Generosity of the Poor – II : African Americans in Antebellum America

Continuing the theme from my previous post, here are some more observations on charity by the poor, but this time; from the U.S.

I came across an unusual story by Dr. Kambiz Ghaneabassiri, who is a professor at Reed College, USA. In his book, A History of Islam in America, he talks about the charity of slaves in Antebellum America, who gave charity to their neighbors, in the form of Rice Cakes. This tradition, which was uncovered among African Americans in Georgia, the Southern State was considered to be part of ‘Saraka’, or charity, given by the women to their neighbors.

Looking closely at this act, Ghaneabassiri suggests that this is perhaps the Islamic notion of ‘Sadaqa’ that survived among the enslaved Africans who came to the U.S, largely from West Africa. Given that there is a large Muslim population in West Africa.

The traditions of charity stayed with the African slaves, even though the practices of Islam died out, in their long and painful (not to mention, humiliating) journey across the seas, as these slaves were transported, branded and sold.

The history of slavery is one of loss and pain. At the same time, it is also one of remembrance.  As the exhibits at the National African American Museum of History and Culture show, slavery was a profound event that was tragic and deliberate. At the same time, it bound regions, people and communities; in ways that few things could. The charity of the slaves created new communities, as well; binding blacks with their non-black neighbors and friends.



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