Myths About Slavery - Slavery Facts

Myths About Slavery - Slavery Facts

1. Myth #1: There were enslaved Irish people in the American colonies.

As historian and public librarian Liam Hogan has written: “There is unanimous agreement, based on overwhelming evidence, that the Irish were never subjected to perpetual, hereditary slavery in the colonies, based on notions of ‘race’.” The enduring myth of Irish slavery, which most often surfaces today in service of Irish nationalist and white supremacist causes, has roots in the 17th and 18th centuries, when Irish laborers were derogatorily called “white slaves.” The phrase would later be employed as propaganda by the slave-owning South about the industrialized North, along with (false) claims that life was far harder for immigrant factory workers than for enslaved people.

What’s the truth? Large numbers of indentured servants did indeed emigrate from Ireland to the British colonies of North America, where they provided a cheap labor force for planters and merchants eager to exploit it. Though most crossed the Atlantic willingly, some Irish men and women—including criminals as well as simply the poor and vulnerable—were sentenced to indentured servitude in Ireland, and forcibly shipped to the colonies to carry out their sentences. But indentured servitude, by definition, came nowhere close to chattel slavery. For one thing, it was temporary; all but the most serious felons were freed at the end of their contracts. The colonial system also offered more lenient punishment for disobedient servants than enslaved people, and allowed servants to petition for early release if their masters mistreated them. Most importantly, servitude wasn’t hereditary. Children of indentured servants were born free; slaves’ children were the property of their owners.

2. Myth #2: The South seceded from the Union over the issue of states’ rights, not slavery.

This myth, that the Civil War wasn’t fundamentally a conflict over slavery, would have been a surprise to the original founders of the Confederacy. In the official declaration of the causes of their secession in December 1860, South Carolina’s delegates cited “an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery.” According to them, the Northern interference with the return of fugitive slaves was violating their constitutional obligations; they also complained that some states in New England tolerated abolitionist societies and allowed Black men to vote.

As James W. Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me and The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader, wrote in the Washington Post: “In fact, Confederates opposed states’ rights—that is, the right of Northern states not to support slavery.” The idea that the war was somehow not about slavery but about the issue of states’ rights was perpetuated by later generations anxious to redefine their ancestors’ sacrifices as a noble protection of the Southern way of life. At the time, however, Southerners had no problem claiming the protection of slavery as the cause of their break with the Union.

3. Myth #3: Only a small percentage of Southerners owned enslaved people.

Closely related to Myth #2, the idea that the vast majority of Confederate soldiers were men of modest means rather than large plantation owners is usually used to reinforce the contention that the South wouldn’t have gone to war to protect slavery. The 1860 census shows that in the states that would soon secede from the Union, an average of more than 32 percent of white families owned enslaved people. Some states had far more slave owners (46 percent of families in South Carolina, 49 percent in Mississippi) while some had far less (20 percent of families in Arkansas).

But as Jamelle Bouie and Rebecca Onion point out in Slate, the percentages don’t fully express the extent to which the antebellum South was built on a foundation of slavery. Many of those white families who couldn’t afford enslaved people aspired to, as a symbol of wealth and prosperity. In addition, the essential ideology of white supremacy that served as a rationale for slavery, made it extremely difficult—and terrifying—for white Southerners to imagine life alongside a Black majority population that was not in bondage. In this way, many Confederates who did not enslave people went to war to protect not only slavery, but to preserve the foundation of the only way of life they knew.

4. Myth #4: The Union went to war to end slavery.

On the Northern side, the rose-colored myth of the Civil War is that the blue-clad Union soldiers and their brave, doomed leader, Abraham Lincoln, were fighting to free enslaved people. They weren’t, at least not initially; they were fighting to hold the nation together. Lincoln was known to personally oppose slavery (which is why the South seceded after his election in 1860), but his chief goal was preserving the Union. In August 1862, he famously wrote to the New York Tribune: “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”

Enslaved people, themselves helped make the case for emancipation as a military aim, fleeing in droves beyond the lines of approaching Union armies. Early in the conflict, some of Lincoln’s generals helped the president understand that sending these men and women back to bondage could only help the Confederate cause. By the fall of 1862, Lincoln had become convinced that acting to end slavery was a necessary step. A month after his letter to the New York Tribune, Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation, which would take effect in January 1863. More a practical wartime measure than a true liberation, it proclaimed free all enslaved people in the rebel states, but not those in the border states, which Lincoln needed to remain loyal to the Union.

5. Myth #5: Black soldiers—slave and free—fought for the Confederacy.

This argument, a staple among those seeking to redefine the conflict as an abstract battle over states’ rights rather than a fight to preserve slavery, does not hold up. White officers in the Confederacy did indeed bring enslaved people to the front during the Civil War, where they cooked, cleaned and performed other labors for the officers and their regiments. But there’s no evidence to suggest that significant numbers of Black soldiers fought under the Confederate banner against Union soldiers.

In fact, until March 1865, Confederate Army policy specifically prohibited Black people from serving as soldiers. Some Confederate officers wanted to enlist enslaved people earlier: Gen. Patrick Cleburne proposed enlisting African American soldiers early in 1864, but Jefferson Davis rejected the suggestion and ordered it never to be discussed again. Finally, in the last weeks of the conflict, the Confederate government gave in to Gen. Robert E. Lee’s desperate plea for more men, allowing enslaved people to enlist in exchange for some kind of post-war freedom. A small number signed up for training, but there’s no evidence they saw action before the war’s end.


10 Interesting Facts You Never Knew About Slavery

Slavery is one of the most controversial topics out there today. Although we all agree it was terrible, we probably never learned enough about it in school. Slavery was much more complicated than we think, and contrary to what most people believe, it was not all about blacks. Whites were also kept as slaves.

Nevertheless, slavers did all they could to justify the practice, including creating a dedicated Slave Bible. That did not stop the slaves from running away, though. However, the daring escapes often ended after the slaves were tracked and attacked by dogs bred only for that purpose.


10. Slavery was a Southern institution

Books, movies, and TV have helped to popularize the idea that slavery was unique to southern states of America, that there was a line between the Northern and Southern states that slavery did not cross. Thoughts of slavery in America easily spring to mind images of Africans toiling away in the cotton plantations of the Lower South, while slave drivers ride through the fields with their whips, while in contrast northerners opposed the practice, operating on “free labor” rather than slavery.

Slavery had no such geographical boundaries, it was present throughout all of the thirteen colonies. Where plantations were common in the South, slaves were commonly household servants in the North, though they were also used in the cultivation of crops such as wheat and corn.

Proportionately there were significantly more slaves in the South. By the end of the 18 th century, fewer than ten % of slaves in America lived in the North, while Virginia alone had 42%. Northern states all voted to abolish slavery by 1804, decades before the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 abolished slavery throughout America. However, slavery persisted in some Northern states, such as Pennsylvania, into the 1850s.


4 Myths About Slavery We Should Stop Believing Now

Photo from Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library. (1915). Slavery in America [Women and children from Africa in the Southern States]. Retrieved from digitalcollections.nypl.org.

People think they know everything about slavery in the United States, but likely they don&rsquot. They think the majority of African slaves came to the American colonies, but they didn&rsquot. They talk about 400 years of slavery, but it wasn&rsquot. They claim all Southerners owned slaves, but they didn&rsquot. Some argue it was all a long time ago, but it wasn&rsquot.

The history of slavery provides vital context to contemporary conversations.

Slavery has been in the news a lot in recent years. From the discovery of the auction of 272 enslaved people that enabled Georgetown University to remain in operation to the McGraw-Hill textbook controversy over calling slaves &ldquoworkers from Africa&rdquo and the slavery memorial being built at the University of Virginia, Americans are having conversations about this difficult period in American history. Some of these dialogues have been wrought with controversy and conflict, like the University of Tennessee student who challenged her professor&rsquos understanding of enslaved families.

As a scholar of slavery at the University of Texas at Austin, I welcome the public debates and connections the American people are making with history. However, they still have many misconceptions about slavery, as evidenced by the conflict at the University of Tennessee.

I&rsquove spent my career dispelling myths about &ldquothe peculiar institution.&rdquo The goal in my courses is not to victimize one group and celebrate another. Instead, we trace the history of slavery in all its forms to make sense of the origins of wealth inequality and the roots of discrimination today. The history of slavery provides vital context to contemporary conversations and counters the distorted facts, internet hoaxes and poor scholarship I caution my students against.

Four myths about slavery

Myth 1: The majority of African captives came to what became the United States.

Truth: Only a little more than 300,000 captives, or 4 percent to 6 percent, came to the United States. The majority of enslaved Africans went to Brazil, followed by the Caribbean. A significant number of enslaved Africans arrived in the American colonies by way of the Caribbean, where they were &ldquoseasoned&rdquo and mentored into slave life. They spent months or years recovering from the harsh realities of the Middle Passage. Once they were forcibly accustomed to slave labor, many were then brought to plantations on American soil.

Myth 2: Slavery lasted for 400 years.

Popular culture is rich with references to 400 years of oppression. There seems to be confusion between the Transatlantic Slave Trade (1440-1888) and the institution of slavery, confusion only reinforced by the Bible, Genesis 15:13:

Then the Lord said to him, &lsquoKnow for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.&rsquo

Listen to Lupe Fiasco&mdashjust one hip-hop artist to refer to the 400 years&mdashin his 2011 imagining of America without slavery, &ldquoAll Black Everything&rdquo:

So there were no slaves in our history

Were no slave ships, were no misery, call me crazy, or isn&rsquot he

See I fell asleep and I had a dream, it was all black everything

Uh, and we ain&rsquot get exploited

White man ain&rsquot feared so he did not destroy it

We ain&rsquot work for free, see they had to employ it

Built it up together so we equally appointed

First 400 years, see we actually enjoyed it

Truth: Slavery was not unique to the United States it is a part of almost every nation&rsquos history, from Greek and Roman civilizations to contemporary forms of human trafficking. The American part of the story lasted fewer than 400 years.

How, then, do we calculate the timeline of slavery in America? Most historians use 1619 as a starting point: 20 Africans referred to as &ldquoservants&rdquo arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, on a Dutch ship. It&rsquos important to note, however, that they were not the first Africans on American soil. Africans first arrived in America in the late 16th century not as slaves but as explorers together with Spanish and Portuguese explorers.

One of the best-known of these African &ldquoconquistadors&rdquo was Estevancio, who traveled throughout the Southeast from present-day Florida to Texas. As far as the institution of chattel slavery&mdashthe treatment of slaves as property&mdashin the United States, if we use 1619 as the beginning and the 1865 13th Amendment as its end, then it lasted 246 years, not 400.

Myth 3: All Southerners owned slaves.

Truth: Roughly 25 percent of all Southerners owned slaves. The fact that one-quarter of the Southern population were slaveholders is still shocking to many. This truth brings historical insight to modern conversations about inequality and reparations.

When it established statehood, the Lone Star State had a shorter period of Anglo-American chattel slavery than other Southern states&mdashonly 1845 to 1865&mdashbecause Spain and Mexico had occupied the region for almost half of the 19th century with policies that either abolished or limited slavery. Still, the number of people affected by wealth and income inequality is staggering. By 1860, the Texas enslaved population was 182,566, but slaveholders represented 27 percent of the population, and controlled 68 percent of the government positions and 73 percent of the wealth. These are astonishing figures, but today&rsquos income gap in Texas is arguably more stark, with 10 percent of tax filers taking home 50 percent of the income.

Myth 4: Slavery was a long time ago.

Truth: African-Americans have been free in this country for less time than they were enslaved. Blacks have been free for 152 years, which means that most Americans are only three to four generations away from slavery. This is not that long ago.

Over this same period, however, former slaveholding families have built their legacies on the institution and generated wealth that African-Americans have not had access to because enslaved labor was forced. Segregation maintained wealth disparities, and overt and covert discrimination limited African-American recovery efforts.

The value of slaves

Economists and historians have examined detailed aspects of the enslaved experience for as long as slavery existed. My own work enters this conversation by looking at the value of individual slaves and the ways enslaved people responded to being treated as a commodity.

They were bought and sold just like we sell cars and cattle today. They were gifted, deeded and mortgaged the same way we sell houses today. They were itemized and insured the same way we manage our assets and protect our valuables.

Enslaved people were valued at every stage of their lives, from before birth until after death. Slaveholders examined women for their fertility and projected the value of their &ldquofuture increase.&rdquo As the slaves grew up, enslavers assessed their value through a rating system that quantified their work. An &ldquoA1 Prime hand&rdquo represented one term used for a &ldquofirst-rate&rdquo slave who could do the most work in a given day. Their values decreased on a quarter scale from three-fourths hands to one-fourth hands, to a rate of zero, which was typically reserved for elderly or differently abled bondpeople (another term for slaves).

Slavery was an extremely diverse economic institution, one that extracted unpaid labor out of people in a variety of settings.

For example, Guy and Andrew, two prime males sold at the largest auction in U.S. history in 1859, commanded different prices. Although similar in &ldquoall marketable points in size, age, and skill,&rdquo Guy was US$1,280 while Andrew sold for $1,040 because &ldquohe had lost his right eye.&rdquo A reporter from the New York Tribune noted &ldquothat the market value of the right eye in the Southern country is $240.&rdquo Enslaved bodies were reduced to monetary values assessed from year to year and sometimes from month to month for their entire lifespan and beyond. By today&rsquos standards, Andrew and Guy would be worth about $33,000-$40,000.

Slavery was an extremely diverse economic institution, one that extracted unpaid labor out of people in a variety of settings&mdashfrom small single-crop farms and plantations to urban universities. This diversity was also reflected in their prices. And enslaved people understood they were treated as commodities.

&ldquoI was sold away from mammy at 3 years old,&rdquo recalled Harriett Hill of Georgia. &ldquoI remembers it! It lack selling a calf from the cow,&rdquo she shared in a 1930s interview with the Works Progress Administration. &ldquoWe are human beings,&rdquo she told her interviewer. Those in bondage understood their status. Even though Harriet Hill was too little to remember her price when she was three, she recalled being sold for $1,400 at age 9 or 10: &ldquoI never could forget it.&rdquo

Slavery in popular culture

Slavery is part and parcel of American popular culture, but for 40 years the television miniseries Roots was the primary visual representation of the institution, except for a handful of independent (and not widely known) films such as Haile Gerima&rsquos Sankofa or the Brazilian Quilombo.

Today, from grassroots initiatives such as the interactive Slave Dwelling Project, where school-aged children spend the night in slave cabins, to comic skits on Saturday Night Live, slavery is front and center. In 2016 A&E and History released the reimagined miniseries Roots: The Saga of an American Family, which reflected four decades of new scholarship. Steve McQueen&rsquos &ldquo12 Years a Slave&rdquo was a box office success in 2013, actress Azia Mira Dungey made headlines with the popular web series called Ask a Slave, and The Underground&mdasha series about runaway slaves and abolitionists&mdashwas a hit for its network WGN America. With less than one year of operation, the Smithsonian&rsquos National Museum of African American History, which devotes several galleries to the history of slavery, has had more than 1 million visitors.

The elephant that sits at the center of our history is coming into focus. American slavery happened&mdashwe are still living with its consequences. I believe we are finally ready to face it, learn about it and acknowledge its significance to American history.

Editor&rsquos note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Oct. 21, 2014.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Slavery in popular culture

Slavery is part and parcel of American popular culture, but for 40 years the television miniseries Roots was the primary visual representation of the institution, except for a handful of independent (and not widely known) films such as Haile Gerima’s “Sankofa” or the Brazilian “Quilombo.”

Today, from grassroots initiatives such as the interactive Slave Dwelling Project, where school-aged children spend the night in slave cabins, to comic skits on Saturday Night Live, slavery is front and center. In 2016 A&E and History released the reimagined miniseries “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” which reflected four decades of new scholarship. Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” was a box office success in 2013, actress Azia Mira Dungey made headlines with the popular web series called “Ask a Slave,” and “The Underground” – a series about runaway slaves and abolitionists – was a hit for its network WGN America. With less than one year of operation, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History, which devotes several galleries to the history of slavery, has had more than one million visitors.

The elephant that sits at the center of our history is coming into focus. American slavery happened – we are still living with its consequences. I believe we are finally ready to face it, learn about it and acknowledge its significance to American history.

[You’re too busy to read everything. We get it. That’s why we’ve got a weekly newsletter. Sign up for good Sunday reading.]

Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Oct. 21, 2014.


Slavery Myths Debunked

Photo courtesy the National Archives/Getty Images

A certain resistance to discussion about the toll of American slavery isn’t confined to the least savory corners of the Internet. Last year, in an unsigned (and now withdrawn) review of historian Ed Baptist’s book The Half Has Never Been Told, the Economist took issue with Baptist’s “overstated” treatment of the topic, arguing that the increase in the country’s economic output in the 19 th century shouldn’t be chalked up to black workers’ innovations in the cotton field but rather to masters treating their slaves well out of economic self-interest—a bit of seemingly rational counterargument that ignores the moral force of Baptist’s narrative, while making space for the fantasy of kindly slavery. In a June column on the legacy of Robert E. Lee that was otherwise largely critical of the Confederate general, New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks wrote that, though Lee owned slaves, he didn’t like owning slaves—a biographical detail whose inclusion seemed to imply that Lee’s ambivalence somehow made his slaveholding less objectionable. And in an August obituary of civil rights leader Julian Bond, the Times called his great-grandmother Jane Bond “the slave mistress of a Kentucky farmer”—a term that accords far too much agency to Bond’s ancestor and too little blame to the “farmer” who enslaved her.

While working on our Slate Academy podcast, The History of American Slavery, we encountered many types of slavery denial—frequently disguised as historical correctives and advanced by those who want to change (or end) conversation about the deep impact of slavery on American history. We’d like to offer counterarguments—some historical, some ethical—to the most common misdirections that surface in conversations about slavery.

@Jon_theSage - Actually my ancestors were Irish slaves here. We don't still whine about it. We move forward. not backward.

&mdash carold501 (@carold501) September 19, 2015

“The Irish Were Slaves Too”

Is it true?: If we’re talking about slavery as it was practiced on Africans in the United States—that is, hereditary chattel slavery—then the answer is a clear no. As historian and public librarian Liam Hogan writes in a paper titled “The Myth of ‘Irish Slaves’ in the Colonies,” “Persons from Ireland have been held in various forms of human bondage throughout history, but they have never been chattel slaves in the West Indies.” Nor is there any evidence of Irish chattel slavery in the North American colonies. There were a large number of Irish indentured servants, and there were cases in which Irish men and women were sentenced to indentured servitude in the “new world” and forcibly shipped across the Atlantic. But even involuntary laborers had more autonomy than enslaved Africans, and the large majority of Irish indentured servants came here voluntarily.

Which raises a question: Where did the myth of Irish slavery come from? A few places. The term “white slaves” emerged in the 17 th and 18 th centuries, first as a derogatory term for Irish laborers—equating their social position to that of slaves—later as political rhetoric in Ireland itself, and later still as Southern pro-slavery propaganda against an industrialized North. More recently, Hogan notes, several sources have conflated indentured servitude with chattel slavery in order to argue for a particular Irish disadvantage in the Americas, when compared to other white immigrant groups. Hogan cites several writers—Sean O’Callaghan in To Hell or Barbados and Don Jordan and Michael Walsh in White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America—who exaggerate poor treatment of Irish indentured servants and intentionally conflate their status with African slaves. Neither of the authors “bother to inform the reader, in a coherent manner, what the differences are between chattel slavery and indentured servitude or forced labor,” writes Hogan.

This is an important point. Indentured servitude was difficult, deadly work, and many indentured servants died before their terms were over. But indentured servitude was temporary, with a beginning and an end. Those who survived their terms received their freedom. Servants could even petition for early release due to mistreatment, and colonial lawmakers established different, often lesser, punishments for disobedient servants compared to disobedient slaves. Above all, indentured servitude wasn’t hereditary. The children of servants were free the children of slaves were property. To elide this is to diminish the realities of chattel slavery, which—perhaps—is one reason the most vocal purveyors of the myth are neo-Confederate and white supremacist groups.

Bottom line: Even if many Irish immigrants faced discrimination and hard lives on these shores, it doesn’t change the fact that American slavery—hereditary and race-based—was a massive institution that shaped and defined the political economy of colonial America, and later, the United States. Nor does it change the fact that this institution left a profound legacy for the descendants of enslaved Africans, who even after emancipation were subject to almost a century of violence, disenfranchisement, and pervasive oppression, with social, economic, and cultural effects that persist to the present.

“Black people enslaved each other in Africa, and black people worked with slave traders, so …”

In a piece published in Vice magazine in 2005 (and still available on the Vice website), comedian Jim Goad offers a series of “feel better about your history, white kids” arguments. One of his salvos: “Slavery was common throughout Africa, with entire tribes becoming enslaved after losing battles. Tribal chieftains often sold their defeated foes to white slave-traders.”

Is it true?: This is certainly true. But, as historian Marcus Rediker writes, the “ancient and widely accepted institution” of enslavement in Africa was exacerbated by the European presence. Yes, European slave traders entered “preexisting circuits of exchange” when they arrived in the 16 th century. But European demand changed the shape of this market, strengthening enslavers and ensuring that more and more people would be carried away. “[European] slave-ship captains wanted to deal with ruling groups and strong leaders, people who could command labor resources and deliver the ‘goods,’ ” Rediker writes, and European money and technology further empowered those who were already dominant, encouraging them to enslave greater numbers. Both the social structures and infrastructure that enabled African systems of enslavement were strengthened by the transatlantic slave trade.

Bottom line: Why should this matter? This is a classic “two wrongs make a right” ethical proposition. Even if Africans (or Arabs, or Jews) colluded in the slave trade, should white Americans be entitled to do whatever they pleased with the people who were unlucky enough to fall victim?

“The first slave owner in America was black.”

Is it true?: It depends on how you parse the timeline. Anthony Johnson, the black ex–indentured servant whose bio opened the first episode of our podcast, did sue to hold John Casor for life in 1653, and the resulting civil court decision remanding Casor to Johnson’s ownership was (as historian R. Halliburton Jr. writes) “one of the first known legal sanctions of slavery” in the colonies. That phrase—“one of”—is crucial. The ship Desire brought a cargo of Africans from Barbados to Boston in 1634 these people were sold as slaves. In 1640 John Punch, a runaway servant of African descent, was sentenced to lifelong slavery in Virginia, while the two European-born companions who fled with him had their indentures extended. In 1641, the passage of the Body of Liberties provided legal sanction for the slave trade in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. (N.B.: The image in the meme above isn’t of Anthony Johnson. There were no photographers in 17 th -century Virginia.)

Whether or not Anthony Johnson was the first American slaveholder, he was certainly not the last black person to own slaves. “It is a very sad aspect of African-American history that slavery sometimes could be a colorblind affair,” writes Henry Louis Gates Jr. on the Root, in a fascinating piece about the history of black slaveholders in the United States. Some black slaveholders bought family members, though this humanitarian arrangement doesn’t account for all of the history of black slaveholding, as Gates points out.

Bottom line: Even if Anthony Johnson was the first person in the North American colonies to hold a slave—even if many black people across the years held slaves—that doesn’t erase the fact that it was the racially based system of hereditary slavery that harmed the vast majority of black people living within it. The fact that some members of an oppressed class participate in oppression doesn’t excuse that oppression.

“Slaves were better off than some poor people working in Northern or English factories. At least they were given food and a place to stay.”

Is it true?: It was undeniably hard to be a factory worker in the 19 th century. White adults (and children) labored in dangerous environments and were often hungry. But slaves were hardly in a better position.

While it makes some intuitive sense that a person would be rationally motivated to take care of his or her “property,” as the Economist’s reviewer suggested, historians have found that American slaveholders were apt to provide minimum levels of food and shelter for enslaved people. They considered black people’s palates to be less refined than white people’s, and this justified serving a monotonous diet of pork and cornmeal. Enslaved workers were expected to supplement their diets when they could, by tending their own vegetable gardens and hunting or trapping—more work to be added to their already heavy loads. Evidence shows that many enslaved people suffered from diseases associated with malnutrition, including pellagra, rickets, scurvy, and anemia.

Even if an enslaved person in the United States landed in a relatively “good” position—owned by a slaveholder who was inclined to feed workers well and be lenient in punishment—he was always subject to sale, which could happen because of death, debt, arguments in the family, or whim. Since very few laws regulated slaveholders’ treatment of enslaved people, there would be no guarantee that the next place the enslaved person landed would be equally comfortable—and the enslaved had limited opportunity, short of running away or resisting, to control the situation.

Bottom line: This is another case of the “two wrongs” fallacy. We could compare levels of mistreatment of Northern factory workers and Southern enslaved laborers and find that each group lived with hunger and injury both findings are dismaying. But this is a distraction from the real issue: Slavery, as a system, legalized and codified the slaveholder’s control over the enslaved person’s body.

“Only a small percentage of Southerners owned slaves.”

“The vast majority of soldiers in the Confederate Army were simple men of meager income,” rather than wealthy slaveholders, writes the anonymous author of a widely-circulated Confederate History “fact sheet.”

Is it true?: According to the 1860 census, taken just before the Civil War, more than 32 percent of white families in the soon-to-be Confederate states owned slaves. Of course, this is an average, and different states had different levels of slaveholding. In Arkansas, just 20 percent of families owned slaves in South Carolina, it was 46 percent in Mississippi, it was 49 percent.

By most measures, this isn’t “small”—it’s roughly the same percentage of Americans who, today, hold a college degree. The large majority of slaveholding families were small farmers and not the major planters who dominate our image of “slavery.”

Typically, this fact is used to suggest that the Civil War was not about slavery. If so few Southerners owned slaves, goes the argument, then the war had to be about something else (namely, the sanctity of states’ rights). But, as historian Ira Berlin writes, the slave South was a slave society, not just a society with slaves. Slavery was at the foundation of economic and social relations, and slave-ownership was aspirational—a symbol of wealth and prosperity. Whites who couldn’t afford slaves wanted them in the same way that, today, most Americans want to own a home.

Bottom line: Slavery was the basis of white supremacy, which united all whites in a racist hierarchy. “[T]he existing relation between the two races in the South,” argued South Carolina Sen. John C. Calhoun in 1837, “forms the most solid and durable foundation on which to rear free and stable political institutions.” Many whites couldn’t imagine Southern society without slavery. And when it was threatened, those whites—whether they owned slaves or not—took up arms to defend their “way of life.”

“The North benefited from slavery, too.”

Is it true?: There’s no question that this is true. As historians Ed Baptist and Sven Beckert show in their respective books, American slavery was an economic engine for the global economy. The South’s production of cotton drove industrialization and fueled a massive commodities market that transformed the world. Naturally, this meant that slavery was vital to Northern financial and industrial interests. It’s no coincidence, for instance, that New York City was among the most pro-Southern cities in the North during the Civil War slavery was key to its economic success. In any honest conversation about American slavery, we have to look at the tight economic links between North and South and the degree to which the entire country was complicit in the enterprise.

Bottom line: Often, this line comes from Southern defenders, who want to emphasize Northern complicity. But the two types of historical guilt aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s true that the North played a major role in sustaining the slave economy. It’s also true that slavery was based in the American South that it formed the basis of Southern society that white Southerners were its most fervent defenders and that those Southerners would eventually fight a war to preserve and expand the institution.

“Black people fought for the Confederacy.”

“Historical fact shows there were Black Confederate soldiers. These brave men fought in the trenches beside their White brothers, all under the Confederate Battle Flag,” reads a statement from the South Carolina chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Is it true?: Here is a case where rhetorical precision is key. Did blacks serve in the Confederacy? Absolutely: As enslaved people, countless black Americans cooked, cleaned, and worked for Confederate regiments and their officers. But they didn’t fight there’s no evidence that black Americans—enslaved or free—fought Union soldiers under Confederate banners.

Toward the end of the war, a desperate Confederate Congress allowed its army to enlist enslaved Africans who had been freed by their masters. A small number of black soldiers were trained, but there’s no evidence they saw action. And even this measure was divisive: Opponents attacked it as a betrayal of the Confederacy’s aim and purpose. “You cannot make soldiers of slaves, or slaves of soldiers,” declared Howell Cobb, president of the Provisional Confederate State Congress that drafted the Confederate States of America constitution. “The day you make a soldier of them is the beginning of the end of the Revolution. And if slaves seem good soldiers, then our whole theory of slavery is wrong.”

The myth is a product of the post-war period, when former Confederate leaders worked to retroactively redefine secession from a movement to preserve slavery to a fight for abstract “state’s rights” and a hazy “Southern way of life.”

Bottom line: Even if there were black soldiers in the Confederate army, it doesn’t change the truth of the Confederacy: Its goal was the protection and expansion of slavery. The institution was protected in the Confederate constitution. “Our new government is founded upon … the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition,” said Confederate vice president Alexander Stephens in his “Cornerstone Speech.” “This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”


Four myths about slavery

Myth One: The majority of African captives came to what became the United States.

Truth: Only 380,000 or 4-6% came to the United States. The majority of enslaved Africans went to Brazil, followed by the Caribbean. A significant number of enslaved Africans arrived in the American colonies by way of the Caribbean where they were “seasoned” and mentored into slave life. They spent months or years recovering from the harsh realities of the Middle Passage. Once they were forcibly accustomed to slave labor, many were then brought to plantations on American soil.

Myth Two: Slavery lasted for 400 years.

Popular culture is rich with references to 400 years of oppression. There seems to be confusion between the Transatlantic Slave Trade (1440-1888) and the institution of slavery, confusion only reinforced by the Bible, Genesis 15:13:

Then the Lord said to him, ‘Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.’

Listen to Lupe Fiasco – just one Hip Hop artist to refer to the 400 years – in his 2011 imagining of America without slavery, “All Black Everything”:

[Hook] You would never know
If you could ever be
If you never try
You would never see
Stayed in Africa
We ain’t never leave
So there were no slaves in our history
Were no slave ships, were no misery, call me crazy, or isn’t he
See I fell asleep and I had a dream, it was all black everything

[Verse 1] Uh, and we ain’t get exploited
White man ain’t feared so he did not destroy it
We ain’t work for free, see they had to employ it
Built it up together so we equally appointed
First 400 years, see we actually enjoyed it

A plantation owner with his slaves.
National Media Museum from UK

Truth: Slavery was not unique to the United States it is a part of almost every nation’s history from Greek and Roman civilizations to contemporary forms of human trafficking. The American part of the story lasted fewer than 400 years.

How do we calculate it? Most historians use 1619 as a starting point: 20 Africans referred to as ”servants” arrived in Jamestown, VA on a Dutch ship. It’s important to note, however, that they were not the first Africans on American soil. Africans first arrived in America in the late 16th century not as slaves but as explorers together with Spanish and Portuguese explorers. One of the best known of these African “conquistadors” was Estevancio who traveled throughout the southeast from present day Florida to Texas. As far as the institution of chattel slavery – the treatment of slaves as property – in the United States, if we use 1619 as the beginning and the 1865 Thirteenth Amendment as its end then it lasted 246 years, not 400.

Myth Three: All Southerners owned slaves.

Truth: Roughly 25% of all southerners owned slaves. The fact that one quarter of the Southern population were slaveholders is still shocking to many. This truth brings historical insight to modern conversations about the Occupy Movement, its challenge to the inequality gap and its slogan “we are the 99%.”

Take the case of Texas. When it established statehood, the Lone Star State had a shorter period of Anglo-American chattel slavery than other Southern states – only 1845 to 1865 – because Spain and Mexico had occupied the region for almost one half of the 19th century with policies that either abolished or limited slavery. Still, the number of people impacted by wealth and income inequality is staggering. By 1860, the Texas enslaved population was 182,566, but slaveholders represented 27% of the population, controlled 68% of the government positions and 73% of the wealth. Shocking figures but today’s income gap in Texas is arguably more stark with 10% of tax filers taking home 50% of the income.

Myth Four: Slavery was a long time ago.

Truth: African-Americans have been free in this country for less time than they were enslaved. Do the math: Blacks have been free for 149 years which means that most Americans are two to three generations removed from slavery. However, former slaveholding families have built their legacies on the institution and generated wealth that African-Americans have not been privy to because enslaved labor was forced segregation maintained wealth disparities and overt and covert discrimination limited African-American recovery efforts.


How Did Slavery Cause the Civil War? Myths and Facts

How did slavery cause the Civil War? In order to discuss this question, we must examine the nature of slavery in 1861 and determine if it was in fact a dying institution, as some claim.

How Did Slavery Cause the Civil War? The Myth

By 1860 Southerners had convinced themselves that slavery, far from being an evil practice, benefitted both master and slave. This position was a far cry from the one that prevailed in the days of the American Revolution and its immediate aftermath when abolition and manumission enjoyed popularity and resulted in the gradual abolishment of slavery in many Northern states. The myth holds that slavery was Bible- sanctioned, benevolent, and a boon to all involved in it.

This myth began long before the Civil War. Michael C. C. Adams observes, “even before the abolitionist attack from the North, Southerners began the defense of slavery as a social system that provided unique benefits, both for the slaves whom it placed under the fatherly care of a superior race and for the master who was given the freedom from toil necessary to the creation of a superior culture.”

When abolitionists, especially after 1830, began seriously attacking slavery, Southerners tried even harder to justify the institution. In the 1830s, “[p]rominent southern politicians, clergymen, and academics presented a more positive view of slavery, as something not only necessary but also good for African Americans and for the entire society.” Justifications for it were found in the Bible and scientific studies. Masters were supposedly benevolent patriarchs. In 1853, the Georgian Robert Toombs explained that “whenever the two races co-exist a state of slavery is best for [the African] and society. And under it in our country, he is in a better condition than he has ever attained in any other age and country, either in bondage or freedom.”

As the Civil War drew to a close, the myth continued and seems to have been embellished. In 1865, an Atlanta editor wrote that slaves’ position was “an enviable one” and contended that “they constitute a privileged class in the community.” He mused, “how happy we should be we the slave of some good and provident owner” because “simple daily toil would fill the measure of duty, and comfortable food and clothing would be the assured reward.”

Edward A. Pollard of Richmond, an editor and author, wrote this analysis in 1866: “The occasion of that conflict was what the Yankees called—by one of their convenient libels in political nomenclature—slavery but what was, in fact, nothing more than a system of Negro servitude in the South… one of the mildest and most beneficent systems of servitude in the world.” Interestingly, in his haste to disclaim the term “slavery,” Pollard conceded that it was the “occasion of that conflict”—contrary to the Myth’s tenet that slavery was not the cause of the war.

A prominent Southern journalist, J. D. B. DeBow, writing in 1867, explained the alleged loyalty and contentment of blacks during the war. They had, he said, “adhered in general with great fidelity to the cause of their masters during the struggle. . . . They followed their masters to the field without desertion and were proud of the service. They worked cheerfully upon the fortifications and earth-works in sight of the enemy, and without thought of desertion. They … maintained obedience, docility, and respect.” All of this supposed loyalty was “evidence of the mild, paternal and patriarchal nature of the institution of slavery as it existed at the South.” DeBow overlooked the nine hundred “contrabands” who fled in three months in mid-1861 to General Benjamin Butler’s Union lines at Fort Monroe, Virginia, 7 the two hundred thousand blacks (about three quarters being defecting ex-slaves) 8 who served in the Union military, and the hundreds of thousands of slaves who fled to Union lines as Union armies moved deeper and deeper into the Confederacy.

The mass exodus of slaves to Union lines exposed the myth of loyalty and contentment. As early as summer 1862, a Natchez provost marshal reported to Mississippi’s governor, “There is a great disposition among the negroes to be insubordinate and to run away to the federals. Within the last 12 months, we have had to hang some 40 for plotting an insurrection, and there has been about that number put in irons.” That fall, after the Battle of Corinth (Mississippi), Union chaplain John Eaton reported that as cotton planters fled, their slaves “flocked in vast numbers— an army in themselves—to the camps of the Yankees.”

Before, during, and after the war, promoters of the Myth used words like “happy,” “content,” “faithful,” “amiable,” and “cheerful” to describe slaves’ attitudes about their condition. Opposing the Emancipation Proclamation, Jefferson Davis called the slaves “peaceful and contented laborers.”

Davis and his brother Joseph must have been shocked, therefore, when their families’ slaves refused to accompany Joseph when he fled home, fleeing instead into the countryside. Perhaps the president himself was surprised when his personal servant and his wife’s maid, both slaves, escaped from the executive mansion in Richmond in January 1864 and when, later that month, another slave tried to burn the mansion.

J. Cash, in his brilliant The Mind of the South, noted that the vast majority of early abolition societies were Southern and that evangelical religions first denounced slavery before their Southern congregations changed their minds. He added, “And, worst of all, there was the fact that the South itself definitely shared in these moral notions—in its secret heart always carried a powerful and uneasy sense of the essential rightness of the nineteenth century’s position on slavery. . . . The Old South . . . was a society beset by the specters of defeat, of shame, of guilt . . . [and] a large part—in a way, the very largest part—of its history from the day that [William Lloyd] Garrison began to thunder in Boston is the history of its efforts to [justify itself] and characteristically by means of romantic fictions.”

Ultimately, however, this myth was not confined to the South. Alan Nolan explains: “This revisionism in regard to the role of slavery and the character of the slaves could have remained an entirely Southern theme. The revision could not become part of the Civil War legend without Northern acceptance, and the North, including its academic historians, did accept the South’s rewriting of the record. The North let the South substitute a war for liberty for the war for slavery, and the North ceased to think of slaves and freedmen as serious persons. Exported to the North, the happy darky stereotype was widely embraced, prevailing well into the twentieth century and pervading the popular imagination from novels and the press to Walt Disney movies.”

The myth concludes that, whatever the merits of slavery, the Civil War was unnecessary to end it because the institution was economically doomed and would have died a natural death within a reasonable time. The argument is essentially that the war was unnecessary or could not have been about slavery because slavery was on the cusp of extinction without a war.

One might ask how slavery could have been on the verge of extinction if it was of such great benefit to whites and blacks alike. How could it have been so successful yet so likely to have been terminated within a few years? I will ignore the apparent inconsistency of those two contentions and focus on each separately.

How Did Slavery Cause the Civil War: Reality of the Institution

Margaret Mitchell captured the “mint julep school” of antebellum Southern history—happy, indolent, and ignorant slaves protected by their kind and benevolent masters—in her novel Gone with the Wind, published in 1936, and the epic film version of 1939 engraved it on the popular imagination. This picture was first painted by antebellum Southerners: “Seeing the tide of history turning against them, Southerners went on the offensive. Their ‘peculiar institution’ morphed from a ‘necessary evil’ to a ‘positive good,’ a ‘practical and moral necessity,’ and the ‘will of Almighty God.’” The historian U. B. Phillips, a Georgian, promoted this benign view of slavery in the early twentieth century. “His portrayal of blacks as passive, inferior people, whose African origins made them uncivilized, seemed to provide historical evidence for the theories of racial inferiority that supported racial segregation. Drawing evidence exclusively from plantation records, letters, southern newspapers, and other sources reflecting the slaveholder’s point of view, Phillips depicted slave masters who provided for the welfare of their slaves and contended that true affection existed between slave and master.” Phillips’s interpretation had a lasting effect and influenced Mitchell’s novel.

A different and likely more accurate view of slavery emerged in 1956 with Kenneth Stampp’s The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South. Stampp used many of the same sources as Phillips but “relied more heavily on diaries, journals, newspaper runaway-slave ads, and even a few slave narratives.” Stampp found that non-slaveholding whites supported slavery as “a means of controlling the social and economic competition of Negroes, concrete evidence of membership in a superior caste, a chance perhaps to rise into the planter class.”

James and Lois Horton offer a matter-of-fact depiction of Revolutionary-era slavery:

Planters required both men and women to engage in hard physical labor, and they worked in marshy rice fields, hot and humid tobacco fields, dusty wheat fields, and dangerous backbreaking lumbering camps. Workers on rice plantations spent days standing in the water of the rice field, prey to insects and disease, with a minimal diet to sustain them. Children were expected to work as soon as they were deemed old enough to be useful. Pregnant women worked, and after childbirth women returned to the fields quickly, with little time lost. All worked under the compulsion of the overseer’s or slave driver’s lash, and they were liable to be lashed for working too slowly. . . . [W]omen working in the owner’s house were especially vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

Frederick Law Olmsted was dismayed by what he saw in Mississippi: “[T]he stupid, plodding, machine-like manner in which they labor is painful to witness. This was especially true with the hoe-gangs. One of them numbered nearly two hundred hands . . . moving across the field in parallel lines, with a considerable degree of precision. I repeatedly rode through the lines at a canter, without producing the smallest change or interruption in the dogged action of the laborers, or causing one of them, so far as I could see, to lift an eye from the ground. . . . I think it told a more painful story than any I have ever heard, of the cruelty of slavery.”

During harvesting season on sugar plantations, slaves worked sixteen-to-eighteen-hour days, seven days a week. Sunstroke killed many slaves overworked on all types of plantations. Their harsh working conditions, minimal food and clothing abominable housing, lack of freedom to move about, and vulnerability to sale and family dispersion led many slaves, not surprisingly, to become what Stampp called “troublesome property.” They tried to sabotage production, challenge overseers, fight back when provoked, flee for their freedom, or even (rarely kill their overseers or plan or participate in slave revolts. Owners, aware that blacks were not natural-born slaves, tried to control them by a series of steps: “establish and maintain strict discipline,” “implant a consciousness of personal inferiority,” “awe them with a sense of the master’s power,” and persuade them to support the owner’s enterprise and standard of conduct.”

In a generally successful effort to maintain discipline among the supposedly satisfied slaves, each slave state had a slave code. Because the states copied each other’s codes, their provisions were generally uniform throughout the South. Among many other restrictions, they required slaves to submit to masters and respect all whites, forbade them to travel without passes, limited their preaching and religious services, forbade anyone from teaching them to read or write, limited their independent economic activities, and forbade them to possess firearms or liquor.

Slave-owners’ ultimate weapon was virtually unlimited force. In Holly Springs, Mississippi, one planter punished his slaves by slashing the soles of their feet with a Bowie knife. In that state’s Rankin County, Colonel Easterling threw a woman over a barrel and beat her, beat her “husband” to a pulp when he visited from another plantation, and killed a man by hitching him to a plow and “plowin [sic] him till one day he died.” In nearby Jones County, Bryant Craft beat his slave Jessie so severely that his shirt was embedded in his back and left him to die when a neighbor nursed Jessie back to health and brought him back to reconcile with the master, a furious Craft killed the slave on the spot and told the “interfering” neighbor, “Let that be an example to you.”

J. Cash pointed out that slavery rested on force: the lash, chains and shackles, hounds and pistols to chase runaways, and mutilations and brandings (reflected in runaway slave advertisements). It was brutalizing to white men—releasing sadism and cruelty in masters and breeding in the “common whites”savage hate for blacks in response to the “white trash” epithets they endured.

Southern whites remained constantly in fear of revolts by their “happy and contented” slaves. “The panic of the slaveholders at the slightest hint of slave insurrection revealed what lay beneath their endless self-congratulation over the supposed docility, contentment, and loyalty of their slaves.” One of the few actual revolts was Nat Turner’s 1831 rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia. He and his band of sixty insurgents roamed the countryside killing most whites they encountered—a total of sixty-one. In response, there was a frenzy of whites’ killing blacks on sight—most of them uninvolved in the uprising. Whites from Richmond rode through the county killing all blacks they saw—one hundred and twenty in one day. Innocent slaves were “tortured, burned to death, shot or otherwise horribly murdered.” Turner himself was hanged and his body skinned and dissected to create souvenirs of the event. Revenge spread to other states. From then until the Civil War, Southern whites did all they could to prevent similar uprisings by tightening legal restrictions on slaves and free blacks.30 The massacre of blacks following this revolt discouraged further insurrections.

The more one studies antebellum slavery, the clearer it becomes that “[h]olding millions of African people in bondage required a virtual police state, and southern society came to tolerate, and even honor, a military social climate that accepted violence as a necessity.”32 Southern slave patrols and militias provided the South with a head start on military preparation for the Civil War.

Two justice systems developed side by side in the South: a formal one and an extralegal system of plantation justice. Whips and switches were used on the spot in the Upper South while more formal weekly “settlements” were used in the Lower South. All of a plantation’s slaves, “for their moral improvement,” were gathered to watch their peers whipped while hung by the thumbs, have an ear nailed to a post before severing, or be “tomcatted” (having a tomcat dragged across their bare backs and thighs). Those punishments were for minor offenses.

The most extreme punishments (all without benefit of judge, jury, or trial) were reserved for alleged sex-related offenses. A North Carolina slave who boasted that he preferred white women was castrated. Another there was burned alive for suspected rape. Such burnings occurred throughout the South two thousand slaves were compelled to attend one in Mississippi, and another in Alabama was justified by an editor as consistent with “the law of self-protection. . . . The whole subject was disposed of with the coolest deliberation and with regard only to interest of the public.” In South Carolina, two slaves suspected of kidnapping and rape were stripped, tied to forked poles, had their mouths bound, and were left to be eaten by crows and buzzards. The French traveler Hector St. John Crèvecoeur discovered a similar scene: a slave accused of slaying a white overseer was suspended in a cage to be devoured by birds and insects. The Frenchman’s hosts explained that “the laws of self-preservation rendered such executions necessary.”

The reality was that slavery often involved beating, killing, and raping slaves, as well as breaking up slave families for economic or disciplinary reasons. Slave marriages were not recognized under state laws. If slaves were so happy, why do we see photographs of them with backs scarred from beatings? Owners’ and overseers’ beatings, rapes, and even murders of slaves rarely, if ever, resulted in legal prosecution, let alone conviction or meaningful punishment.

The best evidence of the frequency of masters’ raping their female slaves was the widespread appearance of “mulattoes” or light-skinned blacks throughout the South—many of them with facial and physical characteristics similar to those of their masters. The masters’ wives had to ignore the mixed-race children and dared not confront their husbands about the obvious sexual misconduct.36 Masters seemed to compensate for their sexual relations with slaves by elevating their wives onto a high pedestal honoring Pure Southern Womanhood.

This elevation became a component of the myth. “[E]ven more brave and constant” than Southern soldiers, wrote Thomas Nelson Page, “were the women who stayed at home. Gentle and simple, they gave their husbands, their brothers and their sons to the cause of the South, sorrowing chiefly that they themselves were too feeble to stand at their side. Hungering in body and heart they bore with more than a soldier’s courage, more than a soldier’s hardship, and to the last, undaunted and dauntless, gave them new courage as with tear-dimmed eyes they sustained them in the darkest hours of their despondency and defeat.”

Page’s tribute was a perfect example of what W. J. Cash described as the cover-up for master-slave sexual relations:

And the only really satisfactory escape here . . . would be fiction. On the one hand, the convention must be set up that the thing simply did not exist, and enforced under penalty of being shot and on the other, the [white] woman must be compensated, the revolting suspicion in the male that he might be slipping into bestiality got rid of, by glorifying her the Yankee must be answered by proclaiming from the housetops that Southern Virtue, so far from being inferior, was superior, not alone to the North’s but to any on earth, and adducing Southern Womanhood in proof.

The fugitive slave Harriet Jacobs reported that she was constantly sexually threatened by her master and added that white men preyed on female slaves so often that “if God has bestowed beauty upon her, it will prove her greatest curse.” The ex-slave Henry Bibb observed the sexual activities of slave-owners: “I have long thought from what has fallen under my own observation while a slave, that the strongest reason why southerners stick with such tenacity to their ‘peculiar institution,’ is because licentious white men could not carry out their wicked purposes among the defenseless colored population as they now do, without being exposed and punished by law, if slavery was abolished. Female virtue could not be trampled under foot with impunity, and marriage among the people of color kept in utter obscurity.”

Glorification of Southern women often took the form of harsh penalties for blacks who raped, tried to rape, or even ogled white women. The possibility of such actions by blacks became a favorite argument of those opposing emancipation, including the proposals to arm and free slaves to prevent loss of the Civil War. Southern critics contended that emancipation meant equality and that blacks with equality “would soon aspire to be the husbands of our daughters and sisters.” A Virginian was more vivid: “The [black] conscript must be sometimes furloughed and I forbear to depict the state of things which will exist when the furloughed conscripts return to the home” and encounter young white women whose father is still in camp.

Cash provides an example of the heights which the worship of Southern womanhood could reach: “‘Woman. The center and circumference, diameter and periphery, sine, tangent and secant of all our affections!’ Such was the toast which brought twenty great cheers from the audience at the celebration of Georgia’s one-hundredth anniversary in the 1830’s.”

Plantation and slave-trader records are replete with instances of family separations. Children were separated from their parents and grandparents, spouses were separated from each other, and numerous other relatives were separated from their kin. To facilitate perhaps a million of these heartless and usually economically motivated transactions, Southerners did not recognize slave “marriages” or encourage black family relationships. Slaves generally had no last names.

Eugene Genovese describes the psychological hardships imposed on slaves by the forced separation of family members: “But the pain remained, and the slaveholders knew as much. Is it possible that no slaveholder noticed the grief of the woman who [said] that she had had six children, three of whom had died and three of whom had been sold: ‘When they took from me the last little girl, oh, I believed I never should have got over it! It almost broke my heart.’ Could any white southerner pretend not to know from direct observation the meaning of Sojourner Truth’s statement: ‘I have borne thirteen chillun and seen em’ mos’ all sold off into slavery, and when I cried out with a mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard.’ . . . A black woman . . . recalled her first husband’s being sold away from her: ‘White folks got a heap to answer for the way they’ve done to colored folks! So much they won’t ever pray it away.’”

Southerners’ violent opposition to criticism of slavery may have betrayed their fear that the true nature of the institution would be revealed. Cash stated that Southerners questioning the institution were hanged, tarred, horsewhipped, or assaulted in other ways. Newspaper editors were a favorite target five editors of the Vicksburg Journal were killed in thirteen years.

Some advocates of the Lost Cause have contended that Southerners, aware that slavery’s disappearance was inevitable, would not have fought a war to save the dying institution. Yet Southern lawmakers and citizens had gone to great lengths to protect slavery from any criticism, denying freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of the mails, and, in Virginia at least, the right to say that owners had no property rights in their slaves. Why protect a dying institution?

Allan Nevins examined the late antebellum period and concluded, “The South, as a whole, in 1846–61 was not moving toward emancipation but away from it. It was not relaxing the laws which guarded the system but reinforcing tfhem. It was not ameliorating slavery, but making it harsher and more implacable. The South was further from a just solution of the slavery problem in 1830 than it had been in 1789. It was further from tenable solution in 1860 than it had been in 1830.”

There is much evidence that slavery was strong and thriving on the eve of the Civil War. James and Lois Horton conclude that “by the late 1850s, the South seemed stronger than ever. Its economic power had become so great that it could not be ignored.” Its cotton exports were more valuable than all other U.S. exports combined. “The worth of slaves increased correspondingly so that on the eve of the Civil War it was greater than the total dollar value of all the nation’s banks, railroads, and manufacturing.”

Edward Ayers observes, “White Southerners hardly lashed out in desperation over a dying institution. If anything, they were too confident in the future of slavery, too certain that the nation’s economy depended on the vast profits of the cotton and other goods produced by slavery, too sure that the industrialized world would stumble and fall without the bounty produced by the slave people of the South.” In fact, there was great interest in annexing the slavery-dominated island of Cuba.

In 1860 Richmond had dozens of slave traders, about six major slave auction houses, and at least nineteen slave auctioneers. One auction house alone had more than $1,773,000 in sales in 1858. At that time, according to Charles Dew, the rental of slaves from their owners was “a very, very important part of the Virginia economy. Richmond’s industry really depend[ed] on it. The tobacco factories hire[d] hundreds of slaves. Tredegar [Iron Works] hire[d] slaves every year.”50 Many Southerners envisioned the large-scale use of slaves in factories that could be built or expanded. “They believed that industrialization and slavery could proceed hand in hand.”

Slaves were so valuable that there was even talk about changing or overriding the 1807 congressional ban on the international slave trade. South Carolina’s 1860–61 commissioners to Florida, Leonidas W. Spratt, was an advocate of reopening that trade. A Charleston lawyer, he defended the crew of the brig Echo, an American slaving vessel brought into Charleston harbor in 1858 after its capture off Cuba by the U.S. Navy, and as the editor of the Charleston Southern Standard after 1852 he argued in favor of resuming the importation of slaves from Africa.

From 1853 to 1863, Britain’s consul in Charleston, Robert Bunch, reported to his superiors on a continuing, high-level interest among influential South Carolinians in reviving the slave trade to the United States. In 1856, Governor James Hopkins Adams told the legislature, “To maintain our present position [of cotton dominance], we must have cheap labor also. This can be obtained in but one way—by re-opening the African slave trade.” In March 1857, Bunch secretly wrote that increasing slave prices and cotton production would force the South to reopen the African slave trade: “Such is the evil which is rapidly developing.” In fact, there were instances of slave importations with minimal, if any, legal repercussions. In 1861, Bunch encouraged the new Confederate government to abolish the slave trade. He and the British minister to the United States, Richard Lyons, advised London that the Confederate Constitution’s ban on the slave trade was primarily to encourage Virginia and Maryland to secede and would not preclude African imports if economically beneficial. In late 1862, Confederate officials were reluctant to assure the British that the African slave trade would not be revived. This continuing interest in reviving the slave trade suggested that slavery was not going away anytime soon.

The value of slaves to the Southern economy was reflected in the warning by the South Carolina planter John Townsend that Lincoln’s election would mean “the annihilation and end of all Negro labor (agricultural especially) over the whole South. It means a loss to the planters of the South of, at least, FOUR BILLION dollars, by having this labor taken from them and a loss, in addition, of FIVE BILLION dollars more, in lands, mills, machinery, and other great interests, which will be rendered valueless by the want of slave labor to cultivate the lands, and the loss of the crops which give to those interests life and prosperity.”

A sampling of antebellum slave prices reveals the economic health of slavery. The following table shows the estimated average prices of prime eighteen-to-twenty-year-old male and female field hands in Georgia between 1828 and 1860:

Other statistics shed light on the value of slaves throughout the South in 1859 and 1860. The following are the 1859–1860 price ranges for male and female slaves between the ages of eight and twenty-one in the states indicated:

Virginia $1,275 to $1,425
South Carolina $1,283 to $1,325
Georgia $1,250 to $1,900
Alabama $1,193 to $1,635
Mississippi $1,450 to $1,625
Texas $1,403 to $2,015

Both sets of numbers become more meaningful when placed in the context of even longer-term slave values. The following are the New Orleans prices of prime field hands at five-year intervals throughout the nineteenth century:

Year Price
1805 $600
1810 $900
1815 $765
1820 $970
1825 $800
1830 $810
1835 $1,150
1840 $1,020
1845 $700
1850 $1,100
1855 $1,350
1860 $1,857

All of these prices would have been affected by a wide variety of factors, including cotton and tobacco prices, financial crises, depressions, demand for slaves, the opening of lands in the old Southwest for cultivation, and general economic prosperity.58 Nevertheless, the long-term trend of slave values seems to indicate a thriving institution.

Charles Sydnor’s study of slavery in Mississippi reveals that the value in 1860 of the state’s 436,691 slaves, at eight hundred dollars each, was over $349 million, while the total cash value of its farmland, farming implements, and livestock was only about $241 million.60 Well-to-do Mississippians’ financial stake in slavery as of 1860 is obvious.

More money could be made on female than male slaves because the children of female slaves became the property of the mothers’ owners. This aspect of slavery was not publicized, however, because “[s]lavebreeding and slave-trading were not generally considered to be high or noble types of activity for a southern gentleman.”

In 1860, slaves were still a reasonable capital investment. In his extensive economic study of slavery, Harold Woodman concludes:

[S]lavery was apparently about as remunerative as alternative employments to which slave capital might have been put….This general sharing in the prosperity was more or less guaranteed, moreover, if proper market mechanisms existed so that slaves could be bred and reared on the poorest of land and then be sold to those owning the best. Slavery in the immediate ante bellum years was, therefore, an economically viable institution in virtually all areas of the South as long as slaves could be expeditiously and economically transferred from one sector to another.

That qualification—regarding the economic importance of slaves’ mobility—sheds light on Southerners’ concerns about Republican opposition to slavery’s expansion into U.S. territories. “With the natural increase in slave population,” writes Sydnor, “the price must have declined unless a market for the surplus could be found. . . . [W]hen Texas and the rest of the new Southwest were supplied, slave prices would fall unless more territory suited to slave labor could be discovered. As there was little probability of finding this within the Union, economics demanded that the slave-owner be an expansionist, for without a market slave prices must soon have declined.”

Woodman’s studies convinced him, however, that the slave market had room to grow within the existing slave states:

The belief, however, that in 1860 slavery in the South was on the point of being “strangled for lack of room to expand” is a wholly mistaken interpretation of actual conditions. The plantation system was not seriously limited by a scarcity of land. It had utilized only a small fraction of the available land area. The most fertile and easily accessible soils may have been occupied, but there was an extensive area remaining, a considerable part of which has been brought into cultivation since 1860. Before the Civil War railways were rapidly opening up new fertile areas to plantation agriculture. Far from being a decrepit institution, the economic motives for the continuance of slavery from the standpoint of the employer were never so strong as in the years just preceding the Civil War.

A recent study of land usage, slavery, and other agricultural phenomena in the United States and Britain concludes that in fourteen slave states (all but small Delaware) in 1860 there were a total of 73.769 million developed acres and 170.644 million undeveloped acres on 755,209 farms. The scope of undeveloped land on existing farms alone indicates that there was, as Woodman contends, room for expansion of slavery in the existing slave states. Actual experience confirms that analysis the “land devoted to cotton nearly doubled between 1860 and 1890 it more than doubled between 1890 and 1925.”

B. Phillips, as Woodman explains, concluded that cotton prices had dropped in price, slavery had become unprofitable just prior to the Civil War, and that it was a dying institution. Phillips argued that speculation had raised slave prices to the point of unprofitability except in the most favorable circumstances. Woodman responds that slave prices, like cotton prices, varied over time and the cost of producing cotton had diminished considerably between 1794 and 1860. He concludes, “There is no apparent reason why high market values of slaves should be a permanent cause for unprofitable plantation economy. . . . [T]he active demand which tended to enhance the prices of slaves came from those planters who were making large profits and who sought to expand their slaveholdings on the basis of these profits.” And, therefore:

It was the fact that slavery tended to be profitable in new regions, while unprofitable in regions in the wake of expansion, that resulted so generally in the mistaken conclusions that slavery can thrive only on the basis of geographical expansion and a migratory economy, that slavery is adapted only to extensive agriculture, that it inevitably results in soil exhaustion, and that it cannot be profitable in general farming none of which conclusions… appears to be justified in the absolute sense in which it has been asserted…. If the prices of all Southern products had fallen so low that it was impossible in any industry or region to earn more than a few dollars a year as the net return for slave labor, it would still have been advantageous to employ it.

Kenneth Stampp concurred in this analysis. After noting that slave hiring rates and sales prices in the 1850s had a solid economic foundation, he concluded that “the slave was earning for his owner a substantial, though varying, surplus above the cost of maintenance. For this reason, the critics of slavery who urged that the institution was an economic burden to the master were using the weakest weapon in their arsenal. There was no evidence in 1860 that bondage was a ‘decrepit institution tottering toward a decline’—and, indeed, if the slave-holder’s economic self-interest alone were to be consulted, the institution should have been preserved.”

Stampp’s view is reinforced by Fogel and Engerman in a discussion they entitle “The Sanguinity of the Slaveholding Class on Economic Prospects.” They use an index of sanguinity that compares the short-term value of slaves (based on current annual hire rates) with the long-term value of slaves (based on purchase prices). After examining the 1830–1860 data, they conclude that “[d]uring the decade of the fifties sanguinity was increasing quite rapidly, accounting for 40 percent of the rise in slave prices in the Old South and 75 percent of the rise in the New South. Slaveholders not only expected their social order to endure but foresaw an era of prosperity.”

The twentieth-century historian Charles W. Ramsdell made a different argument for the alleged impending doom of slavery. He contended that slave owners were being driven to an unhealthy overproduction of cotton that would soon lead to slavery’s demise because of the inevitable decline in the price of cotton. Ramsdell claimed that “those who wished [slavery] destroyed had only to wait a little while—perhaps a generation, probably less.” Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman contest that analysis by arguing that cotton production had become more efficient, that worldwide demand for it had increased, and that Southern planters actually had responded too slowly in increasing their 1850s cotton production in an effort to meet demands. They conclude, “the tale about the uncommercial planter who was gripped by an irresistible tendency to the overproduction of cotton is sheer fantasy.”

Although slavery was therefore proving to be of continuing economic benefit to those who engaged in it, it probably had a deleterious long-term effect on the Southern economy as a whole. Woodman cites the antislavery Kentucky politician Cassius Clay’s analysis that because slaves could not participate as buyers of products in the marketplace, “A home market cannot exist in a slave state.” Woodman himself then concludes, “Plantation slavery, then, so limited the purchasing power of the South that it could not sustain much industry. . . . Whatever other factors need to be considered in a complete analysis, the low level of demand in this plantation-based slave society was sufficient to retard the economic development of the South.” Despite slavery’s harmful effects on the South generally, no change to it was imminent because gerrymandering of state legislative districts, property requirements for voting, and the traditional political power structure of the South kept crucial political and governmental decision-making in the hands of the slaveholding elite, who individually were reaping large financial benefits from the practice. The abolition of slavery or meaningful reform was therefore unlikely. In addition, the racial underpinning of slavery ensured its widespread support among whites who were not slave-owners. In summary, “There is simply no evidence tending to show that the South would have voluntarily abandoned slavery.”

RACIAL UNDERPINNING OF SLAVERY

Aside from the huge economic value of black slaves, their subservience was critical to Southern culture. As the South Carolina planter and state senator John Townsend acknowledged in late 1864, “The color of the white man is now, in the South, a title of nobility in his relations as to the negro. He may be poor, it is true but there is no point upon which he is so justly proud and sensitive as his privilege of caste and there is nothing which he would resent with more fierce indignation than the attempt of the Abolitionist to emancipate the slaves and elevate the Negros [sic] to an equality with himself and his family.”

This fear of Negro equality had a long history. After the Revolution, Virginians, inspired by some Founding Fathers, considered some emancipation and colonization proposals. Winthrop Jordan concludes these had no realistic chance for adoption. They raised issues of social equality among blacks and whites, and there was pervasive and profound “thought and feeling about social intermixture.” “As time went on in the nineteenth century,” writes Jordan, “Virginians, realizing that colonization was utterly impractical and hating themselves as slave owners, turned more and more to the self-solacing thought that realities of ‘prejudice’ were inevitable, innate and right. Indeed they came to think that their opinions about Negroes were not prejudices at all but merely objective assessments of the realities of Negro inferiority.” Prospects for ending slavery in Virginia were increasingly bleak.

Racism of this sort would have kept the institution of slavery alive and well for a long time if not for the Civil War. It is clear, therefore, that the “benefits” of slavery extended far beyond the slave-owning minority of white Southerners. Describing antebellum Southern society, Dew says, “The average Southern farmer is a yeoman who owns his own land and works it with the help of his family he might own a slave. But [the yeoman and the 25 percent of whites who were slave-owners] have something in common, which is white skin. If you are white in the antebellum South, there is a floor below which you cannot go. You have a whole population of four million people whom you consider, and your society considers, inferior to you. You don’t have to be actively involved in the system to derive at least the psychological benefits of the system.”

Confirmation of this situation was provided in Hinton Rowan Helper’s The Impending Crisis of the South, a critical analysis of slavery written on the cusp of the Civil War. Helper explained:

Every white man who is under the necessity of earning his bread, by the sweat of his brow, or by manual labor, in any capacity, no matter how unassuming in deportment, or exemplary in morals, is treated as if he was a loathsome beast, and shunned with the utmost disdain. His soul may be the very seat of honor and integrity, yet without slaves—himself a slave—he is accounted as nobody. . . . It is expected that the stupid and sequacious masses, the white victims of slavery, will believe, and as a general thing, they do believe, whatever the slaveholders tell them and thus it is that they are cajoled into the notion that they are the freest, happiest and most intelligent people in the world….

In The Mind of the South, W. J. Cash provided an even more forthright analysis of the role of non-slaveholding whites (“common whites”) in the institution of slavery: “And in this loyalty [to slavery] the common white participated as fully as any other Southerner. If he had no worthwhile interest at stake in slavery, if his real interest ran the other way about, he did nevertheless have that, to him, dear treasure of his superiority as a white man, which had been conferred on him by slavery and so was as determined to keep the black man in chains, saw in the offensive of the Yankee [abolitionism] as great a danger to himself, as the angriest planter.”

Southern repression of black economic, civil, voting, and other rights during the hundred years following the Civil War further demonstrated the lack of motivation to terminate the slavery or subordination of African Americans.

In summary, antebellum slavery in America was not a benevolent institution benefitting whites and blacks alike. It benefitted whites economically and socially and did the reverse for African Americans. Only by using as much force as was necessary did whites compel blacks to remain in a sub-human condition. The profits slavery provided to white slave-owners and the social superiority it provided to non-slaveholding whites gave the peculiar institution a firm hold on the South. One of the cruelest ramifications of slavery was its destruction of the black family unit slaves could not legally marry, and their families were subject to permanent dissolution at the whim of the slave-owner or his estate.

An institution that was so profitable and accounted for such a huge portion of Southern wealth was unlikely to disappear without some outside compulsion. There was room for slavery to expand in Texas and in many bypassed sections of the South, and slavery would have provided a ready workforce in the industries that the South needed to develop. As the following chapter demonstrates, Southern opposition to the possible end of slavery was so violent that voluntary abolition was simply unforeseeable.

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Six inconvenient truths about the U.S. and slavery

Those who want to discredit the United States and to deny our role as history’s most powerful and pre-eminent force for freedom, goodness and human dignity invariably focus on America’s bloody past as a slave-holding nation. Along with the displacement and mistreatment of Native Americans, the enslavement of literally millions of Africans counts as one of our two founding crimes—and an obvious rebuttal to any claims that this Republic truly represents “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” According to America-bashers at home and abroad, open-minded students of our history ought to feel more guilt than pride, and strive for “reparations” or other restitution to overcome the nation’s uniquely cruel, racist and rapacious legacy.

Unfortunately, the current mania for exaggerating America’s culpability for the horrors of slavery bears no more connection to reality than the old, discredited tendency to deny that the U.S. bore any blame at all. No, it’s not true that the “peculiar institution” featured kind-hearted, paternalistic masters and happy, dancing field-hands, any more than it’s true that America displayed unparalleled barbarity or enjoyed disproportionate benefit from kidnapping and exploiting innocent Africans.

An honest and balanced understanding of the position of slavery in the American experience requires a serious attempt to place the institution in historical context and to clear-away some of the common myths and distortions.

1. SLAVERY WAS AN ANCIENT AND UNIVERSAL INSTITUTION, NOT A DISTINCTIVELY AMERICAN INNOVATION. At the time of the founding of the Republic in 1776, slavery existed literally everywhere on earth and had been an accepted aspect of human history from the very beginning of organized societies. Current thinking suggests that human beings took a crucial leap toward civilization about 10,000 years ago with the submission, training and domestication of important animal species (cows, sheep, swine, goats, chickens, horses and so forth) and, at the same time, began the “domestication,” bestialization and ownership of fellow human beings captured as prisoners in primitive wars. In ancient Greece, the great philosopher Aristotle described the ox as “the poor man’s slave” while Xenophon likened the teaching of slaves “to the training of wild animals.” Aristotle further opined that “it is clear that there are certain people who are free and certain who are slaves by nature, and it is both to their advantage, and just, for them to be slaves.” The Romans seized so many captives from Eastern Europe that the terms “Slav” and “slave” bore the same origins. All the great cultures of the ancient world, from Egypt to Babylonia, Athens to Rome, Persia to India to China, depended upon the brutal enslavement of the masses – often representing heavy majorities of the population. Contrary to the glamorization of aboriginal New World cultures, the Mayas, Aztecs and Incas counted among the most brutal slave-masters of them all --- not only turning the members of other tribes into harshly abused beasts of burden but also using these conquered enemies to feed a limitless lust for human sacrifice. The Tupinamba, a powerful tribe on the coast of Brazil south of the Amazon, took huge numbers of captives, then humiliated them for months or years, before engaging in mass slaughter of their victims in ritualized cannibalistic feasts. In Africa, slavery also represented a timeless norm long before any intrusion by Europeans. Moreover, the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch or British slave traders rarely penetrated far beyond the coasts: the actual capture and kidnapping of the millions of victims always occurred at the hands of neighboring tribes. As the great African-American historian Nathan Huggins pointed out, “virtually all of the enslavement of Africans was carried out by other Africans” but the concept of an African “race” was the invention of Western colonists, and most African traders “saw themselves as selling people other than their own.” In the final analysis, Yale historian David Brion Davis in his definitive 2006 history “Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World” notes that “colonial North America…surprisingly received only 5 to 6 percent of the African slaves shipped across the Atlantic.” Meanwhile, the Arab slave trade (primarily from East Africa) lasted longer and enslaved more human beings than the European slavers working the other side of the continent. According to the best estimates, Islamic societies shipped between 12 and 17 million African slaves out of their homes in the course of a thousand years the best estimate for the number of Africans enslaved by Europeans amounts to 11 million. In other words, when taking the prodigious and unspeakably cruel Islamic enslavements into the equation, at least 97% of all African men, women and children who were kidnapped, sold, and taken from their homes, were sent somewhere other than the British colonies of North America. In this context there is no historical basis to claim that the United States bears primary, or even prominent guilt for the depredations of centuries of African slavery.

2. SLAVERY EXISTED ONLY BRIEFLY, AND IN LIMITED LOCALES, IN THE HISTORY OF THE REPUBLIC – INVOLVING ONLY A TINY PERCENTAGE OF THE ANCESTORS OF TODAY’S AMERICANS. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution put a formal end to the institution of slavery 89 years after the birth of the Republic 142 years have passed since this welcome emancipation. Moreover, the importation of slaves came to an end in 1808 (as provided by the Constitution), a mere 32 years after independence, and slavery had been outlawed in most states decades before the Civil War. Even in the South, more than 80% of the white population never owned slaves. Given the fact that the majority of today’s non-black Americans descend from immigrants who arrived in this country after the War Between the States, only a tiny percentage of today’s white citizens – perhaps as few as 5% -- bear any authentic sort of generational guilt for the exploitation of slave labor. Of course, a hundred years of Jim Crow laws, economic oppression and indefensible discrimination followed the theoretical emancipation of the slaves, but those harsh realities raise different issues from those connected to the long-ago history of bondage.

3. THOUGH BRUTAL, SLAVERY WASN’T GENOCIDAL: LIVE SLAVES WERE VALUABLE BUT DEAD CAPTIVES BROUGHT NO PROFIT. Historians agree that hundreds of thousands, and probably millions of slaves perished over the course of 300 years during the rigors of the “Middle Passage” across the Atlantic Ocean. Estimates remain inevitably imprecise, but range as high as one third of the slave “cargo” who perished from disease or overcrowding during transport from Africa. Perhaps the most horrifying aspect of these voyages involves the fact that no slave traders wanted to see this level of deadly suffering: they benefited only from delivering (and selling) live slaves, not from tossing corpses into the ocean. By definition, the crime of genocide requires the deliberate slaughter of a specific group of people slavers invariably preferred oppressing and exploiting live Africans rather than murdering them en masse. Here, the popular, facile comparisons between slavery and the Holocaust quickly break down: the Nazis occasionally benefited from the slave labor of their victims, but the ultimate purpose of facilities like Auschwitz involved mass death, not profit or productivity. For slave owners and slave dealers in the New World, however, death of your human property cost you money, just as the death of your domestic animals would cause financial damage. And as with their horses and cows, slave owners took pride and care in breeding as many new slaves as possible. Rather than eliminating the slave population, profit-oriented masters wanted to produce as many new, young slaves as they could. This hardly represents a compassionate or decent way to treat your fellow human beings, but it does amount to the very opposite of genocide. As David Brion Davis reports, slave holders in North America developed formidable expertise in keeping their “bondsmen” alive and healthy enough to produce abundant offspring. The British colonists took pride in slaves who “developed an almost unique and rapid rate of population growth, freeing the later United States from a need for further African imports.”

4. IT’S NOT TRUE THAT THE U.S. BECAME A WEALTHY NATION THROUGH THE ABUSE OF SLAVE LABOR: THE MOST PROSPEROUS STATES IN THE COUNTRY WERE THOSE THAT FIRST FREED THEIR SLAVES. Pennsylvania passed an emancipation law in 1780 Connecticut and Rhode Island followed four years later (all before the Constitution). New York approved emancipation in 1799. These states (with dynamic banking centers in Philadelphia and Manhattan) quickly emerged as robust centers of commerce and manufacturing, greatly enriching themselves while the slave-based economies in the South languished by comparison. At the time of the Constitution, Virginia constituted the most populous and wealthiest state in the Union, but by the time of the War Between the States the Old Dominion had fallen far behind a half-dozen northern states that had outlawed slavery two generations earlier. All analyses of Northern victory in the great sectional struggle highlights the vast advantages in terms of wealth and productivity in New England, the Mid-Atlantic States and the Midwest, compared to the relatively backward and impoverished states of the Confederacy. While a few elite families in the Old South undoubtedly based their formidable fortunes on the labor of slaves, the prevailing reality of the planter class involved chronic indebtedness and shaky finances long before the ultimate collapse of the evil system of bondage. The notion that America based its wealth and development on slave labor hardly comports with the obvious reality that for two hundred years since the founding of the Republic, by far the poorest and least developed section of the nation was precisely that region where slavery once prevailed.

5. WHILE AMERICA DESERVES NO UNIQUE BLAME FOR THE EXISTENCE OF SLAVERY, THE UNITED STATES MERITS SPECIAL CREDIT FOR ITS RAPID ABOLITION. In the course of scarcely more than a century following the emergence of the American Republic, men of conscience, principle and unflagging energy succeeded in abolishing slavery not just in the New World but in all nations of the West. During three eventful generations, one of the most ancient, ubiquitous and unquestioned of all human institutions (considered utterly indispensable by the “enlightened” philosophers of Greece and Rome) became universally discredited and finally illegal – with Brazil at last liberating all its slaves in 1888. This worldwide mass movement (spear-headed in Britain and elsewhere by fervent Evangelical Christians) brought about the most rapid and fundamental transformation in all human history. While the United States (and the British colonies that preceded our independence) played no prominent role in creating the institution of slavery, or even in establishing the long-standing African slave trade pioneered by Arab, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and other merchants long before the settlement of English North America, Americans did contribute mightily to the spectacularly successful anti-slavery agitation. As early as 1646, the Puritan founders of New England expressed their revulsion at the enslavement of their fellow children of God. When magistrates in Massachusetts discovered that some of their citizens had raided an African village and violently seized two natives to bring them across the Atlantic for sale in the New World, the General Court condemned “this haynos and crying sinn of man-stealing.” The officials promptly ordered the two blacks returned to their native land. Two years later, Rhode Island passed legislation denouncing the practice of enslaving Africans for life and ordered that any slaves “brought within the liberties of this Collonie” be set free after ten years “as the manner is with the English servants.” A hundred and thirty years later John Adams and Benjamin Franklin both spent most of their lives as committed activists in the abolitionist cause, and Thomas Jefferson included a bitter condemnation of slavery in his original draft of the Declaration of Independence. This remarkable passage saw African bondage as “cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty” and described “a market where MEN should be bought and sold” as constituting “piratical warfare” and “execrable commerce.” Unfortunately, the Continental Congress removed this prescient, powerful denunciation in order to win approval from Jefferson’s fellow slave-owners, but the impact of the Declaration and the American Revolution remained a powerful factor in energizing and inspiring the international anti-slavery cause. Nowhere did idealists pay a higher price for liberation than they did in the United States of America. Confederate forces (very few of whom ever owned slaves) may not have fought consciously to defend the Peculiar Institution, but Union soldiers and sailors (particularly at the end of the war) proudly risked their lives for the emancipation cause. Julia Ward Howe’s powerful and popular “Battle Hymn of the Republic” called on Federal troops to follow Christ’s example: “as he died to make men holy/let us die to make men free.” And many of them did die, some 364,000 in four years of combat—or the stunning equivalent of five million deaths as a percentage of today’s United States population. Moreover, the economic cost of liberation remained almost unimaginable. In nearly all other nations, the government paid some form of compensation to slave-owners at the time of emancipation, but Southern slave-owners received no reimbursement of any kind when they lost an estimated $3.5 billion in 1860 dollars (about $70 billion in today’s dollars) of what Davis describes as a “hitherto legally accepted form of property.” The most notable aspect of America’s history with slavery doesn’t involve its tortured and bloody existence, but the unprecedented speed and determination with which abolitionists roused the national conscience and put this age-old evil to an end.

6. THERE IS NO REASON TO BELIEVE THAT TODAY’S AFRICAN-AMERICANS WOULD BE BETTER OFF IF THEIR ANCESTORS HAD REMAINED BEHIND IN AFRICA. The idea of reparations rests on the notion of making up to the descendants of slaves for the incalculable damage done to their family status and welfare by the enslavement of generations of their ancestors. In theory, reparationists want society to repair the wrongs of the past by putting today’s African-Americans into the sort of situation they would have enjoyed if their forebears hadn’t been kidnapped, sold and transported across the ocean. Unfortunately, to bring American blacks in line with their cousins who the slave-traders left behind in Africa would require a drastic reduction in their wealth, living standards, and economic and political opportunities. No honest observer can deny or dismiss this nation’s long record of racism and injustice, but it’s also obvious that Americans of African descent enjoy vastly greater wealth and human rights of every variety than the citizens of any nation of the Mother Continent. If we sought to erase the impact of slavery on specific black families, we would need to obliterate the spectacular economic progress made by those families (and by US citizens in general) over the last 100 years. In view of the last century of history in Nigeria or Ivory Coast or Sierra Leone or Zimbabwe, could any African American say with confidence that he or she would have fared better had some distant ancestor not been enslaved? Of course, those who seek reparations would also cite the devastating impact of Western colonialism in stunting African progress, but the United States played virtually no role in the colonization of the continent. The British, French, Italians, Portuguese, Germans and others all established brutal colonial rule in Africa tiny Belgium became a particularly oppressive and bloodthirsty colonial power in the Congo. The United States, on the other hand, sponsored only one long-term venture on the African continent: the colony of Liberia, an independent nation set up as a haven for liberated American slaves who wanted to go “home.” The fact that so few availed themselves of the opportunity, or heeded the back-to-African exhortations of turn- of-the-century Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey, reflects the reality that descendants of slaves understood they were better off remaining in the United States, for all its faults.

In short, politically correct assumptions about America’s entanglement with slavery lack any sense of depth, perspective or context. As with so many other persistent lies about this fortunate land, the unthinking indictment of the United States as uniquely blameworthy for an evil institution ignores the fact that the record of previous generations provides some basis for pride as well as guilt.


Slavery in America: Why Myths and Misconceptions Persist

People think they know everything about slavery in the United States, but they don't. They think the majority of African slaves came to the American colonies, but they didn't. They talk about 400 years of slavery, but it wasn't. They claim all Southerners owned slaves, but they didn't. Some argue it was all a long time ago, but it wasn't.

Slavery has been in the news a lot lately. From the discovery of the auction of 272 enslaved people that enabled Georgetown University to remain in operation to the McGraw-Hill textbook controversy over calling slaves "workers from Africa" and the slavery memorial being built at the University of Virginia, Americans are having conversations about this difficult period in American history. Some of these dialogues have been wrought with controversy and conflict, like the University of Tennessee student who challenged her professor's understanding of enslaved families.

As a scholar of slavery at the University of Texas at Austin, I welcome the public debates and connections the American people are making with history. However, there are still many misconceptions about slavery, as evidenced by the conflict at the University of Tennessee.

I've spent my career dispelling myths about "the peculiar institution." The goal in my courses is not to victimize one group and celebrate another. Instead, we trace the history of slavery in all its forms to make sense of the origins of wealth inequality and the roots of discrimination today. The history of slavery provides vital context to contemporary conversations and counters the distorted facts, internet hoaxes and poor scholarship I caution my students against.

Four myths about slavery

Myth One: The majority of African captives came to what became the United States.

Truth: Only a little more than 300,000 captives, or 4-6 percent, came to the United States. The majority of enslaved Africans went to Brazil, followed by the Caribbean. A significant number of enslaved Africans arrived in the American colonies by way of the Caribbean, where they were "seasoned" and mentored into slave life. They spent months or years recovering from the harsh realities of the Middle Passage. Once they were forcibly accustomed to slave labor, many were then brought to plantations on American soil.

Myth Two: Slavery lasted for 400 years.

Popular culture is rich with references to 400 years of oppression. There seems to be confusion between the Transatlantic Slave Trade (1440-1888) and the institution of slavery, confusion only reinforced by the Bible, Genesis 15:13:

Then the Lord said to him, "Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there."

Listen to Lupe Fiasco&mdashjust one hip-hop artist to refer to the 400 years&mdashin his 2011 imagining of America without slavery, "All Black Everything":

[Hook]
You would never know
If you could ever be
If you never try
You would never see
Stayed in Africa
We ain't never leave
So there were no slaves in our history
Were no slave ships, were no misery, call me crazy, or isn't he
See I fell asleep and I had a dream, it was all black everything

[Verse 1] Uh, and we ain't get exploited White man ain't feared so he did not destroy it We ain't work for free, see they had to employ it Built it up together so we equally appointed First 400 years, see we actually enjoyed it

Truth: Slavery was not unique to the United States it is a part of almost every nation's history, from Greek and Roman civilizations to contemporary forms of human trafficking. The American part of the story lasted fewer than 400 years.

How, then, do we calculate the timeline of slavery in America? Most historians use 1619 as a starting point: 20 Africans referred to as "servants" arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, on a Dutch ship. It's important to note, however, that they were not the first Africans on American soil. Africans first arrived in America in the late 16th century not as slaves but as explorers, together with Spanish and Portuguese explorers.

One of the best known of these African "conquistadors" was Estevancio, who traveled throughout the southeast from present-day Florida to Texas. As for the institution of chattel slavery&mdashthe treatment of slaves as property&mdashin the United States, if we use 1619 as the beginning and the 1865 13th Amendment as its end, then it lasted 246 years, not 400.

Myth Three: All Southerners owned slaves.

Truth: Roughly 25 percent of all Southerners owned slaves. The fact that one-quarter of the Southern population were slaveholders is still shocking to many. This truth brings historical insight to modern conversations about inequality and reparations.

When it established statehood, the Lone Star State had a shorter period of Anglo-American chattel slavery than other southern states&mdashonly 1845 to 1865&mdashbecause Spain and Mexico had occupied the region for almost one-half of the 19th century with policies that either abolished or limited slavery. Still, the number of people impacted by wealth and income inequality is staggering. By 1860, the Texas enslaved population was 182,566, but slaveholders represented 27 percent of the population, and controlled 68 percent of the government positions and 73 percent of the wealth. These are astonishing figures, but today's income gap in Texas is arguably more stark, with 10 percent of tax filers taking home 50 percent of the income.

Myth Four: Slavery was a long time ago.

Truth: African-Americans have been free in this country for less time than they were enslaved. Do the math: Blacks have been free for 152 years, which means that most Americans are only two to three generations away from slavery. This is not that long ago.

Over this same period, however, former slaveholding families have built their legacies on the institution and generated wealth that African-Americans have not had access to because enslaved labor was forced. Segregation maintained wealth disparities, and overt and covert discrimination limited African-American recovery efforts.

The value of slaves

Economists and historians have examined detailed aspects of the enslaved experience for as long as slavery existed. My own work enters this conversation by looking at the value of individual slaves and the ways enslaved people responded to being treated as a commodity.

They were bought and sold just like we sell cars and cattle today. They were gifted, deeded and mortgaged the same way we sell houses today. They were itemized and insured the same way we manage our assets and protect our valuables.

Enslaved people were valued at every stage of their lives, from before birth until after death. Slaveholders examined women for their fertility and projected the value of their "future increase." As the slaves grew up, enslavers assessed their value through a rating system that quantified their work. An "A1 Prime hand" represented one term used for a "first-rate" slave who could do the most work in a given day. Their values decreased on a quarter scale from three-fourths hands to one-fourth hands, to a rate of zero, which was typically reserved for elderly or differently abled bondpeople (another term for slaves).

For example, Guy and Andrew, two prime males sold at the largest auction in U.S. history in 1859, commanded different prices. Although similar in "all marketable points in size, age and skill," Guy was $1,280, while Andrew sold for $1,040 because "he had lost his right eye." A reporter from the New-York Tribune noted "that the market value of the right eye in the Southern country is $240." Enslaved bodies were reduced to monetary values assessed from year to year and sometimes from month to month for their entire life span and beyond. By today's standards, Andrew and Guy would be worth about $33,000-$40,000.

Slavery was an extremely diverse economic institution, one that extracted unpaid labor out of people in a variety of settings&mdashfrom small single-crop farms and plantations to urban universities. This diversity was also reflected in their prices. And enslaved people understood they were treated as commodities.

"I was sold away from Mammy at 3 years old," recalled Harriett Hill of Georgia. "I remembers it! It lack selling a calf from the cow," she shared in a 1930s interview with the Works Progress Administration. "We are human beings," she told her interviewer. Those in bondage understood their status. Even though Harriet Hill was too little to remember her price when she was 3, she recalled being sold for $1,400 at age 9 or 10: "I never could forget it."

Slavery in popular culture

Slavery is part and parcel of American popular culture, but for 40 years the television miniseries Roots was the primary visual representation of the institution, except for a handful of independent (and not widely known) films such as Haile Gerima's Sankofa or the Brazilian Quilombo.

Today, from grassroots initiatives such as the interactive Slave Dwelling Project, where school-aged children spend the night in slave cabins, to comic skits on Saturday Night Live, slavery is front and center. In 2016 A&E and History released the reimagined miniseries Roots: The Saga of an American Family, which reflected four decades of new scholarship. Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave was a box office success in 2013 actress Azia Mira Dungey made headlines with the popular web series "Ask a Slave" and The Underground&mdasha series about runaway slaves and abolitionists&mdashwas a hit for its network WGN America. With less than one year of operation, the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History, which devotes several galleries to the history of slavery, has had more than one million visitors.

The elephant that sits at the center of our history is coming into focus. American slavery happened&mdashwe are still living with its consequences. I believe we are finally ready to face it, learn about it and acknowledge its significance to American history.

Daina Ramey Berry is associate professor of history and African and African diaspora studies at University of Texas at Austin.


Ten myths, half-truths and misunderstandings about Black history

Black history may have seemed “lost, stolen or strayed” at one time, but since then much of the African American past has been rediscovered and reanalyzed.

Unfortunately, this new research hasn’t yet filtered down to high schools, and many students and others still base their thinking on the information that existed in 1968 when CBS News produced the film Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed. At that time, many important works on Black history were more than thirty years out of date. For example, W.E.B. DuBois wrote History of the African Slave Trade in 1896 and Black Reconstruction in 1935, and Dr. Lorenzo Green finished The Negro in Colonial New England, 1620-1776 in 1942.

Over the past thirty years, historians, anthropologists, and other scholars such as John Blassingame, Dr. Eugene Genovese and Ira Berlin have revolutionized the study of African American life, history, and culture.

Some facts are indisputable. A few free Africans came to the New World with Columbus. African slaves first arrived in the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean in 1502 and came to what was to become the United States of America in 1619. Over the next 250 years, some African Americans were freed or freed themselves. The U.S. banned the external slave trade in 1808, and states from Maine to Maryland gradually enacted abolition laws.

Unfortunately, some historical questions may never be answered. For example, although estimates range from thirteen million to thirty million, we will probably never know exactly how many people were taken out of Africa during the slave trade because boats and people were counted differently in different African and European languages.

Black Issues presents some of the latest thinking to help educators lay to rest these ten common myths and misconceptions that distort and oversimplify nearly 500 years of African American history.

The Black Family Structure was Destroyed in Slavery.

This outdated perspective was developed in the early 1900s by a group of racist historians known as the Dunning School Unfortunately, it was adopted by Dr. Edward Franklin Frazier, an African American professor at Howard University, while working on The Negro Family in the United States (1939) Frazier believed that the family problems of African Americans during the 1930s could be explained by the “catastrophe of slavery.” In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who would join the U.S. Senate eleven years later, based much of his infamous report, The Negro Family in America: The Case for National Action, on Frazier’s work.

However, a wealth of new information reveals that earlier conclusions seriously underestimated the strength of the Black family According to Dr. John Hope Franklin, Herbert Gutman’s classic book, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom (1976), “successfully challenged the traditional view that slavery virtually destroyed the Afro-American family.” Black families were under incredible stress during slavery but they also evolved new structures to meet the crisis Blaming all of the problems of some Black families on the past influence of slavery underestimates contemporary factors such as racism, unemployment and drugs.

Suggested Readings Peter Kolchin’s American Slavery, 1619-1877 (1993) Alan Kulikoff’s Tobacco and Slaves: The Development of Southern Cultures in the Chesapeake (1986) Theresa Singelton’s The Archaeology of Slavery and Plantation Life (1985) Genevieve Fabre and Robert O’Meally’s History and Memory of African American Culture (1994) Leland Ferguson’s Uncommon Ground: Archaeology and Early African Americans, 1650-1800 (1992) and John Blassingame, The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South (1972).

African Americans were the only people who were ever enslaved in the New World.

Millions of Native Americans were also enslaved, particularly in South America In the American colonies in 1730, nearly 25 percent of the slaves in the Carolinas were Cherokee, Creek, or other Native Americans. From the 1500s through the early 1700s, small numbers of white people were also enslaved by kidnapping, or for crimes or debts.

SUGGESTED READINGS: Herbert Klein’s, African Slavery in Latin American and the Caribbean (1986) Ramon Gutierrez’s When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico 1500-1846 (1991) Great Documents in American Indian History (1995), edited by Wayne Moquin: J. McIver Weatherford’s Native Roots. How the Indians Enriched America (1991) Native Heritage: Personal Accounts by American Indians 1790-Present (1995), edited by Arlene Hirschfelder Robert Edgar Conrad’s Children of God’s Fire: A Documentary History of Black Slavery in Brazil (1983) and Sidney Mintz’s and Richard Price’s An Anthropological Approach to the Afro-American Past: A Caribbean Perspective (1981).

Slave communities were clearly divided into two classes of people: House Negroes, who led easy lives, and Field Negroes, who bore the brunt of slavery’s brutality.

This myth reflects another of Frazier’s conclusions. As a sociologist, he was interested in the origins of class divisions in African American society. Newer research indicates that there were no distinct classes among enslaved African Americans. Most slaves who worked in houses were women who often suffered much abuse. In addition, some slaves–usually men who were blacksmiths, tanners, and other artisans–didn’t work in either houses or fields.

SUGGESTED READINGS: Cultivation and Culture: Labor and the Shaping of Slave Life (1993), edited by Ira Berlin and Philip Morgan Ira Berlin’s and Roland Hoffman’s Slavery and Freedom in the Age of the American Revolution (1983) Nathan Huggins’s Black Odyssey: The African American Ordeal in Slavery (1990) and Discovering the Women in Slavery: Emancipating Perspectives on the American Past (1996), edited by Patricia Morton.

During and after slavery, social status within the Black community was primarily determined by who had the lightest skin.

This is at best a half-truth. First, the Black people with the highest status were always those who were free–and they came in all shades. The Afro-American Communities Project, conducted by James Horton of George Washington University, looked at communities in ten northern cities between 1790 and 1865 and suggested that the relationship between skin color and status was very complicated. In the northern and midwestern free communities studied, there is no pattern showing that people with lighter skin had better jobs or higher incomes.

Other evidence indicates that having lighter skin was only more prestigious in places, such as plantation communities of the “Deep South,” where light skin probably meant that you were related to a prominent or wealthy white person. In the “Upper South,” where light-skinned children were more likely to be the product of relationships with poor whites, there was no great status attached to light skin.

In the early twentieth century, the idea that “lighter is better” probably only became common in the North and West when the great migrations dispersed Southern African American culture and attitudes to other communities. More recent studies of the 1940s and 1950s suggest that light skin seems to be valued much more in women than men, and that these attitudes may have more to do with gender than class.

SUGGESTED READINGS: James O. Horton’s Free People of Color Inside the African American Community (1993).

It was illegal to teach a slave to read.

This is another half-truth. Between 1619 and 1820, there were no laws concerning the education of slaves. In both the North and even the South, African American churches and other groups sponsored schools for Black children, though very few actually attended. During the last and most repressive generation of slavery, a few Southern states made it illegal to teach a slave to read because some slave rebellions were led by people who had read the Bible or the Declaration of Independence.

SUGGESTED READINGS: The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861, by Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson (1919) or Eric Foner’s, The Unfinished Revolution (1988).

Black people couldn’t or didn’t resist slavery.

The weight of historical evidence suggests that enslaved Black people throughout the new world developed a culture of continual resistance. In every community, some slaves ran away, committed suicide, or died fighting back. In Jamaica, Surinam and Brazil, slaves escaped to the mountains and established independent free communities. In Haiti, Black people ended slavery by defeating both the Spanish and the French armies. In the United States, slaves fled north and west to freedom and organized several slave rebellions. In addition, the continual agitation of Black people like Frederick Douglass helped spark the Civil War, which ended slavery in the United States.

SUGGESTED READINGS: Herbert Aptheker’s American Negro Slave Revolts (1944) Gerald Mullen’s, Flight and Rebellion: Slave Resistance in Eighteenth Century Virginia (1972) Dr. Eugene Genovese’s From Resistance to Rebellion: African American Slave Revolts in the Making of the Modern World (1981) and George Frederickson’s Black Liberation: A Comparative History of Black Ideologies in the United States and South Africa (1993).

The 500 years Blacks have spent in the New World have erased any African influences on modern African American culture.

This is a myth scholars have been trying to disprove for decades. African culture not only continues to flavor African American culture, it influences all Americans–whether they realize it or not. African words entered the English language. African legends changed American folklore. African instruments and musical ideas revolutionized American music. African spices and foods (such as yams and okra), design motifs, and skills (such as boat building) permanently influenced European tastes and technologies.

SUGGESTED READINGS: The Miseducation of the Negro, by Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson (1939) Sterling Stuckey’s, Slave Culture: Nationalist Theory and the Foundations of Black America (1987) Joseph Holloway’s The Origins of African American Culture (1990) Charles Joyner’s Down By the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community (1984) and Dr. Lawrence Levine’s Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom (1977).

The last names of Black people all come from the names of the white people who owned the plantation on which they lived.

This is a yet another half-truth. Some newly freed Blacks used the names of white families, though not necessarily the name of their last owner. This trend was more pronounced in Mississippi and Alabama, where more slaves had been sold South and West, away from their families on the East Coast. However, there were always some African Americans who got their names from their parents or who, when acquiring freedom, chose new names like Freeman or Newman. In addition, records show that most slaves on the same plantation didn’t have the same last names.

SUGGESTED READINGS: Charles Blockson’s Black Geneology (1977) and Tommie Morton Young’s Afro-American Genealogical Sourcebook (1987). For more information, contact the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society at P.O. Box 73086, Washington, D.C. 20056-3086.

Most lynchings started when a Black man was accused of a sexual incident involving a white woman.

This is a myth. Sexually motivated lynchings made sensational national headlines. However, local research revealed a more complicated story. In 1892, crusading African American journalist Ida B. Wells published Southern Horrors, which investigated hundreds of lynchings. Wells found that more than 70 percent of the lynchings occurred when the victims tried to vote, demanded their rights, purchased land, or owned successful businesses. Between 1920 and 1950, the NAACP also investigated scores of lynchings and those investigations supported Well’s conclusions.

SUGGESTED READINGS: Ida B. Wells’s Southern Horrors (reissued 1991) W. Fitzhugh Brundage’s Lynching in the New South, 1880-1930 (1993) and Stewart Tolnay’s and E.M. Beck’s A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of Southern Lynchings, 18821930 (1995).

The Civil Rights Movement began in 1955 and is a magnificent example of a spontaneous uprising that freed an oppressed people.

This is a myth. The Civil Rights Movement didn’t just “spontaneously arise” with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Black people had been circulating petitions, bringing court cases, and organizing and agitating against slavery and oppression since before the American Revolution. Efforts against segregation began in the 1880s, but did not have much of an impact until the late 1930s.

SUGGESTED READINGS: Aldon Morris’s The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement Black Communities Organizing for Change (1984) Genna Rae McNeil’s Groundwork: Charles Hamilton Houston and the Struggle for Civil Rights (1983) Richard Kluger’s, Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality (1977) John Egerton’s Speak Now Against the Day: The Generation Before the Civil Rights Movement (1992) Sean Cashman’s African Americans Quest for Civil Rights, 1900-1990 (1991) and Claynorne Carson’s In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960 (reissued, with new introduction, 1995).

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