Racism & Black America
Good Morning my friends and thank you for returning to our series on Racism in our America, and, too often, in the world. Do you recall one of the questions I asked everyone at the beginning of this series? It was about the college professor who asked her lecture students a question. Now if any of you have ever been in a college lecture hall, they can be sizeable. That’s important because of the result of the question.
The question was, “If any of you would be ok to be treated as a Black person in our country, please raise your hand.”
No one raised their hand. Would you? Probably not.
AS most of you know, Blacks and other people of color have often been treated most shameful, and sometimes repulsive ways, and not just in our past, but in recent times too.
How does that fit into “Love your neighbor as yourself”?
I can recall when I and a friend of mine, went to a traveling exhibit of the Titanic and its fateful sinking. We each were given the name and situation of a person who traveled on that doomed ship. We knew some background information, where their passage was and what happened to them after the ice-burg hit.
It was an interesting and more personal look at that historical event. You felt a real part of the experience, more so than just looking at exhibits.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to be able to do that with slavery? If we were more attached to the outcome of the person we were representing, maybe we would have a better and more compassionate understanding of what it meant and be better human beings to each other. If only.
It could and CAN happen. We need to keep working at understanding each other, but even more, ourselves.
The voyage from Africa to the Americas took several months. Many didn’t survive the trip. Shock, disease, and suicide were responsible for the deaths of at least one-sixth during the crossing. Some seeing suicide a better choice than being a slave. There were mostly young adults but many children too, most under ten, even as young as two, by one account.
The development of the belief that they were an “inferior” race with a “heathen” culture made it easier for whites to rationalize Black slavery.
Once purchased, the slaves were used in the tobacco, sugar and cotton fields as well as general labor and domestic work. Black slaves played a major, though unwilling and generally unrewarded, role in laying the economic foundations of the United States—especially in the South.
Many masters took sexual liberties with enslaved women, and rewarded obedient behavior with favors, while rebellious enslaved people were brutally punished. A social hierarchy among the plantation slaves also helped keep them divided.
At the top were the house slaves; next in rank were the skilled artisans; at the bottom were the vast majority of field hands, who bore the brunt of the harsh plantation life. This helped keep them divided and less likely to organize against their masters.
With this tight control there were few successful slave revolts. There were several, though not very successful to freeing themselves, and causing more hangings instead, though some whites were also killed.
Although Northern businessmen made great fortunes from the trade of enslaved peoples and from investments in Southern plantations, slavery was never widespread in the North. Remember, Northerners held themselves above the Southerners, considering themselves more educated, refined and open-minded.
Laws known as the slave codes regulated the slave system to promote absolute control by the master and complete submission by the slave. Under these laws the slave was a piece of property and a source of labor that could be bought and sold like an animal. The slave was allowed no stable family life and little privacy. Slaves were prohibited by law from learning to read or write.
During the American Revolution, some 5,000 Black soldiers and sailors fought on the American side. After the Revolution, some slaves—particularly former soldiers—were freed, and the Northern states abolished slavery.
But with the ratification of the Constitution of the United States, in 1788, slavery became more firmly entrenched than ever in the South. The Constitution counted a slave as three-fifths of a person for purposes of taxation and representation in Congress (thus increasing the number of representatives from slave states), prohibited Congress from abolishing the African trade of enslaved peoples before 1808, and provided for the return of fugitive slaves to their owners.
In 1807 Pres. Thomas Jefferson signed legislation that officially ended the African trade of enslaved peoples beginning in January 1808. However, this act did not end of slavery. Rather, it spurred the growth of the domestic trade of enslaved peoples in the United States, especially as a source of labor for the new cotton lands in the Southern interior. Increasingly, the supply of slaves came to be supplemented by the practice of “slave breeding,” in which women slaves were raped as early as age 13 and forced to give birth as often as possible.
Individual resistance by slaves took such forms as mothers killing their newborn children to save them from slavery, the poisoning of slave owners, the destruction of machinery and crops, arson, malingering (which may have led to the belief that Blacks were lazy), and running away.
We know of the Underground Railroad, and Harriet Tubman, a former slave who on numerous trips to the South helped hundreds of slaves escape to freedom. Imagine running for your life, meeting Harriet and knowing you must trust this woman that you do not know. And all the others along the railroad. Must have been frightening…and exhilarating. Freedom finally, after all that you have been through, you see the end….and a new beginning.
By 1860 there were almost 500,000 free Africans and African Americans (those born in America)—half in the South and half in the North. The free Black population originated with former indentured servants and their descendants. It was augmented by free Black immigrants from the West Indies and by Blacks freed by individual slave owners.
We know they were only technically free, however. In the South, where they posed a threat to the institution of slavery, they suffered both in law and by custom many of the restrictions imposed on slaves.
In the North, free Blacks were discriminated against in such rights as voting, property ownership, and freedom of movement, though they had some access to education and could organize. Free Blacks also faced the danger of being kidnapped and enslaved.
Did you know that there were Black slave holders? Well, they were free Blacks who often reunited family by purchasing them. One way of getting around the master’s keeping families apart.
In Dred Scott v. Sanford, in 1857, the Supreme Court denied citizenship to all slaves, ex-slaves, and descendants of slaves, and denied Congress the right to prohibit slavery in the territories.
Historians and judicial scholars regard the Dred Scott decision as “the worst decision ever.”
Free Blacks were among the first abolitionists.
By 1830, African American leaders began meeting regularly in national and state conventions. But they differed on the best strategies to use in the struggle against slavery and discrimination.
Some thought to revolt and overthrow their masters. Others proposed that a major modern Black country be established in Africa. Supported by the American Colonization Society, whose membership was overwhelmingly white, African Americans founded Liberia in West Africa
However, most Black leaders then and later regarded themselves as Americans and felt that the problems of their people could be solved only by a continuing struggle at home. Maybe the beginning of the Civil Rights movement.
The preservation of the Union, not the abolition of slavery, was the initial objective of President Lincoln when it came to the Civil War. He initially believed in gradual emancipation, with the federal government compensating the slaveholders for the loss of their “property.”
But in September 1862 he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all slaves residing in states in rebellion against the United States as of January 1, 1863, were to be free. Thus, the Civil War became, in effect, a war to end slavery.
Blacks were recruited into the Union armed forces. Frederick Douglass declared in his newspaper the North Star, “Who would be free themselves must strike the blow.”
By the end of the Civil War more than 186,000 African American men were in the Union army. They performed heroically despite discrimination in pay, rations, equipment, and assignments as well as the unrelenting hostility of the Confederate troops. Slaves served as a labor force for the Confederacy, but thousands of them dropped their tools and escaped to the Union lines.
As a result of the Union victory in the Civil War and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution (1865), nearly four million slaves were freed.
The Fourteenth Amendment (1868) granted African Americans citizenship, and the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) guaranteed their right to vote.
Yet the Reconstruction period (1865–77) was one of disappointment and frustration for African Americans, for these new provisions of the Constitution were often ignored, particularly in the South.
After the Civil War, the freedmen were thrown largely on their own meagre resources. Landless and uprooted, they moved about in search of work. They generally lacked adequate food, clothing, and shelter.
The Southern states enacted Black codes, laws resembling the slave codes that restricted the movement of the former slaves in an effort to force them to work as plantation laborers—often for their former masters—at absurdly low wages.
The federal Freedmen’s Bureau, established by Congress in 1865, assisted the former slaves by giving them food and finding jobs and homes for them. The bureau established hospitals and schools, including such institutions of higher learning as Fisk University and Hampton Institute.
During Reconstruction, African Americans wielded political power in the South for the first time. Their leaders were largely clergymen, lawyers, and teachers who had been educated in the North and abroad. Between 1869 and 1901, there were 20 African American representatives and 2 African American senators—Hiram R. Revels and Blanche K. Bruce of Mississippi—who sat in the U.S. Congress.
But Black political power was short-lived. Northern politicians grew increasingly conciliatory to the white South, so that by 1872 virtually all leaders of the Confederacy had been pardoned and were again able to vote and hold office.
By means of economic pressure and the terrorist activities of violent anti-Black groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, most African Americans were kept away from the polls. By 1877, when Pres. Rutherford B. Hayes withdrew the last federal troops from the South, Southern whites were again in full control. No African American was to serve in the U.S. Congress for three decades after the departure of George H. White of North Carolina in 1901.
The rebirth of white supremacy in the South was accompanied by the growth of enforced “racial” separation. Starting with Tennessee in 1870, all the Southern states reenacted laws prohibiting marriage between Blacks and whites. They also passed Jim Crow laws segregating Blacks and whites in almost all public places.
By 1885 most Southern states had officially segregated their public schools. Moreover, in 1896, in upholding a Louisiana law that required the segregation of passengers on railroad cars, the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson established the doctrine of “separate but equal.”
In the post-Reconstruction years, African Americans received only a small share of the increasing number of industrial jobs in Southern cities. And relatively few rural African Americans in the South owned their own farms, most remaining poor sharecroppers heavily in debt to white landlords. The largely urban Northern African American population fared little better. The jobs they sought were given to European immigrants. In search of improvement, many African Americans migrated westward.
SO we are able to see the foundation of white privilege and Black suppression as it started and continued through post-civil war.
Next week we look at Black lives since their supposed freedom.
Let’s finish this week with this thought that is relevant even today…and matches our 2nd Principle
“Right is of no Sex—Truth is of no Color—God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren.” Frederick Douglas