Intentions of Library Guide:

The purpose of this guide is to provide information about plants which are significant to the Black experience in the Americas dating back to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade or what some refer to as Maafa. This guide serves as a complement to the exhibit, "Seeds of Survival and Celebration: Plants and the Black Experience," at the Cornell Botanic Gardens. Part of the richness of this exhibit is to have visitors:

  • Recognize that many of the plants on display are associated with the transatlantic slave trade and have prominence in American culture today.
  • Recognize that some of the plants displayed came to the Americas on slave ships from West Africa.
  • Recognize that some of the plants displayed were grown and used by enslaved people in their own gardens.
  • Recognize that some of the plants displayed were harvested and cultivated by enslaved Blacks.

Key Terms:

  • Black: The term Black is used rather than African American because African American implies people of African decent born in the United States. The phrase African American excludes; Africans and people of African decent who were born in the Caribbean, Central and South America. Please note that Africans and people of African decent in the Americas have gone through Maafa. They are all seen as a part of the seeds of survival and celebration displayed in this exhibit.
  • Chattel Slavery: In this system, enslaved people were the personal property of their owners for life, a source of labor or a commodity that could be willed, traded or sold like livestock or furniture. Chattel derives from the word for cattle. 
  • Enslave: The reduce to slavery, to make a slave of.
  • Ethnobotany: Is the study of how people of a particular culture and region make use of indigenous (native) plants.
  • Maafa: A Kiswahili term for disaster, calamity or terrible occurrence' to describe the history of atrocities inflicted on African peoples and an invitation to people of African descent 'to honor our ancestors who have suffered through the middle passage AND the lives that continue to be compromised due to racism and oppression.

This guide was created by Kofi Acree, Director of the John Henrik Clarke Africana Library; send email.