In a previous column, I discussed why I chose to write the novel “The Man Who Fell From the Sky.” Central to the novel is the Cape Verdean in the USA. But here’s the interesting thing. When I have mentioned Cape Verdeans to many knowledgeable people, they have no idea whom I am discussing. In other words, far too many of us have never heard of Cape Verdeans.
Nearly 400 miles off the coast of Senegal is found the Cape Verdean archipelago. Settled by the Portuguese in the 1600s, they became a transit point for African slaves stolen from the continent on their way to the New World. The Portuguese settled the islands with prisoners, adventurers, slavers and slaves.
In the 19th century, Cape Verdeans became the first post-1492 African population to come to the USA voluntarily. They came initially as whalers and fishermen, though later families migrated, often as a result of the periodic droughts on the Cape Verde islands. But they came as Portuguese colonial subjects speaking Portuguese and having a very different history than those originally brought to the USA as slaves. This created an unusual tension between the two populations of African descent. Should the Cape Verdeans consider themselves Portuguese, Black or something else?
The struggle for the independence of Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde islands (which were considered one territory by the Portuguese colonialists) emerged in the 1950s and ultimately turned to armed struggle when the Portuguese repressed the demands for justice. One of the great leaders of this struggle was none other than the iconic Amílcar Cabral who was, himself, Cape Verdean. The struggle for national liberation for Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde coincided with the energized Black Freedom Movement in the USA. Both of these movements had a profound impact on the thinking of Cape Verdean Americans leading to increasing “Black consciousness” and support for national liberation.
I decided to look at this important population because they are frequently ignored in discussions about Black America. Either they are treated as just another group of African Americans albeit with “strange names” or they are not treated as being African American at all or they are unknown. Cape Verdeans, however, are part of what has made Black America, Black America. African Americans have evolved as a population beginning with those originally brought over as slaves and indentured servants to the influx of Cape Verdean voluntary migrants, to the migrations of Caribbean peoples to the USA and, particularly after 1965, migrants from other parts of Africa and Latin America to the USA. Black America is continuously evolving through the introduction of these new blood lines.
Fletcher is the former president of TransAfrica Forum. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.