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On Their Shoulders: Honoring the African American Contributions to Patrick Henry and America
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Mr. Syid Abdullah (Father of Mr. Yusuf Abdullah) sailing on the USS Providence during the Vietnam War

We're trying to make Black History Month stretch over an entire year. We invite all staff and students to take a moment and write the answers to these simple questions:

  • Who in your family, community, and our country has inspired, motivated, and lifted your spirits to help you become a better person? 
  • What actions did they take that made you and the world a better place to live? 
  • As you stand on their shoulders what will YOU do to inspire others and also make the world a better place to live?

A great place to look for community and national leaders is at the African American Registry

Dino '14: Patrick Henry Was a Slaveowner

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During Black History Month we were having a discussion and the subject of slavery came up.  My teacher, Dr. Price  asked us if we were aware that the person who our school was named after, Patrick Henry, was a slave owner.  I was surprised to hear that.  At first I didn't believe it.  Then I began to research this issue and I learned that Dr. Price was telling the truth.

Patrick Henry was a famous Revolutionary War leader who fought the English for freedom for some people living in the early United States, or what was then called the Colonies.  Henry's famous expression was, "Give Me Liberty of Give Me Death."  But I asked myself, how could he have said this and fought so hard and so bravely for freedom, and still had slaves?

Much of the information that I refer to is taken from a book called, Patrick Henry, First Among Patriots, written by Thomas Kidd and published by Basic Books in 2011.  In my research I learned that Patrick Henry's history of slave ownership began when he was a "broke eighteen year old who married a sixteen year old named Sarah Shelton. Sarah lived a few miles from Patrick Henry in Virginia where many farmers owned slaves.  Sarah's father was a wealthy landowner who gave Patrick Henry a wedding gift of a three hundred acre farm and six slaves (15)."

Henry himself was raised in a family that owned slaves, but now he owned his own slaves. He was like most of the slave owners back then an owner of twenty slaves or less.  One of his neighbors, Thomas Nelson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence had 208 slaves.  After his wife died in 1777 Patrick Henry remarried and received even more slaves at the time of his second marriage.  When he himself died, he owned 67 slaves which made him one of the slave owners with the most slaves in Virginia.  Henry admitted that owning slaves was problematic, but what I don't understand is how can it be problematic?  It's a direct contradiction to speak out for freedom for some and still own slaves, especially since many Virginians back then took pride in doing their own work, and they believed that slavery often caused laziness in the slave owners.

Henry knew that there were writers back then that were challenging slave owners, some of them young men like Henry with the idea that how could they learn to be masters of themselves, when they were already given the role of being a master of slaves?

Still Henry kept his slaves.  Owning slaves allowed Henry to farm tobacco--the beginning of a lifelong livelihood...Over time he came to realize that raising tobacco was an essential element of his pursuit of financial independence (17)."  Henry thought that he had to keep his slaves in order to continue farming to make money to allow him to be involved in government and other things of interest to him.

It was a harsh existence for slaves during Patrick Henry's time.  Slaves who resisted were punished severely.  Not far from where Patrick Henry lived a slave tried to escape and the slave owner petitioned the local court to have that slave's foot cut off.  That area is known as Negro's Foot (page 75). Reading about this makes me angry.  I want to snap out, because it makes me feel like I am getting my leg cut off.  That's a part of my history.

The Quakers were an influential religious group of that time that  spoke out against slavery.  They probably spoke to Patrick Henry to change his opinions on slavery, but were unsuccessful (page 81).  Patrick Henry was interested in buying land, and in Virginia that often meant buying slaves as well.  Henry made no effort to free slaves of farms that he tried to buy (220).

It is not right that Patrick Henry owned slaves until the day that he died and then gave them away to his children, when they should have been freed before he died.  Nowadays we don't have to deal with slavery, but isometimes I feel  like I'm still trapped in slavery when my people get pulled over for no apparent reason.  Right outside of this school, Patrick Henry, my friend and I got searched by the police for no reason.  We didn't do anything.  That makes people of my race not like the police, or the police who don't do their jobs right.

My advice to all is to pay attention.  Keep your mind clear because knowledge will always lead you.  Don't forget your history and where you came from.  If you get an opportunity, jump at it.  My name, Dino is an acronym for what I believe.  Don't (If an opportunity comes along) say No to that Opportunity--DINO.

I think the name of Patrick Henry High School should be changed because they push us so hard to come to school, but we really don't do anything for Black History.  They want us to push hard, but how can we push hard when our school is named after a slave owner?  Teachers need to liven the classroom up, do more research, and make the classes more interesting and  that will make kids come to school and not drop out.

Mr. Murray and I made efforts to reach Mr. Thomas Kidd, the author of Patrick Henry, First Among Patriots, as well as Mr. Benjamin McHie the creator of the online African American Registry to get their opinions on my research.  I will change my work as they respond to my questions.