Ben Carson: 'Immigrants' Came to U.S. in the 'Bottom of Slave Ships'

The new secretary of HUD is under fire for a controversial speech where he describes enslaved men and women as immigrants.

Dr. Ben S. Carson Sr. was sworn in March 2 as the 17th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Carson now leads a Cabinet agency with approximately 8,000 employees and oversees an annual budget totaling more than $40 billion.


In his very first speech to HUD employees on Monday, Carson attempted to boost morale by likening enslaved African men and women to immigrants.

The retired neurosurgeon's 40-minute address included discussion of the brain. "Have you ever heard people say, 'Don't do that or you'll overload your brain?'" Carson said. "You can't overload the human brain … so, we need to concentrate a little less on what we can't do and a little more on what we can do."

He then made the transition to discussing "what America is about."

"A land of dreams and opportunity," he said. "There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder, for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great grandsons, great granddaughters, might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land."

An immigrant chooses to leave his or her homeland to live permanently in a foreign country. Hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans were brought to the United States by force, not by choice.

Did Carson Pay Attention During Recent Museum Trip?

Carson and his wife, Candy, along with Ivanka Trump and adviser Omarosa Manigault, joined President Donald Trump for a tour of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C., on February 21. Museum director Lonnie Bunch accompanied the group.

"Ship Full of Sorrow" at National Museum of African American History and Culture. / SHERYL ESTRADA

The NMAAHC, created through an act of Congress, is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history and culture.

Carson's achievements in medicine are featured in an exhibit in the museum a few floors above the Slavery and Freedom exhibition, which vividly explores the history of slavery. It begins with 15th century Africa and Europe, continuing through the founding of the United States, and ends with the nation's transformation during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

The museum states, "Visitors encounter both free and enslaved African Americans' contributions to the making of America and explore the economic and political legacies of the making of modern slavery."

Again, Carson stated in his speech on Monday, "There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships."

The NMAAHC explains the experience of Africans enduring The Middle Passage in a "Ship Full of Sorrow":

"Tens of thousands of slave ships traversed the Atlantic carrying human cargo to an uncertain future. Enslaved people rebelled on one in 10 voyages. Rather than endure the horrors of enslavement, many jumped into the shark-infested waters. An elderly enslaved man stated 'the iron entered into our souls,' as he described the rattling shackles that ripped off the skin of the captive Africans."

The museum does not refer to enslaved men and women as immigrants.

If it were not for the courage and strength of African Americans who demanded their freedom, Carson would not have been a neurosurgeon and director of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center for 30 years, and he certainly would not have been walking around a museum dedicated to African American culture as a member of the Trump administration.

Carson's Use of the Word 'Immigrant'

Brian Sullivan, a HUD spokesman, said Monday, "Nobody here believes [Carson] was equating voluntary immigration with involuntary servitude."

However, John Singler, a professor emeritus at New York University, told DiversityInc that Carson's use of "immigrant" was out of line.

"To think the two words 'immigrant' and 'slave' can be interchanged is outrageous," said Singler, an expert in the sociolinguistics of West Africa and the African diaspora. "Africans came to the United States because they were kidnapped. They had no choice in the matter."

It seems Carson likens the act of slavery more to the Obama's administration's Affordable Care Act than to the actual enslavement of African Americans.

"You know Obamacare is really I think the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery," Carson told a crowd at the 2013 Value Voters summit in Washington. "And … it is slavery in a way, because it is making all of us subservient to the government, and it was never about healthcare. It was about control."

Late Monday, in a Facebook post, Carson explained the "slave narrative" and the "immigrant narrative" as "two entirely different experiences."

He also said, "We should revel in the fact that although we got here through different routes we have many things in common now."

Many were offended that Carson did not make that distinction in his speech and voiced their opinion on social media:

Michael Blake, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee:

Read more news @ DiversityInc.com

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