Sunday, June 10, 2012

Dr. Wilma King

Up to 28 percent of enslaved Africans transported across the Atlantic were children under the age of 16. This is one of the many facts about the experience of children in slavery shared by Dr. Wilma King, author of Stolen Childhood: African American Slave Youth in Nineteenth-Century America. Dr. King spoke at a public event cosponsored by Hope in the Cities, the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, and the state NAACP at the Library of Virginia on May 24.

Dr. King’s compelling book was described by one reviewer as “a testament to the strength and resilience of the children and their parents.” She illustrated her talk with photographs that brought her subjects to life. One memorable image shows a Confederate officer surrendering his young slave boy to George Custer. Another shows small children as chimney sweeps.

In her seminal book, King records that the enslaved population in the United States had grown to 3,952,760 by 1860, of which 56 percent were under twenty years old. The trauma of slavery caused many children “to grow old before their time.”

Dr. Wilma King addressing students at Richmond Community High School (Photo: Rob Corcoran)

King said that she began her research on children in slavery in 1982. When she wrote the first edition of Stolen Childhood, she was not aware of the extent of slavery in the north. In recent years research has unearthed data that show how states such as New York and Rhode Island were deeply involved in the system.

Dr. King also spoke to students at Community High school. Rated as one of the nation’s best schools, its primary mission is to prepare minority and low-income students for college.

The Richmond event was supported by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to Hope in the Cities.

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