Why am I a slave?- Beginning of Racism in America
“Why am I a slave? Why are some people slaves and some people masters? Was there ever a time when this was not so? How did the relation commence? Once however engaged in the inquiry, I was not very long in finding out the true solution to the matter. It was not color but a crime. Not God but man that afforded the true explanation of the existence of slavery. Nor was I long in finding out another important truth. What man can make, man can unmake”. Fredrick Douglas, who wrote those words in 1845, was a member of another group of Americans who was excluded from the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness offered in the Declaration of Independence. African slaves were first brought to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. By the 1680s, slave labor was important from the tobacco plantations of the Chesapeake, the rice fields of South Carolina, and disagreement over slavery would ultimately affect the lives of all Americans. I don’t think people like to talk about slavery very much. It’s a topic that Americans want to try to avoid, and yet at the same time, it has such a huge impact on the people we became and who we are today that it’s something that needs to be addressed and people need to understand it. Well of course slavery was the peculiar institution that said Black people who were slaves in this country were essentially property. They didn’t have control over their own body. They didn’t have control over their own labor. Nor did they have control over their own time or family. The majority of slaves were field slaves. They work essentially from can’t see in the morning to can’t see at night. There were the yard slaves, the artisans, and most of the labor that was done in the South was done by slaves whether it was specialized labor or was general labor.
Africans were enslaved in the United States between 1619 in 1865. Approximately 12 million Africans were stolen from their homes and packed on ships which could hold up to 600 like sardines. Many died or jumped overboard during the middle passage to America. The middle passage was a route that transported slaves from Africa, the route started in Europe stopped in Africa then continued to North and South America. Before returning to Europe most enslaved Africans over 5 million were taken to Brazil just over 300,000 arrived in America. In 1787 three-fifths compromise counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for congressional purposes, slaves could not vote however they were also banned for learning how to read and forbidden to marry outside of their race. Congress outlawed the African slave trade in 1808 but the domestic slave trade continued in the U.S. Slavery wasn’t exclusive to the south with one-fifth of New York City’s population comprising of slaves. In 1740 enslaved Africans comprised 13% of the total U.S population by 1860 Virginia had the highest number of enslaved Africans followed by Georgia. Slaves made up 55 percent of the total population in Mississippi. Outcries against slavery on the moral ground began as early as 1724 when American Quakers issued a statement against the institution. Several Northern states abolished slavery, led by Rhode Island in 1774. The Northwest Ordinance excluded slavery from the new western territories. But increased cotton production in the South fueled in 1793 by the invention of the cotton gin, the machine that could rapidly clean cotton, brought increased demand for slave labor to pick the crop. Slavery became a national debate. Books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the 1845 autobiography of escaped Maryland slave, Fredrick Douglas, were widely discussed. His mission was to let Northerners, particularly Northern White communities, understand what the real conditions of slaves were because Southern propaganda said that slavery was a good thing. It was a paternal institution. It was an institution that was civilizing slaves. Douglas said not true. Certainly not for the South. Not for Black people and not for a country which championed itself on the respect of the individual.
In 1860 enslaved Africans weren’t content with their deplorable living conditions in the U.S.One estimate puts the number of slave revolts at 250, one of the most notable was the Nat Turner slave revolt in 1831 where he led a group of followers and killed approximately 51 whites. Maintaining the institution of slavery was the root cause of the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1862 that if he could quote “save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it” nearly one hundred and seventy-nine thousand black men fought for the Union in the Civil War. The Thirteenth Amendment formally abolished slavery in the United States on December 6, 1865.