 1876, oil on canvas.

  Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American.  Los Angeles County Museum of Art on loan to the Metropolitan Museum, NY in 2022.


The Emancipation had come before the date of this painting; and Virginia was in Reconstruction.  For cotton workers, nothing much had changed.




Cotton, 1997, etching and aquatint.

  Kara Walker, American born 1969. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia





Born in a Cotton Field:  the American Collection #3; acrylic on canvas with painted and pieced fabric.

  Faith Ringgold, American born 1930.  Private collection on loan to the New Museum, NY in 2022.






Hagar’s Dress, 2007, offset lithograph published by Brandywine Workshop and Archives, Philadelphia. 

Janet Taylor-Pickett, American  born 1948.  Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia





Tobacco, Spice/routes series, designed 2016, made 2022; digital inkjet print on polyester yoryu. 

Beatrice Glow, American born 1986.  Baltimore Museum of Art


Tobacco was also a major crop of the southern US for centuries.  The labour was slave or indentured labour for most of those years.







Four Hundred Years of Free Labor, 1995, welded found metal. 

Joe Minter, American born Birmingham, Alabama, 1943.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY first collected by the Souls Run Deep Foundation






Memory Jug, 1900-1930, earthenware, putty, nails, scissors, pipes and other found objects. 

Maker unknown.  Philadelphia Art Museum.


Thought to be in an African tradition brought by enslaved peoples; created in the United States either as portable memorials or grave markers.









Of strong, robust constitution, 2000, wood, metal, ceiling tin and chain. 

Alison Saar, American born 1956.  Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia


Jim Crow 2021 (Block the Vote), pastel and acrylic on mat board. 

George Welcome.  No other information.  Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia




Transition, 2021, acrylic, paint markers, paint and ink on canvas.

Mikel Elam, American born 1964.  Included in the Woodmere Museum Juried Show, 2022, Philadelphia.


The artist says:  “…My ancestors were removed from their homeland and held captive for many generations…

“Finally, upon release because of a civil war, they kept moving to find a better place to survive as so-called free persons.  The question of acceptance in this migration is still not clear….

“My paintings are ultimately about survival and perhaps a glimpse into a future world.”




Dr. Martin Luther King in the conclusion of his 1964 Baccalaureate sermon at the commencement exercises for Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut,

made reference to a metaphor:


“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”




Resist #2, 2021, acrylic, oil stick, rhinestones, and glitter on canvas mounted on panel. 

Mickalene Thomas, American born 1971.  Baltimore Museum of Art




The same metaphor was printed in a book called

“Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry”

with a copyright date of 1871 and publication date of 1905.

The author was not identified.  This was written there:


“We cannot understand the moral Universe.



Aspiration, 1936, oil on canvas. 

Aaron Douglas, 1899-1979, American.  Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco on loan to the Whitney Museum, NY in 2020



“The arc is a long one,

“and our eyes reach but a little way; we cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight;



“but we can divine it by conscience, and we surely know that it bends toward




will not fail, though wickedness appears strong, and has on its side the armies and thrones of power, the riches and the glory of the world, and though poor men crouch down in despair.



will not fail and perish out from the world of men, nor will what is really wrong and contrary to God’s real law of justice continually endure.”



Justice will not fail and perish out from the world of men…

…Justice will not fail and perish…













2 thoughts on “Marking the day, August 20, 1619, when the first slave ship reached North American shores

  1. Oh, Dear Sarah Abraham, you open a colourful conscience rift from the eye into the mind’s heart and teach remembrance of bullied humanity, making us understand the pregnant flying words of Martin Luther King,Jr. It is, again and again, surprising to see how wise is beauty! – from the art works that you selected, weaving a/the context around them, linking them to each other in an embrace.THANKS! BE BLESSED!

  2. Dear Ioana, Thank you for your comment!

    We have no choice but to believe that justice will prevail despite the ongoing evidence of madness and hate in the world. And of old and new forms of slavery all over the world.

    Thank you for your blessings. Blessings also to you and yours. Sarah

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