“Black History” in the United States inexorably begins with the introduction of African slaves by European settles to satisfy the labor needs of the rapidly growing colonies in the “New World” of the Americas, beginning in nearby Jamestown, Virginia. Once in the settlers’ hands, these slaves were viewed as “property” of the settlers, and as such, were often treated without thought given to each slave as a father, brother, mother or son. The humanity of black slaves had been stripped away. Slaveowners over time, resorted to abuses, oppression, and even law to protect their “property rights”.

Displaced and often abused African slaves would not stand idly by, however, and fed a legitimate movement to oppose the mostly white slaveowners. Several abolitionist (abolishment of slavery) movements were led by blacks in the local area, such as Nat Turner’s rebellion in Jerusalem, Virginia, but also by whites, such as john Brown’s raid of the federal arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia in an effort to arm the slaves against Virginia’s slaveowners.

This division of thought in reference to slavery led to a well defined schism in America, culminating in a Civil War. After the War, the legacy and abuses of slavery persisted, but among it all, black leaders, artists and writers emerged to create the identity of America. We at the Washington Street Artists’ Cooperative celebrate some notable black figures in American history, and also some black-themed pieces of art with our Black History Month Gallery exhibit, running through February 2019.