A story of a Muslim slave challenges everything

slavers tried to tell us about the enslaved

Sometimes, there’s a discovery so momentous, so clear, that it shakes our notion of history. This is one of those discoveries. An autobiography of a Muslim slave, expertly translated, is challenging the accepted narrative of slavery.

“Omar Ibn Said was 37 years old when he was taken from his West African home and transported to Charleston, South Carolina, as a slave in the 1800s,” the video explains. “Now, his one-of-a-kind autobiographical manuscript has been translated from its original Arabic and housed at the Library of Congress, where it ‘annihilates’ the conventional narrative of African slaves as uneducated and uncultured.”

To get a sense of this incredible story — from his life before slavery to his initial capture to writing on the walls of his prison in Arabic to being bought by a prominent politician and more — and see how it challenges everything slavers tried to tell us about the enslaved, you can watch the video from PBS here:

Omar Ibn Said was a cultured, intelligent, thoughtful man and his story shines a light on so much we ignore about slavery.

Ignoring the fact that 20 percent of slaves were Muslim is bad enough, but the fact that there are any echoes left of the initial justifications of slavery — the idea that slaves were ignorant or uncultured — is a national and international shame.

Said’s story is just one example, one reminder, of the deep, important histories of so many amazing men and women who faced slavery. And we’re listening.