'Enslaved' Episode 5: Docuseries shows how enslaved Africans were not just victims but also heroes
The episode titled 'Resistance' is a hopeful and necessary chapter in the 'Enslaved' documentary because it shows why the slave trade went on for as long as it did without uprisings.
This episode shows that there were uprisings, despite the huge odds, but are not just as well-documented. One historian gives the figure of an uprising occurring in approximately one ship in every ten slave ships that set sail — sometimes with no hope of survival for those who rebelled. The ships were designed in a way to be "resistance-proof" and to rebel meant going against guns bare-handed and chained to each other.
To rebel despite these circumstances and with the lives of their immediate family held hostage as well, shows just how desperate these men were to win back their freedom. The Amistad rebellion is discussed along with other lesser-known ship rebellions mostly spear-headed by those enslaved who were warriors in their homeland.
Others, when the reached the New World, committed planned suicide, preferring death over being imprisoned so far from home. The episode also highlights on-land accounts of tribal leaders, like one woman queen of the Ashanti tribe, gathering men and weapons to fight against slavers (in her case the British in Ghana), once it became clear what was happening.
But even after they were enslaved for generations, the dream of freedom never died. This was especially true after networks of abolitionists started gaining ground in Northern USA and Canada. While we don't visit the well-documented Underground Railways that ferried slaves to freedom, we go on the water to explore the last leg of this long harrowing journey that led to freedom.
We learn of luxury ships that helped slaves escape by disguising them as galley workers, often serving drinks and food on trips, to White passengers. As soon as they reached safer territory, they could make their escape without being discovered.
We also hear of other escaped slaves, like Harriet Tubman, who returned to help others escape like the Black regiment of the Union army. These soldiers, with little to no military experience, freed 700 slaves in a daring raid launched from the river in South Carolina.
Harriet Tubman, herself, is embedded in African-American resistance in not just dry and dusty history books, but as a living, breathing figure of salvation in "negro spirituals". These songs were often coded songs, for instance, 'Wade in the Water' was to help educate slaves that they could erase their scent and escape hunting dogs by "wading in the water".
Then, there is 'Go Down Moses' that spoke of Israelites following Moses to freedom, where "Moses" was a code word for Tubman herself, urging people to follow her to freedom.
We also get to explore the wreck of Home, one of the many freedom boats captained by a James Nugent which ferried slaves to freedom in Canada making these trips several times before it crashed and sank during one of its voyages. It makes us realize that while the cruelty of slave masters existed, there were also people who were staunch abolitionists who stood for what was right, even when the law penalized them for their support of freedom for "colored people".
So much so, that the last stop in the US before slaves could breathe freedom in Canada was called "Hope". The last episode of the 'Enslaved' docuseries will air on Monday, October 19, at 10/9c on Epix.