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Litany of the Generations
Litany of the Generations
Reading

This is adapted from a litany by Gail Forsyth-Vail, who suggests the following to maximize the reading's power: 

Identify seventeen people who will come forward to represent the generations of African Americans in the British colonies and in the United States. As you name the first generation, indicate to a person that they should stand. Each time you call a new generation, you indicate silently that another person should stand next to the previous person. The line of people will get longer and longer. When you say, "you represent..." address that person directly. When you do the "children's children's children's..." part, move along the line, indicating each person in turn. You may want to pre-arrange with the first person; the rest will follow easily.

  1. You represent the first generation of West African people who were enslaved and brought to Jamestown in year 1619 arriving before the pilgrims came to Plymouth Rock.
  2. You represent the children of those people, born between 1625 and 1650. You remain enslaved alongside others as slave trading develops.
  3. You represent the children's children of those Jamestown slaves, born between 1650 and 1675, and you remain enslaved throughout the colonies in both north and south.
  4. You represent the children's children's children of those Jamestown slaves, born between 1675 and 1700, a fourth generation to be enslaved.
  5. You represent the children's children's children's children of those Jamestown slaves, born between 1700 and 1725. Many more European Anglos have arrived and continue to claim the land as their own. Certain cities and towns are centers of great wealth, in part because you remain enslaved.
  6. You represent the children's children's children's children's children, born between 1725 and 1750. Many Indigenous, Native Americans have been driven out to make way for the expanding population in these British colonies. But you are still here and still enslaved.
  7. You represent the children's children's children's children's children's children, born between 1750 and 1775. The colonies have begun a push for independence, stating that "all men are created equal." That claim does not include you since you are still enslaved.
  8. You represent the children's children's children's children's children's children's children, born between 1775 and 1800. The British colonies are now the United States. Some enslaved people from northern towns were even forced to fight in the American Revolution. The early presidents include enslavers. Thousands more West African people arrive here in chains. You remain enslaved.
  9. You represent the children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children, born between 1800 and 1825. This country’s population is booming. Textile mills in the North demand more cotton and make more profits for privileged owners so farmers in the South, with free labor, grow more and more cotton, and thus need more and more slaves. As enslaved people continue to arrive, you too remained enslaved.
  10. You represent the children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children, born between 1825 and 1850. Native Americans are forced from their land, many die or are slaughtered. The United States has taken a huge piece of Mexico and now rules over its Spanish-speaking citizens. There are now groups of people writing and speaking against slavery, and yet, you remain enslaved.
  11. You represent the children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children of the Jamestown slaves, born between 1850 and 1875. The country has fought a Civil War. After 244 years, slavery has officially ended. You are emancipated. You are the eleventh generation to live here but the first to do so out from under the specter of slavery. You are poor, uneducated; many people in the north and south are working hard to limit your rights.
  12. You represent the children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children, born between 1875 and 1900. After a brief period of empowerment, the Supreme Court has now ruled that separate is not only permissible, it is necessary. You are no longer a slave, but the law says you have fewer rights and privileges than white people.
  13. You represent the children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children, born between 1900 and 1925. The NAACP comes into existence. A world war is fought with black soldiers amongst the U.S. troops. They return home to intense oppression. Lynchings take place from Maine to California, including more than 80 here in North Carolina. A black migration from south to north fosters new forms of segregation and exclusion in northern cities. You still live and work under laws that separate you from white people and your children attend schools that are clearly inferior.
  14. You represent the children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children, born between 1925 and 1950. The country suffers the Great Depression, fights in the Second World War. Just as in the rest of society, people of color in the army are kept separate from white people. Whole towns full of new homes are built after the war for the returning soldiers. People of color are not allowed to live in those towns.
  15. You represent the children born between 1950 and 1975. You witnessed Brown vs. Board of Education, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, Selma, Civil Rights legislation. Martin and Malcolm. Cities north and south continue to fight vigorously against school desegregation for the children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children of the Jamestown slaves.
  16. You represent the children born between 1975 and 2000. There’s a Black Power movement and the declaration that Black is Beautiful. We have finally elected the first and still only African American woman to the Senate and have elected the first African American governor since Reconstruction. School integration is finally the practice in the whole land for the children’s children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children. And, housing is still woefully segregated in cities north and south.
  17. You represent the generation born since 2000. Now, we have an African American president. We have an astounding incarceration rate for African Americans in what some call “the new Jim Crow.” We have blacks in position of authority locally and nationally. It’s been almost four centuries since, 17 generations back, your forebears arrived here. We still question whether black lives really matter.

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