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Was slavery in the United States legally limited to blacks?


Was slavery legally exclusive to race? That is, could blacks and only blacks in the United States be considered slaves under the law?

As an example, if an owner were to import into the United States a slave of another race, would their ownership status over said slave have been recognized?


Mostly, but not entirely.

Several states including Virginia explicitly recognized slaves that were purely descended from Indians.

It is important to realize that the law often had no bearing on whether a person could be enslaved and there was a huge mismatch between the laws and actual practice. For example, most southern states had laws very early making it illegal to import slaves of any kind and ruling that any slave imported into their state became instantly free. Virginia passed their law of this type in 1792. Nevertheless, this law was never obeyed. Hundreds of thousands of slaves were imported and exported from Virginia after 1792 and none of them that I know of were freed under this law. Another such law, more restrictive, was the Act of 1819 in Virginia, which has the following language:

No persons shall henceforth be slaves within this commonwealth, except such were so on the seventeenth day of October, in the year one thousand seven hundred and eighty-five, and the descendants of the females of them and such persons and their descendants, being slaves, as since have been, or hereafter may be brought into this state, or held there in pursuant to law.

Where it was only legal to bring in slaves from other states and the District of Columbia. Thus, for example, it would be illegal to bring an actual African as a slave into Virginia after this law was passed.

As a general rule, after the War of the Revolution the courts only recognized "negroes," meaning Africans, as inherently slaves. Indians could only be slaves if they were the children of slaves and already owned. You could not newly enslave an Indian. If a person imported and enslaved a non-African, that would be illegal, because they were out of limits. The specific language is as follows for Virginia:

  1. § 3. It shall not be lawful for any person whatsoever, to bring into this state, or to hold therein, any slave or slaves born or resident out of the limits aforesaid, or any slave or slaves that shall have been convicted of any offence, and therefor transported by the laws of this state, or of any state, territory, or district aforesaid; and, if any person shall bring into this state, contrary to the provisions of this act, any such slave or slaves, or shall sell, purchase or hold, in this state, any such slave or slaves, knowing such slave or slaves to have been brought into this state contrary to the provisions of this act, every such offender shall forfeit and pay to the commonwealth, for the use of the Literary fund, for each slave so brought in, sold, purchased or held, a fine of one thousand dollars: Provided however, That the penalty aforesaid shall not be incurred by any person bringing into this state any slave or slaves, for the purpose only of passing through, or for a short time abiding therein, if such slave or slaves be not kept within this state for one whole year, or sold or offered for sale therein.

Notice that there is an exemption for a person "passing through". So, for example, if a foreign diplomat had, say, a Burmese slave and was just traveling through the state, then that would be allowed.

Note that the same laws forbade free negroes or mulattoes from settling in Virginia, as defined by being of one-fourth blood of a negro. Such people could be arrested at will and expelled from the state.


members of various Indian tribes enslaved various members of other tribes and whites. This went on even after various Indian tribes more or less acknowledged the over lordship of the Federal government. Indian warriors who wanted to enslave someone never stopped to ask if anybody in the group knew whether that was legal according the laws of the "grandfather" in Washington.

Of course it was also common to torture captives to death or adopt them as members of the family and tribe or hold them for ransom.

There was also a lot of enslaving of Indians on the frontier, regardless of whether that may have been legal according to state or territorial or Federal laws.

The Navajos and the New Mexicans had been raiding each other for livestock and slaves for centuries. The Navajos were finally defeated in 1864 and forced to make the Long Walk to the Bosque Redondo reservation and were not permitted to return to their homeland for several years. So there was a lot of chances for white slaves of the Navajos to get their freedom.

It is not so certain how many Navajo slaves of the New Mexicans were set free, or when. One has a certain cynicism about the eagerness of New Mexicans to release their slaves even after the 13th amendment, ratified on December 6, 1865 decreed that: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." That is pretty clear and absolute, but one suspects that New Mexicans would consider having Navajo slaves a traditional part of their culture and unaffected by law.

And I doubt if Californians all recognized that the practice of forcing kidnapped Indians to work for them as payment for being civilized was unconstitutional after the 13th amendment.


In the book Slavery by Another Name which contends that the system whereby prisoners were leased to farmers and large companies to do work basically was as bad as slavery or even worse we see the possibility of Whites who were sentenced and became part of this system could be considered slaves. Sort of like Cool Hand Luke showed us about chain gangs.

And in fact, the movie I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang was based on a true story in which a White was sentenced to serving time on a road gang which may not have started out as him being in chains but ended up that way. So in some sense Whites could end up for all intents and purposes as slaves although Blacks were disproportionately members of these gangs.

It could also be argued that in present times, many prisoners are more or less slaves and some of them are White.


In the early days, whites were imported into the colonies as "indentured servants." These were people who had sold themselves to masters, not for life, but for a period of time, usually for seven years, in exchange for passage to the colonies, bail out of jail, or similar considerations. Although such people were "unfree," the difference between this kind of servitude and black slavery was that it was for fixed period of time, not for life.

As Mark Wallace pointed out in a comment on another post, such arrangements were regulated by state, not federal law (prior to the 13th Amendment). It was not until the early 19th century that a "rollback" of such arrangements began.


Education during the slave period in the United States

The United States is the only country known to have prohibited the education of the enslaved. During the era of slavery in the United States, the education of enslaved African Americans, except for religious instruction, was discouraged, and eventually made illegal in most of the Southern states. After 1831 (the revolt of Nat Turner), the prohibition was extended in some states to free Blacks as well.

Slave owners saw literacy as a threat to the institution of slavery and their financial investment in it as a North Carolina statute stated, "'Teaching slaves to read and write, tends to excite dissatisfaction in their minds, and to produce insurrection and rebellion." [1] : 136 First, literacy enabled the enslaved to read the widely-distributed writings of abolitionists, who informed readers about the slave revolution in Haiti of 1791–1804 and the end of slavery in the British Empire in 1833. It also allowed slaves to discover that thousands of the enslaved had escaped, often with the assistance of the Underground Railroad, to safe refuges in the Northern states and Canada. Finally, literacy was believed to make the enslaved unhappy at best, insolent and sullen at worst. As put by prominent Washington lawyer Elias B. Caldwell:

The more you improve the condition of these people, the more you cultivate their minds, the more miserable you make them, in their present state. You give them a higher relish for those privilegies which they can never attain, and turn what we intend for a blessing [slavery] into a curse. No, if they must remain in their present situation, keep them in the lowest state of degradation and ignorance. The nearer you bring them to the condition of brutes, the better chance do you give them of possessing their apathy. [2]

Nonetheless, both free and enslaved African Americans continued to learn to read as a result of the sometimes clandestine efforts of free African Americans, sympathetic whites, and informal schools that operated furtively during this period. In addition, slaves used storytelling, music, and crafts to pass along cultural traditions and other information. [3]

In the Northern states, African Americans sometimes had access to formal schooling, and were more likely to have basic reading and writing skills. The Quakers were important in establishing education programs in the North in the years before and after the Revolutionary War. [4]

During the U.S. colonial period, two prominent religious groups, Congregationalists and Anglicans, both saw the conversion of slaves as a spiritual obligation, and the ability to read scriptures was seen as part of this process (Monoghan, 2001). The Great Awakening served as a catalyst for encouraging education for all members of society.

While reading was encouraged in religious instruction, writing often was not. Writing was seen as a mark of status, unnecessary for many members of society, including slaves. This is due to the fact that many had to learn how to read to be able to write. Runaway Wallace Turnage "learnt" how to read and write "during that time [of his enslavement] and since [he] escaped the clutches of those held who held [him] in slavery." [5] It is believed that he learned with the help of the slaves who helped him escape to different sites: for example, someone may have taught him how to read directions to get to the next town. Memorization, catechisms, and scripture formed the basis of what education was available.

Despite the lack of importance generally given to writing instruction, there were some notable exceptions perhaps the most famous of these was Phillis Wheatley, whose poetry won admiration on both sides of the Atlantic.

The end of slavery and, with it, the legal prohibition of slave education did not mean that education for former slaves or their descendants became widely available. Racial segregation in schools, de jure and then de facto, and inadequate funding of schools for African Americans, if they existed at all, continued into the later twentieth century and continues in many areas.


1619-1741: Slavery and slave rebellion in the US - Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn's history of slavery and slave revolts in the United States from 1619 up until 1741.

There is not a country in world history in which racism has been more important, for so long a time, as the United States. And the problem of "the color line," as W. E. B. Du Bois put it, is still with us. So it is more than a purely historical question to ask: How does it start?—and an even more urgent question: How might it end? Or, to put it differently: Is it possible for whites and blacks to live together without hatred?

If history can help answer these questions, then the beginnings of slavery in North America—a continent where we can trace the coming of the first whites and the first blacks—might supply at least a few clues.

Some historians think those first blacks in Virginia were considered as servants, like the white indentured servants brought from Europe. But the strong probability is that, even if they were listed as "servants" (a more familiar category to the English), they were viewed as being different from white servants, were treated differently, and in fact were slaves. In any case, slavery developed quickly into a regular institution, into the normal labor relation of blacks to whites in the New World. With it developed that special racial feeling—whether hatred, or contempt, or pity, or patronization—that accompanied the inferior position of blacks in America for the next 350 years —that combination of inferior status and derogatory thought we call racism.

Everything in the experience of the first white settlers acted as a pressure for the enslavement of blacks.

The Virginians of 1619 were desperate for labor, to grow enough food to stay alive. Among them were survivors from the winter of 1609-1610, the "starving time," when, crazed for want of food, they roamed the woods for nuts and berries, dug up graves to eat the corpses, and died in batches until five hundred colonists were reduced to sixty.

In the Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia is a document of 1619 which tells of the first twelve years of the Jamestown colony. The first settlement had a hundred persons, who had one small ladle of barley per meal. When more people arrived, there was even less food. Many of the people lived in cavelike holes dug into the ground, and in the winter of 1609-1610, they were

The Virginians needed labor, to grow corn for subsistence, to grow tobacco for export. They had just figured out how to grow tobacco, and in 1617 they sent off the first cargo to England. Finding that, like all pleasureable drugs tainted with moral disapproval, it brought a high price, the planters, despite their high religious talk, were not going to ask questions about something so profitable.

They couldn't force the Indians to work for them, as Columbus had done. They were outnumbered, and while, with superior firearms, they could massacre Indians, they would face massacre in return. They could not capture them and keep them enslaved the Indians were tough, resourceful, defiant, and at home in these woods, as the transplanted Englishmen were not.

White servants had not yet been brought over in sufficient quantity. Besides, they did not come out of slavery, and did not have to do more than contract their labor for a few years to get their passage and a start in the New World. As for the free white settlers, many of them were skilled craftsmen, or even men of leisure back in England, who were so little inclined to work the land that John Smith, in those early years, had to declare a kind of martial law, organize them into work gangs, and force them into the fields for survival.

There may have been a kind of frustrated rage at their own ineptitude, at the Indian superiority at taking care of themselves, that made the Virginians especially ready to become the masters of slaves. Edmund Morgan imagines their mood as he writes in his book American Slavery, American Freedom:

Black slaves were the answer. And it was natural to consider imported blacks as slaves, even if the institution of slavery would not be regularized and legalized for several decades. Because, by 1619, a million blacks had already been brought from Africa to South America and the Caribbean, to the Portuguese and Spanish colonies, to work as slaves. Fifty years before Columbus, the Portuguese took ten African blacks to Lisbon—this was the start of a regular trade in slaves. African blacks had been stamped as slave labor for a hundred years. So it would have been strange if those twenty blacks, forcibly transported to Jamestown, and sold as objects to settlers anxious for a steadfast source of labor, were considered as anything but slaves.

Their helplessness made enslavement easier. The Indians were on their own land. The whites were in their own European culture. The blacks had been torn from their land and culture, forced into a situation where the heritage of language, dress, custom, family relations, was bit by bit obliterated except for remnants that blacks could hold on to by sheer, extraordinary persistence.

Was their culture inferior—and so subject to easy destruction? Inferior in military capability, yes —vulnerable to whites with guns and ships. But in no other way—except that cultures that are different are often taken as inferior, especially when such a judgment is practical and profitable. Even militarily, while the Westerners could secure forts on the African coast, they were unable to subdue the interior and had to come to terms with its chiefs.

The African civilization was as advanced in its own way as that of Europe. In certain ways, it was more admirable but it also included cruelties, hierarchical privilege, and the readiness to sacrifice human lives for religion or profit. It was a civilization of 100 million people, using iron implements and skilled in farming. It had large urban centers and remarkable achievements in weaving, ceramics, sculpture.

European travelers in the sixteenth century were impressed with the African kingdoms of Timbuktu and Mali, already stable and organized at a time when European states were just beginning to develop into the modern nation. In 1563, Ramusio, secretary to the rulers in Venice, wrote to the Italian merchants: "Let them go and do business with the King of Timbuktu and Mali and there is no doubt that they will be well-received there with their ships and their goods and treated well, and granted the favours that they ask. "

A Dutch report, around 1602, on the West African kingdom of Benin, said: "The Towne seemeth to be very great, when you enter it. You go into a great broad street, not paved, which seemeth to be seven or eight times broader than the Warmoes Street in Amsterdam. . The Houses in this Towne stand in good order, one close and even with the other, as the Houses in Holland stand."

The inhabitants of the Guinea Coast were described by one traveler around 1680 as "very civil and good-natured people, easy to be dealt with, condescending to what Europeans require of them in a civil way, and very ready to return double the presents we make them."

Africa had a kind of feudalism, like Europe based on agriculture, and with hierarchies of lords and vassals. But African feudalism did not come, as did Europe's, out of the slave societies of Greece and Rome, which had destroyed ancient tribal life. In Africa, tribal life was still powerful, and some of its better features—a communal spirit, more kindness in law and punishment—still existed. And because the lords did not have the weapons that European lords had, they could not command obedience as easily.

In his book The African Slave Trade, Basil Davidson contrasts law in the Congo in the early sixteenth century with law in Portugal and England. In those European countries, where the idea of private property was becoming powerful, theft was punished brutally. In England, even as late as 1740, a child could be hanged for stealing a rag of cotton. But in the Congo, communal life persisted, the idea of private property was a strange one, and thefts were punished with fines or various degrees of servitude. A Congolese leader, told of the Portuguese legal codes, asked a Portuguese once, teasingly: "What is the penalty in Portugal for anyone who puts his feet on the ground?"

Slavery existed in the African states, and it was sometimes used by Europeans to justify their own slave trade. But, as Davidson points out, the "slaves" of Africa were more like the serfs of Europe —in other words, like most of the population of Europe. It was a harsh servitude, but but they had rights which slaves brought to America did not have, and they were "altogether different from the human cattle of the slave ships and the American plantations." In the Ashanti Kingdom of West Africa, one observer noted that "a slave might marry own property himself own a slave swear an oath be a competent witness and ultimately become heir to his master. An Ashanti slave, nine cases out of ten, possibly became an adopted member of the family, and in time his descendants so merged and intermarried with the owner's kinsmen that only a few would know their origin."

One slave trader, John Newton (who later became an antislavery leader), wrote about the people of what is now Sierra Leone:

African slavery is hardly to be praised. But it was far different from plantation or mining slavery in the Americas, which was lifelong, morally crippling, destructive of family ties, without hope of any future. African slavery lacked two elements that made American slavery the most cruel form of slavery in history: the frenzy for limitless profit that comes from capitalistic agriculture the reduction of the slave to less than human status by the use of racial hatred, with that relentless clarity based on color, where white was master, black was slave.

In fact, it was because they came from a settled culture, of tribal customs and family ties, of communal life and traditional ritual, that African blacks found themselves especially helpless when removed from this. They were captured in the interior (frequently by blacks caught up in the slave trade themselves), sold on the coast, then shoved into pens with blacks of other tribes, often speaking different languages.

The conditions of capture and sale were crushing affirmations to the black African of his helplessness in the face of superior force. The marches to the coast, sometimes for 1,000 miles, with people shackled around the neck, under whip and gun, were death marches, in which two of every five blacks died. On the coast, they were kept in cages until they were picked and sold. One John Barbot, at the end of the seventeenth century, described these cages on the Gold Coast:

On one occasion, hearing a great noise from belowdecks where the blacks were chained together, the sailors opened the hatches and found the slaves in different stages of suffocation, many dead, some having killed others in desperate attempts to breathe. Slaves often jumped overboard to drown rather than continue their suffering. To one observer a slave-deck was "so covered with blood and mucus that it resembled a slaughter house."

Under these conditions, perhaps one of every three blacks transported overseas died, but the huge profits (often double the investment on one trip) made it worthwhile for the slave trader, and so the blacks were packed into the holds like fish.

First the Dutch, then the English, dominated the slave trade. (By 1795 Liverpool had more than a hundred ships carrying slaves and accounted for half of all the European slave trade.) Some Americans in New England entered the business, and in 1637 the first American slave ship, the Desire, sailed from Marblehead. Its holds were partitioned into racks, 2 feet by 6 feet, with leg irons and bars.

By 1800, 10 to 15 million blacks had been transported as slaves to the Americas, representing perhaps one-third of those originally seized in Africa. It is roughly estimated that Africa lost 50 million human beings to death and slavery in those centuries we call the beginnings of modern Western civilization, at the hands of slave traders and plantation owners in Western Europe and America, the countries deemed the most advanced in the world.

In the year 1610, a Catholic priest in the Americas named Father Sandoval wrote back to a church functionary in Europe to ask if the capture, transport, and enslavement of African blacks was legal by church doctrine. A letter dated March 12, 1610, from Brother Luis Brandaon to Father Sandoval gives the answer:

With all of this—the desperation of the Jamestown settlers for labor, the impossibility of using Indians and the difficulty of using whites, the availability of blacks offered in greater and greater numbers by profit-seeking dealers in human flesh, and with such blacks possible to control because they had just gone through an ordeal which if it did not kill them must have left them in a state of psychic and physical helplessness—is it any wonder that such blacks were ripe for enslavement?

And under these conditions, even if some blacks might have been considered servants, would blacks be treated the same as white servants?

The evidence, from the court records of colonial Virginia, shows that in 1630 a white man named Hugh Davis was ordered "to be soundly whipt. for abusing himself. by defiling his body in lying with a Negro." Ten years later, six servants and "a negro of Mr. Reynolds" started to run away. While the whites received lighter sentences, "Emanuel the Negro to receive thirty stripes and to be burnt in the cheek with the letter R, and to work in shackle one year or more as his master shall see cause."

Although slavery was not yet regularized or legalized in those first years, the lists of servants show blacks listed separately. A law passed in 1639 decreed that "all persons except Negroes" were to get arms and ammunition—probably to fight off Indians. When in 1640 three servants tried to run away, the two whites were punished with a lengthening of their service. But, as the court put it, "the third being a negro named John Punch shall serve his master or his assigns for the time of his natural life." Also in 1640, we have the case of a Negro woman servant who begot a child by Robert Sweat, a white man. The court ruled "that the said negro woman shall be whipt at the whipping post and the said Sweat shall tomorrow in the forenoon do public penance for his offense at James citychurch. "

This unequal treatment, this developing combination of contempt and oppression, feeling and action, which we call "racism"—was this the result of a "natural" antipathy of white against black? The question is important, not just as a matter of historical accuracy, but because any emphasis on "natural" racism lightens the responsibility of the social system. If racism can't be shown to be natural, then it is the result of certain conditions, and we are impelled to eliminate those conditions.

We have no way of testing the behavior of whites and blacks toward one another under favorable conditions—with no history of subordination, no money incentive for exploitation and enslavement, no desperation for survival requiring forced labor. All the conditions for black and white in seventeenth-century America were the opposite of that, all powerfully directed toward antagonism and mistreatment. Under such conditions even the slightest display of humanity between the races might be considered evidence of a basic human drive toward community.

Sometimes it is noted that, even before 1600, when the slave trade had just begun, before Africans were stamped by it—literally and symbolically—the color black was distasteful. In England, before 1600, it meant, according to the Oxford English Dictionary: "Deeply stained with dirt soiled, dirty, foul. Having dark or deadly purposes, malignant pertaining to or involving death, deadly baneful, disastrous, sinister. Foul, iniquitous, atrocious, horribly wicked. Indicating disgrace, censure, liability to punishment, etc." And Elizabethan poetry often used the color white in connection with beauty.

It may be that, in the absence of any other overriding factor, darkness and blackness, associated with night and unknown, would take on those meanings. But the presence of another human being is a powerful fact, and the conditions of that presence are crucial in determining whether an initial prejudice, against a mere color, divorced from humankind, is turned into brutality and hatred.

In spite of such preconceptions about blackness, in spite of special subordination of blacks in the Americas in the seventeenth century, there is evidence that where whites and blacks found themselves with common problems, common work, common enemy in their master, they behaved toward one another as equals. As one scholar of slavery, Kenneth Stampp, has put it, Negro and white servants of the seventeenth century were "remarkably unconcerned about the visible physical differences."

Black and white worked together, fraternized together. The very fact that laws had to be passed after a while to forbid such relations indicates the strength of that tendency. In 1661 a law was passed in Virginia that "in case any English servant shall run away in company of any Negroes" he would have to give special service for extra years to the master of the runaway Negro. In 1691, Virginia provided for the banishment of any "white man or woman being free who shall intermarry with a negro, mulatoo, or Indian man or woman bond or free."

There is an enormous difference between a feeling of racial strangeness, perhaps fear, and the mass enslavement of millions of black people that took place in the Americas. The transition from one to the other cannot be explained easily by "natural" tendencies. It is not hard to understand as the outcome of historical conditions.

Slavery grew as the plantation system grew. The reason is easily traceable to something other than natural racial repugnance: the number of arriving whites, whether free or indentured servants (under four to seven years contract), was not enough to meet the need of the plantations. By 1700, in Virginia, there were 6,000 slaves, one-twelfth of the population. By 1763, there were 170,000 slaves, about half the population.

Blacks were easier to enslave than whites or Indians. But they were still not easy to enslave. From the beginning, the imported black men and women resisted their enslavement. Ultimately their resistance was controlled, and slavery was established for 3 million blacks in the South. Still, under the most difficult conditions, under pain of mutilation and death, throughout their two hundred years of enslavement in North America, these Afro-Americans continued to rebel. Only occasionally was there an organized insurrection. More often they showed their refusal to submit by running away. Even more often, they engaged in sabotage, slowdowns, and subtle forms of resistance which asserted, if only to themselves and their brothers and sisters, their dignity as human beings.

The refusal began in Africa. One slave trader reported that Negroes were "so wilful and loth to leave their own country, that they have often leap'd out of the canoes, boat and ship into the sea, and kept under water til they were drowned."

When the very first black slaves were brought into Hispaniola in 1503, the Spanish governor of Hispaniola complained to the Spanish court that fugitive Negro slaves were teaching disobedience to the Indians. In the 1520s and 1530s, there were slave revolts in Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Santa Marta, and what is now Panama. Shortly after those rebellions, the Spanish established a special police for chasing fugitive slaves.

A Virginia statute of 1669 referred to "the obstinacy of many of them," and in 1680 the Assembly took note of slave meetings "under the pretense of feasts and brawls" which they considered of "dangerous consequence." In 1687, in the colony's Northern Neck, a plot was discovered in which slaves planned to kill all the whites in the area and escape during a mass funeral.

Gerald Mullin, who studied slave resistance in eighteenth-century Virginia in his work Flight and Rebellion, reports:

Slaves recently from Africa, still holding on to the heritage of their communal society, would run away in groups and try to establish villages of runaways out in the wilderness, on the frontier. Slaves born in America, on the other hand, were more likely to run off alone, and, with the skills they had learned on the plantation, try to pass as free men.

In the colonial papers of England, a 1729 report from the lieutenant governor of Virginia to the British Board of Trade tells how "a number of Negroes, about fifteen. formed a design to withdraw from their Master and to fix themselves in the fastnesses of the neighboring Mountains. They had found means to get into their possession some Arms and Ammunition, and they took along with them some Provisions, their Cloths, bedding and working Tools. Tho' this attempt has happily been defeated, it ought nevertheless to awaken us into some effectual measures. "

Slavery was immensely profitable to some masters. James Madison told a British visitor shortly after the American Revolution that he could make $257 on every Negro in a year, and spend only $12 or $13 on his keep. Another viewpoint was of slaveowner Landon Carter, writing about fifty years earlier, complaining that his slaves so neglected their work and were so uncooperative ("either cannot or will not work") that he began to wonder if keeping them was worthwhile.

Some historians have painted a picture—based on the infrequency of organized rebellions and the ability of the South to maintain slavery for two hundred years—of a slave population made submissive by their condition with their African heritage destroyed, they were, as Stanley Elkins said, made into "Sambos," "a society of helpless dependents." Or as another historian, Ulrich Phillips, said, "by racial quality submissive." But looking at the totality of slave behavior, at the resistance of everyday life, from quiet noncooperation in work to running away, the picture becomes different.

In 1710, warning the Virginia Assembly, Governor Alexander Spotswood said:

Mullin found newspaper advertisements between 1736 and 1801 for 1,138 men runaways, and 141 women. One consistent reason for running away was to find members of one's family—showing that despite the attempts of the slave system to destroy family ties by not allowing marriages and by separating families, slaves would face death and mutilation to get together.

In Maryland, where slaves were about one-third of the population in 1750, slavery had been written into law since the 1660s, and statutes for controlling rebellious slaves were passed. There were cases where slave women killed their masters, sometimes by poisoning them, sometimes by burning tobacco houses and homes. Punishment ranged from whipping and branding to execution, but the trouble continued. In 1742, seven slaves were put to death for murdering their master.

Fear of slave revolt seems to have been a permanent fact of plantation life. William Byrd, a wealthy Virginia slaveowner, wrote in 1736:

The system was psychological and physical at the same time. The slaves were taught discipline, were impressed again and again with the idea of their own inferiority to "know their place," to see blackness as a sign of subordination, to be awed by the power of the master, to merge their interest with the master's, destroying their own individual needs. To accomplish this there was the discipline of hard labor, the breakup of the slave family, the lulling effects of religion (which sometimes led to "great mischief," as one slaveholder reported), the creation of disunity among slaves by separating them into field slaves and more privileged house slaves, and finally the power of law and the immediate power of the overseer to invoke whipping, burning, mutilation, and death. Dismemberment was provided for in the Virginia Code of 1705. Maryland passed a law in 1723 providing for cutting off the ears of blacks who struck whites, and that for certain serious crimes, slaves should be hanged and the body quartered and exposed.

Still, rebellions took place—not many, but enough to create constant fear among white planters. The first large-scale revolt in the North American colonies took place in New York in 1712. In New York, slaves were 10 percent of the population, the highest proportion in the northern states, where economic conditions usually did not require large numbers of field slaves. About twenty- five blacks and two Indians set fire to a building, then killed nine whites who came on the scene. They were captured by soldiers, put on trial, and twenty-one were executed. The governor's report to England said: "Some were burnt, others were hanged, one broke on the wheel, and one hung alive in chains in the town. " One had been burned over a slow fire for eight to ten hours—all this to serve notice to other slaves.

A letter to London from South Carolina in 1720 reports:

Around this time there were a number of fires in Boston and New Haven, suspected to be the work of Negro slaves. As a result, one Negro was executed in Boston, and the Boston Council ruled that any slaves who on their own gathered in groups of two or more were to be punished by whipping.

At Stono, South Carolina, in 1739, about twenty slaves rebelled, killed two warehouse guards, stole guns and gunpowder, and headed south, killing people in their way, and burning buildings. They were joined by others, until there were perhaps eighty slaves in all and, according to one account of the time, "they called out Liberty, marched on with Colours displayed, and two Drums beating." The militia found and attacked them. In the ensuing battle perhaps fifty slaves and twenty-five whites were killed before the uprising was crushed.

Herbert Aptheker, who did detailed research on slave resistance in North America for his book American Negro Slave Revolts, found about 250 instances where a minimum of ten slaves joined in a revolt or conspiracy.

From time to time, whites were involved in the slave resistance. As early as 1663, indentured white servants and black slaves in Gloucester County, Virginia, formed a conspiracy to rebel and gain their freedom. The plot was betrayed, and ended with executions. Mullin reports that the newspaper notices of runaways in Virginia often warned "ill-disposed" whites about harboring fugitives. Sometimes slaves and free men ran off together, or cooperated in crimes together. Sometimes, black male slaves ran off and joined white women. From time to time, white ship captains and watermen dealt with runaways, perhaps making the slave a part of the crew.

In New York in 1741, there were ten thousand whites in the city and two thousand black slaves. It had been a hard winter and the poor—slave and free—had suffered greatly. When mysterious fires broke out, blacks and whites were accused of conspiring together. Mass hysteria developed against the accused. After a trial full of lurid accusations by informers, and forced confessions, two white men and two white women were executed, eighteen slaves were hanged, and thirteen slaves were burned alive.

Only one fear was greater than the fear of black rebellion in the new American colonies. That was the fear that discontented whites would join black slaves to overthrow the existing order. In the early years of slavery, especially, before racism as a way of thinking was firmly ingrained, while white indentured servants were often treated as badly as black slaves, there was a possibility of cooperation. As Edmund Morgan sees it:

As Morgan says, masters, "initially at least, perceived slaves in much the same way they had always perceived servants. shiftless, irresponsible, unfaithful, ungrateful, dishonest. " And "if freemen with disappointed hopes should make common cause with slaves of desperate hope, the results might be worse than anything Bacon had done."

And so, measures were taken. About the same time that slave codes, involving discipline and punishment, were passed by the Virginia Assembly,

Morgan concludes: "Once the small planter felt less exploited by taxation and began to prosper a little, he became less turbulent, less dangerous, more respectable. He could begin to see his big neighbor not as an extortionist but as a powerful protector of their common interests."

We see now a complex web of historical threads to ensnare blacks for slavery in America: the desperation of starving settlers, the special helplessness of the displaced African, the powerful incentive of profit for slave trader and planter, the temptation of superior status for poor whites, the elaborate controls against escape and rebellion, the legal and social punishment of black and white collaboration.

The point is that the elements of this web are historical, not "natural." This does not mean that they are easily disentangled, dismantled. It means only that there is a possibility for something else, under historical conditions not yet realized. And one of these conditions would be the elimination of that class exploitation which has made poor whites desperate for small gifts of status, and has prevented that unity of black and white necessary for joint rebellion and reconstruction.

Around 1700, the Virginia House of Burgesses declared:

It was a kind of class consciousness, a class fear. There were things happening in early Virginia, and in the other colonies, to warrant it.


When Did Slavery Really End in the United States?

During the 2012-2013 academic year, Marquette University has sponsored “The Freedom Project,” which was described at the outset as “a year-long commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War that will explore the many meanings and histories of emancipation and freedom in the United States and beyond.” Much of the recent focus has been upon the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued in its final form by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, an event described in impressive detail by Professor Idleman in an earlier post.

An interesting question rarely addressed is whether either the Emancipation Proclamation or the subsequently adopted Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution applied to “Indian Territory.”

By Indian Territory, I refer to that part of the unorganized portion of the American public domain that was set apart for the Native American tribes. More specifically, I use the term to refer to those lands located in modern day Oklahoma that was set aside for the relocation of the so-call “Civilized Tribes” of the Southeastern United States: the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole.

These tribes were the only Native American groups to formally recognize the institution of African-slavery. As Southerners, the Civilized Tribes had accepted the institution of African-slavery, and at the outset of the Civil War, African-American slaves made up 14% of the population of Indian Territory occupied by the civilized tribes.

As it turns out, neither document applied to Indian Territory, and consequently, slavery survived in that part of the United States for several months after it was abolished everywhere else with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in December, 1865.

In 1861, the existence of slavery and a common “southern” heritage, combined with a history of disappointing dealings with the United States government, led the Civilized Tribes to side with the Confederacy rather than the Union. Although the tribes’ effort to secure admission to the Confederate States of America as an “Indian” state failed, each of the five Civilized Tribes entered into treaties with the Confederacy that at least kept open the possibility that they might someday be directly incorporated into the new nation.

(Less well-known is that the Confederacy also entered into treaties with the Comanches, Delawares, Osage, Quapaws, Senecas, Shawnees, and Wichitas.)

Many Civilized Tribe members served in uniform in the Confederate Army—and while some individual Native Americans fought for the Union—the loyalties of the tribes was primarily to the South. Most famously, the last Confederate general to surrender his troops to the Union Army was the Cherokee Stand Watie, who commanded an all-Indian brigade.

The Emancipation Proclamation by its own language appeared not to apply to Indian Territory, as it was specifically limited to “all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States.” Since Indian Territory was not a “state,” the Proclamation had no impact in Indian Territory, even if they were arguably in rebellion against the national government.

However, the year before, the United States Congress had enacted legislation abolishing slavery in the “territories.” Act of June 19, 1862, ch. 112, 12 Stat. 432. (According to the 1860 Census, small numbers of slave were present in Utah, Nevada, and Nebraska territories, areas that had been opened to slavery by the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, as well as the Indian-owned slaves in the area that would like become the state of Oklahoma.)

Was it possible that this act had outlawed slavery in Indian Territory? It seems unlikely, given the unique status of the Indian Territory. Although referred to as a “territory,” “Indian Territory” (or “Indian Country” as it was also called) had never been organized as a formal territory (even though it was apparently treated as one for census purposes in 1860.)

Moreover, territories were intended to be proto-states, but in 1862, there is no evidence that anyone in the Congress imagined that the Indian Territory, home to semi-sovereign Indian Tribes, would someday be a state. The problem of Native American tribes coexisting with state governments was what had made the Trail of Tears necessary three decades earlier. Consequently, it was never an actual territory and thus was not one of the areas covered by the 1862 act.

Moreover, subsequent events involving the Cherokees suggest that Native Americans in Indian Territory did not believe that either the 1862 Act or the Emancipation Proclamation had ended slavery in their jurisdiction. In 1862, John Ross, the president of the Cherokee nation, broke with the Confederacy and cast his lot with the Lincoln Administration. Although a majority of Cherokee remained loyal to the Confederacy (and pro-slavery), Ross was able to use his influence on the National Council of the Cherokee Nation to repudiate the treaty with the Confederacy and to abolish slavery in February 1863, slightly more than a month after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. (Pro-Confederate Cherokee, who were concentrated in the southern part of the Cherokee lands, ignored these actions.)

The National Council’s 1863 decision to abolish slavery, if nothing else, illustrated the beliefs of pro-Union Cherokees that neither to Abolition of Slavery in the Territories Act of 1862, nor the Emancipation Proclamation had changed to status of slaves in Indian Territory.

Because of the widespread view that the Tribes were independent sovereigns, physically located in the United States, but not part of the United States, it also seems unlikely that the drafters and ratifiers of the Thirteen Amendment understood that it would end slavery in Indian Territory.

Moreover, the language of the Thirteenth Amendment itself seems to rule out application to the Civilized Tribes. The somewhat awkwardly worded amendment provides that it applies “within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The problem is not with the use of “their.” Until the 1870’s, the United States was commonly referred as a plural noun, even when one was talking about a single entity. .

The problem is that Indian Territory was not within the “jurisdiction” of the United States as that term was understood in the 1860’s. Given that the United States government used the international law device of treaties to deal with all Indian Tribes, including the Civilized Tribes, the Lincoln Administration continued the practice of treating the Indian tribes as though they were separate sovereigns, outside the jurisdiction of the United States.

The Fourteenth Amendment, enacted in Congress the following year, had a similar disclaimer: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States …” which provided a continuing rationale for treating native-born tribal Indians as non-citizens.

In fact, in 1866, the United States addressed the slavery in Indian Territory issue by entering into new treaties with each of the Civilized Tribes (although the treaty with the Choctaw and the Chickasaw was a joint treaty). Until these treaties, which were signed between March and July and proclaimed in July and August, only the Cherokee had taken steps to abolish slavery. However, in each of the 1866 treaties the tribal signatory acknowledged that slavery would no longer be recognized as a legal institution by the tribe.

If we simply go by the dates on which the Tribes ratified these treaties, slavery in the continental United States came to an end as a legal institution on June 14, 1866, when the Creek Tribe agreed to abandon African-American slavery. The was, somewhat ironically, the day after Congress approved the Fourteenth Amendment.


Missing Essential Stories of American Slavery

Native Americans point to another vital reality: African-American identity and a personal history of enslaved ancestors are not synonymous. Some African-Americans, like President Obama, have no ancestry among enslaved Africans in America. Many people enslaved in America, most notably the first slaves, Native Americans, are not of African descent.

Furthermore, “unfree labor” did not end with the end of race-based chattel slavery. Unfree Asian labor in Hawaii and the Pacific west continued almost until the 20th century, while today prisoners of all races are often press-ganged into underpaid labor.

This is not to diminish the African-American experience of slavery: the overwhelming majority of enslaved people in America were of African descent, and the overwhelming majority of people of African descent in America are descended from ancestors who were enslaved. Today, it is reasonable to speak of the African-American experience and the experience of enslavement as essentially and inexorably connected.

But when we talk about history and origins of our society, when we try to untangle the web of events that brought us to where we are today, we have to be more careful. Slavery in America began with Spanish enslavement of Native Americans. In the most enslaved parts of America like South Carolina, slavery largely began with the enslavement of Native Americans.

Like Americans whose origins are in non-Anglo colonies, so too the 1619 Project’s narratives seem to miss a significant part of the legacy of slavery: Native Americans, who remain significantly poorer than African-Americans, less educated, and often with shorter life expectancies. Undoubtedly the 1619 Project’s writers have genuine sympathy for Native Americans. I’m sure they would read my comment here as disingenuous: do I really support Native American rights to land and reparations? For the record, yes, I do.

But beyond that, the 1619 Project bills itself as helping Americans see the real story of American origins. And the real story as the 1619 Project tells it is that slavery began in 1619 with 20 Africans. This isn’t true. This ignores the experience of Puerto Rico, where slavery began earlier, and lasted longer.

Furthermore, a serious accounting for slavery has to wrestle with the experience of Native Americans and Hawaiian islanders, and especially the status of their ancestral lands and sovereign rights. More broadly, to wrestle adequately with the painful historical reality of America’s “labor freedom,” we have to be able to talk about less-than-free Asian migrant workers in California and Hawaii, as well as the indenturehood of the Scots-Irish and subsequent Appalachian poverty.

That these peoples are not treated as subaltern today to the same extent that Native Americans or African Americans still are should not exclude them from a project concerned with history. Plus, many poor whites in Appalachia with accents still experience a version of ethnic subaltern status. We should let them speak without writing it off as white racial grievance.


The Horrible Fate of John Casor, The First Black Man to be Declared Slave for Life in America

The only date definitely connected to John Casor’s life is this day in 1654 or 1655. It’s not when he was born, when he achieved something or when he died. It’s when he became a slave.

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Casor was originally an indentured servant, which meant he was practically a slave in some senses. But what was bought or sold wasn’t him, it was his contract of indenture, which obligated him to work for its holder for the period it set. At the end of that time, indentured servants—who could be of any race—were considered legally free and sent out into the world.

This might sound like a rough deal, but indenture was how the British colonizers who lived in what would later become the United States managed to populate the land and get enough people to do the back-breaking work of farming crops like tobacco in the South.

People who survived their period of indenture (many didn’t) went on to live free lives in the colonies, often after receiving some kind of small compensation like clothes, land or tools to help set them up, writes Ariana Kyl for Today I Found Out.

That was the incentive that caused many poor whites to indenture themselves and their families and move to the so-called New World. But Africans who were indentured were often captured and brought over against their will. That's what happened to the holder of Casor’s indenture, Anthony Johnson. Johnson served out his contract and went on to run his own tobacco farm and hold his own indentured servants, among them Casor. At this time, the colony of Virginia had very few black people in it: Johnson was one of the original 20.

After a disagreement about whether or not Casor's contract was lapsed, a court ruled in favor of Johnson and Casor saw the status of his indenture turn into slavery, where he—not his contract—was considered property. Casor claimed that he had served his indenture of “seaven or Eight years” and seven more years on top of that. The court sided with Johnson, who claimed that Casor was his slave for life.

So Casor became the first person to be arbitrarily declared a slave for life in the U.S. (An earlier case had ended with a man named John Punch being declared a slave for life as a punishment for trying to escape his indentured servitude. His fellow escapees, who were white, were not punished in this way.) Of course, as Wesleyan University notes, “the Transatlantic slave trade from Africa to the Americas had been around for over a century already, originating around 1500.” Slaves, usually captured and sold by other African tribes, were transported across the Atlantic to the Americas, the university’s blog notes. Around 11 million people were transported from 1500 to 1850, mostly to Brazil and the Caribbean islands. If they arrived in America, originally they became indentured servants if they arrived elsewhere, they became slaves.

Casor’s story is particularly grim in hindsight. His slip into slavery would be followed by many, many other people of African descent who were declared property in what became the United States. It was a watershed moment in the history of institutional slavery.

“About seven years later, Virginia made this practice legal for everyone, in 1661, by making it state law for any free white, black or Indian to be able to own slaves, along with indentured servants,” Kyl writes. The step from there to a racialized idea of slavery wasn’t a huge one, she writes, and by the time Johnson died in 1670, his race was used to justify giving his plantation to a white man rather than Johnson’s children by his wife, Mary. He was “not a citizen of the colony,” a judge ruled, because he was black.

About Kat Eschner

Kat Eschner is a freelance science and culture journalist based in Toronto.


Five myths about Black history

Each February since 1976, Americans have celebrated Black History Month. Established by historian Carter G. Woodson as Negro History Week in 1926, the commemoration developed over 50 years until it became Black History Month to mark the contributions of Black people. Despite the significance of Black history, far too many Americans don’t grasp its centrality to U.S. history. This lack of knowledge helps spread myths about the Black past.

Myth No. 1

Slavery was a Southern phenomenon.

The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that this idea continues to shape how students think about slavery in the United States. Fewer than half of American adults knew that slavery existed in all 13 colonies before the revolution, a 2019 Washington Post-SSRS poll found.

In reality, Christopher Columbus’s 1492 voyage set in motion 400 years of slavery in the Americas. An estimated 650,000 African captives were transported to what would become the United States between 1619 and the eve of the Civil War. It’s true that most of these men, women and children were brought to the South, which relied heavily on enslaved labor to build its economy. But other people were taken to Northern states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey. New York City had the second-largest population density of enslaved Africans (after Charleston, S.C.) in 1740. At various moments during the 18th century, New York’s population of enslaved people exceeded that of some Southern states. It was not until 1827 that New York state legally abolished slavery. Abolition in other Northern states followed a similar pattern of gradual emancipation. Ultimately, slavery as an institution shaped the entire nation.

Myth No. 2

Abraham Lincoln ended slavery and freed enslaved people.

Americans tend to credit Lincoln alone for abolition, mostly because he issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. “Yes, Republicans freed the slaves,” a CNN analysis last summer reported. “They were not these Republicans.” Similarly, the rapper Kanye West told a crowd in 2019, “Abraham Lincoln was the Whig Party — that’s the Republican Party that freed the slaves.”

But the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery or even free a large number of enslaved people. It recognized Black soldiers by opening up a chance for them to enlist in the Union army. But on the matter of slavery, it applied only to enslaved people in rebel states — territory over which Lincoln then had no control. It didn’t affect the more than 800,000 African Americans enslaved in the border states: Kentucky, Delaware, Missouri and Maryland.

In truth, courageous enslaved people helped bring about their own freedom. At the start of the Civil War, an estimated 4 million Black people were enslaved in the South. The war gave them a chance to seize their freedom — and they did, quickly volunteering to fight in the Union army (where they eventually constituted 10 percent of the troops), confiscating land and declaring themselves free. They did not wait passively for others to come to their rescue.

What’s more, Black abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Maria Stewart and Henry Highland Garnet were crucial in spreading information about the horrors of slavery years before the war. Their bravery and commitment to abolition helped build the movement to end slavery.

Myth No. 3

The Tuskegee study infected Black people with syphilis.

The pandemic has exposed racial inequities in medicine: Black Americans are contracting the coronavirus and dying from it at higher rates thanks to decades of medical racism, which limited Black people’s access to quality health care. The Tuskegee syphilis study, starting in 1932, is often cited as evidence of this tragic history. Many Americans believe that doctors infected 600 Black people with syphilis — a myth that’s so widespread that memes are still circulating on social media making this claim.

It’s not true. The study was bad enough in reality: It examined nearly 400 men with latent syphilis and 200 men in a control group. Doctors recruited Black men in rural Alabama as participants by promising medical treatment — which was never provided — while surreptitiously documenting the long-term effects of untreated syphilis. The men involved were unaware of their diagnosis. The experiment started 13 years before penicillin became an accepted therapy for syphilis in 1945, yet it lasted 27 more years, ending only when journalists exposed its decades of abuse.

Myth No. 4

Brown v. Board of Education ended school segregation.

The 1954 Brown decision is widely celebrated. “The Court stripped away constitutional sanctions for segregation by race, and made equal opportunity in education the law of the land,” says the website for the National Museum of American History. “Thanks to Brown v. Board of Education, our public schools became the initiating institutions of integration for our entire society,” then-Attorney General John Ashcroft said in 2004, in remarks commemorating the decision’s 50th anniversary. Many Americans think it brought a decisive end to school desegregation, leveling the playing field for all.

The case was a significant development, but it did not end school segregation the way many imagine. Chief Justice Earl Warren’s opinion — signed by all nine justices — overturned the precedent set by Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) by stating, “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Brown provided a legal framework for dismantling segregated schools throughout the nation. A setback occurred a year later, however, when the court returned to the decision and provided an addendum: Federal courts would handle individual cases to ensure that desegregation proceeded “with all deliberate speed.” The inclusion of “all deliberate speed” in what is known as Brown II allowed recalcitrant school districts to slow down the process.

As Black families nationwide started to push for desegregation, the effort unsettled Northern Whites, who often fought such measures. Even today, more than half of school children in the United States attend school districts where more than 75 percent of the students are either White or of color — a clear sign of continued segregation.

Myth No. 5

Black Power was a departure from the civil rights movement.

One of the most lasting myths of the 1960s and 1970s is that the Black Power movement was a break with the civil rights movement. At John Lewis’s funeral last summer, former president Bill Clinton made subtly disparaging remarks about Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael, suggesting that there was a moment when activists “went a little too far towards Stokely.” The spirit of that remark aligns with history textbooks, which deemphasize Black Power and instead praise leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, setting out nonviolent resistance as the ideal form of Black protest.

Nonviolent resistance during the civil rights era was obviously significant. But Black Power was influential in the effort to secure Black political rights and opportunities. This wing included a broad coalition of groups that advocated armed self-defense and endorsed Black political autonomy and Black pride, ideas that had ample support in the broader movement. Proponents of Black Power were deeply connected to and even sustained the civil rights movement. Carmichael, for instance, was a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, one of the most important civil rights organizations of the period.

The civil rights movement and the Black Power movement were not separate ideologies so much as distinct expressions in the quest for Black liberation. As historian Tim Tyson explained in his study on activist Robert F. Williams, they “grew out of the same soil [and] confronted the same predicaments.”

Five myths is a weekly feature challenging everything you think you know. You can check out previous myths, read more from Outlook or follow our updates on Facebook and Twitter.


Leaving Evidence of Our Lives

How can the historical record be both huge and limited? To consider the strengths and limitations of the historical record, do the following activity:

  1. Assign students to work individually or in small groups. Alert students that they will share their activity responses with the class.
  2. Ask students to think about all the activities they were involved in during the past 24 hours, and list as many of these activities as they can remember.
  3. Have students write down what evidence, if any, each activity might have left behind.
  4. Direct students to review their lists, and then answer these questions:
    • Which of the daily activities were most likely to leave trace evidence behind?
    • What, if any, of that evidence might be preserved for the future? Why?
    • What might be left out of a historical record of these activities? Why?
    • What would a future historian be able to tell about your life and your society based on evidence of your daily activities that might be preserved for the future?
  5. Now think about a more public event currently happening (a court case, election, public controversy, law being debated), and answer these questions:
    • What kinds of evidence might this event leave behind?
    • Who records information about this event?
    • For what purpose are different records of this event made?
  6. Based on this activity, students will write one sentence that describes how the historical record can be huge and limited at the same time. As time allows, discuss as the strengths and limitations of the historical record.

Analysis

In this section, students analyze primary source documents.

  1. Assign two primary sources from the primary source gallery Slavery in the United States, 1790-1865 to individuals or groups. Students should be assigned to look at two different kinds of primary sources to allow for comparison.
  2. Allow 30 to 50 minutes for students to analyze the documents. Students analyze the documents, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher&rsquos guide Analyzing Primary Sources to focus the group work, and select additional questions to focus and prompt a whole class discussion of their analysis.

Discussion

In this section, students discuss their primary source analysis with the entire class and compare and contrast analysis results.

  1. Have student groups summarize their analysis of a primary source document for the class. Ask students to comment on the credibility of the source. If several groups have analyzed the same document, encourage supporting or refuting statements from other groups.
  2. Conclude the lesson with a general discussion of the following questions:
    • What was slavery like for African-Americans in the period before the Civil War?
    • Was any document completely believable? Completely unbelievable? Why or why not?
    • Did some types of primary sources seem less believable than other kinds of sources? Why do you think this is true?
    • What information about slavery did each document provide? How did looking at several documents expand your understanding of slavery?
    • If you found contradictory information in the sources, which sources did you tend to believe? Why?
    • What generalizations about primary historical sources can you make based on this document set?
    • What additional sources (and types of sources) would you like to see to give you greater confidence in your understanding of slavery?

Extension

Each student might be asked to find one additional primary source on slavery. Individuals or groups might be challenged to research and gather a set of primary sources on a topic other than slavery.

Additional activity suggestions for different types of primary sources:

  1. Objects -
    • Hypothesize about the uses of an unknown object pictured in an old photograph. Conduct research to support or refute the hypothesis. Make a presentation to the class to "show and tell" the object, hypothesis, search methods, and results.
    • Study old photographs to trace the development of an invention over time (examples: automobiles, tractors, trains, airplanes, weapons). What do the photographs tell you about the technology, tools, and materials available through time?
  2. Images -
    • Use a historic photograph or film of a street scene. Describe the sights, sounds, and smells that might surround the scene. Closely examine the image to find clues that will help you. (weather, time of day, clothing of people, vehicles and other technology, architecture, etc.)
    • Select a historical photograph or film frame. Predict what will happen one minute or one hour after the photograph or film was taken. Explain the reasoning behind your predictions
  3. Audio -
    • Research your family history by interviewing relatives. Make note of differing recollections about the same event.
    • Listen to audio recordings from old radio broadcasts. Compare the language, style of speaking, and content to radio and television programs today. How do they differ? What do they tell you about the beliefs and attitudes of the time?
  4. Statistics -
    • Study historical maps of a city, state, or region to find evidence of changes in population, industry, and settlement over time.
    • Choose a famous, historical, public building in your area. Research blueprints or architectural drawings of the building. Compare the plans to the building as it exists today. What changes do you see? Why do you think the changes occurred?
  5. Text –
    • Select a cookbook from another era. Look at the ingredients lists from a large number of recipes. What do the ingredients lists tell you about the types of foods available and the lifestyle of the time?
    • Select a time period or era. Research and read personal letters that comment on events of the time. Analyze the point of view of the letter writer. Compose a return letter that tells the author how those historical events have affected modern society.
  6. The Community -
    • Make a record of family treasures (books, tools, musical instruments, tickets, letters, photographs) using photographs, photocopies, drawings, recordings, or videotapes. What was happening in the world when ancestors were using these family treasures? How did those events affect your family?
    • Prepare a community time capsule. What primary sources will you include to describe your present day community for future generations? When should your time capsule be opened?

1934–1968: FHA Redlining

When it was established in 1934, the Federal Housing Administration included underwriting guidelines that specifically discriminated against and devalued neighborhoods containing minorities. As a result, Blacks received only 2% of federally insured home loans. As the link above demonstrates, banks following the FHA’s guidelines systematically redlined minority housing districts. The outcomes of these policies included plummeting home values, white flight, and the departure of many businesses from minority neighborhoods. The direct result of this was the impoverishment of these minority communities.

At the same time, Blacks migrating north to escape the convict leasing and debt peonage systems that threatened their freedom, their livelihoods, and their very lives in the South, were systematically victimized in predatory housing and lending schemes.

Today a hugely disproportionate number of minorities, especially Blacks, are economically confined to impoverished, crime-ridden, inner-city ghettos. This is not the result of “poor choices” or cultural failings, as white conservatives are prone to suggest. It is the direct result of discriminatory housing policies that helped whites while targeting Blacks from the 1930s to the late 1960s.

While no longer built into official housing policy, those practices remain very much in place today.


The Three-Fifths Clause of the United States Constitution (1787)

Often misinterpreted to mean that African Americans as individuals are considered three-fifths of a person or that they are three-fifths of a citizen of the U.S., the three-fifths clause (Article I, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution of 1787) in fact declared that for purposes of representation in Congress, enslaved blacks in a state would be counted as three-fifths of the number of white inhabitants of that state.

The three-fifths clause was part of a series of compromises enacted by the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The most notable other clauses prohibited slavery in the Northwest Territories and ended U.S. participation in the international slave trade in 1807. These compromises reflected Virginia Constitutional Convention delegate (and future U.S. President) James Madison’s observation that “…the States were divided into different interests not by their…size…but principally from their having or not having slaves.”

When Constitutional Convention delegate Roger Sherman of Connecticut proposed that congressional representation be based on the total number of inhabitants of a state, delegate Charles Pinckney of South Carolina agreed saying “blacks ought to stand on an equality with whites….” Pinckney’s statement was disingenuous since at the time he knew most blacks were enslaved in his state and none, slave or free, could vote or were considered equals of white South Carolinians. Other delegates including most notably Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania argued that he could not support equal representation because he “could never agree to give such encouragement to the slave trade…by allowing them [Southern states] a representation for their negroes.”

With the convention seemingly at an impasse Charles Pinckney proposed a compromise: “Three-fifths of the number of slaves in any particular state would be added to the total number of free white persons, including bond servants, but not Indians, to the estimated number of congressmen each state would send to the House of Representatives.” The Pinckney compromise was not completely original. This ratio had already been established by the Congress which adopted the Articles of Confederation in 1781 as the basis for national taxation.

Although the three-fifths compromise and others regarding slavery helped hold this new fragile union of states together, many on both sides of the issue were opposed. James Madison and Edmund Randolph of Virginia used the phrase “Quotas of contribution” to argue that slaves should be fully counted, one for one, and opposed the compromise.

Northern opponents correctly pointed out that slaveholding states had more representatives than if only the free white population was counted. By 1793, slaveholding states had 47 congressmen but would have had only 33 if not for the compromise. During the entire period before the Civil War slaveholding states had disproportionate influence on the Presidency, the Speakership of the House of Representatives, and the U.S. Supreme Court because of the compromise. By the 1830s abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison of Massachusetts used the clause in their argument that the Federal government was dominated by slaveholders.

The three-fifths clause remained in force until the post-Civil War 13th Amendment freed all enslaved people in the United States, the 14th amendment gave them full citizenship, and the 15th Amendment granted black men the right to vote.


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