March 27, 2023
I thank you all for participating in my latest Afromation Think Tank questionnaire-survey. Oh, and Happy 29th Birthday to Afromation (3/26/1994, Seattle, Washington launch “Black History Is American History“). Anyways, these text surveys are very helpful to me in my continuing research into Black History in America. Today’s survey, there is no right or wrong answer. I was just trying to see how many people also did not see what I did not see…until today. This O’Jays album and it’s cover, as most of you of my generation and above probably know, was found near virtually every Black family’s record player; every Black family that is, with a serious soul music album (8-track) collection in the 1970s.
What I remember most about this Ship Ahoy album was the hit song, “For the Love of Money” (…money, money, money…money). Nevertheless, if you were to ask me on 3/26/2023, what I asked you today on 3/27/2023, “WHAT IS THE VERY FIRST THING THAT COMES TO YOUR MIND WHEN YOU LOOK AT THIS 1973 ALBUM COVER?” My answer would have been, “$$$$$” That would have been the first thing that came to mind. Today, imagine my shock and surprise when I realized what I’d been looking at on this album cover for the past 50 years, without a clue?
This 1973 album cover depicts the top deck of a slave ship on a middle passage from Africa to the Caribbean and the Americas, carrying enslaved people. Now this was four years before ROOTS Miniseries came out in 1977, which was the first time I had ever heard of a middle passage. Wait a minute, I would not hear of the actual term until 1990 when a Black American University of Washington at Seattle Professor Charles R. Johnson’s novel Middle Passage, won the National Book Award for fiction. I don’t feel bad, because so far only one person that I sent this to has responded with anything near slavery. He said, “Wow painful history of the enslavement of some of our ancestors.”
Now the actual title track song, “Ship Ahoy.” I guess I only remember the O’Jays harmonizing the two words over and over, and just spaced out what they sung next: …Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy! Totin’ that barge, lift that bail Get a little something, gonna land in jail Somebody bite the whip I’m your master And you’re my slave Uh-huh And you’re my slave I’m your master Look over there, what do you see Tell him look over here, what do you see.
What am I saying here? I’m saying that all these years I’ve been telling folks my first indoctrination into the Africans aboard the slave ships was in ROOTS. This morning I realized it was the O’Jays. I just didn’t know it. They did not promote the album in an Afrocentric way (there were a lot of non-Blacks who loved the O’Jays 50 years ago, as well). My friends, my parents, my relatives, nobody said anything back then about the Ship Ahoy album cover. “For the Love of Money” was the arguably the #1 song in world in 1973. If the O’Jays and (TSOP: The Sounds of Philly) Philadelphia International Records label picked that album cover design, they must have been trying to say something. I guess you just had to be in the know back then.
My point? This ain’t 1973. Our Black History cannot be hidden, or just talked about in codes on album covers, or for that matter and more importantly, our Black History cannot be taken away. The State of Florida can pass all the laws it wants. But the only way Black History can be erased in America is if Black America goes back to 1973, back when many were ashamed of how we (most Blacks originally) got here. FLOTUS Michelle Obama, many say, closed the so-called history of shame door for good back in July 2016 when she said, “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.” Wow. Hold up, somebody else just text me back with the response, “slaves on a ship,” she said. This make two. Me, I didn’t see it. But now I see. I thank you.
Hold up! I’m just seeing that we have another responder who said, “I’m swinging from Fantastic Voyage, to slave ship, to Million Man March.” Okay, she saw it. Alright, it’s 2023!!! One last point. I’m not upset that the O’Jays album cover depicts slavery. I’m disappointed that I looked at it all these years and didn’t know what I was looking at. This makes me think of all the Black History I did not learn growing up. But it’s cool for I taught myself as an adult.
— M. Darryl Woods