Thursday, January 15, 2015

Selma to Montgomery March

From the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute --  The Alabama Voting Rights Project (AVRP), centered on Selma, Alabama and Dallas County, was a major campaign to secure effective federal protection of voting rights. That protection had been compromised out of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Three of Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s (SCLC) main organizers-Director of Direct Action and Nonviolent Education James Bevel, Diane Nash, and James Orange had been working with AVRP since late 1963.
In 1963, the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL) and organizers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) began voter registration work. When white resistance to African American voter registration proved intractable, the DCVL requested the assistance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), who brought many prominent civil rights and civic leaders to support voting rights.

On February 18, 1965, an Alabama State Trooper, Corporal James Bonard Fowler, shot Jimmie Lee Jackson at point –blank range, as he tried to protect his mother and grandfather in a café to which hey had fled while being attacked by troopers during a nighttime civil rights demonstration in Marion, the county seat of Perry County. Jackson died eight days later, of an infection resulting from the gunshot wound, at Selma’s Good Samaritan. His murder was the catalyst for the movement, the Selma to Montgomery March.

In response, James Bevel called for a march from Selma to Montgomery. At a memorial service for Jackson on Sunday, February 1965, Rev. James Bevel floated his idea at the end of a fiery sermon. His text was from the Book of Esther, where Esther is charged to “go unto the king, to make supplication unto him, and to make request before him for her people.” ”I must go to see the king!” Bevel shouted, “We must go to Montgomery and see the king!” Several days later Martin Luther King, Jr. confirmed that, a march from Selma to Montgomery would take place. He met with President Lyndon B. Johnson in Washington D. C., on March 5, outlining is views on the proposed voting rights legislation.
The Selma to Montgomery March consisted of three different marches in 1965 that marked the political and emotional peak of the American Civil Rights Movement. These three marches grew out of the voting rights movement in Selma, Alabama, launched by local African Americans who formed the Dallas County Voters League. The first march took place on Sunday, March 7, when 600 civil rights marchers, assembled on Brown Chapel. The mood was somber. This day became known as “Bloody Sunday”-when the civil rights marchers were attacked by state and local police with billy clubs and tear gas. The second march took place on March 9; it was know as “Turn Around Tuesday.” Only the third march, which began on March 21 and lasted five days, made it to Montgomery, 51 mile (82km) away.

The marchers averaged 10 miles (16km) a day along U.S. Route 80, known in Alabama today as “Jefferson Davis Highway.” Protected by 2, 000 soldiers of the U.S. Army, 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard under Federal command, and many FBI agents and Federal Marshals, they arrived in Montgomery on March 24, and at the Alabama Capital building on March 25, 1965.

National and international attention of the march highlighted the struggle, the adversity, the violence as well as the determination of the Selma protestors. As a result of the media coverage worldwide, Congress rushed to enact legislation that would guarantee voting rights for all Americans. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law on August 6, 1965.

“BLOODY Sunday”, 1965

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., James Bevel and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), in partial collaboration with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), attempted to organize a march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital of Montgomery on March 7, 1965. The first attempt to march on March 7 was aborted because of mob and police violence against the demonstrators. This day has since become known as “Bloody Sunday”. “Bloody Sunday” was a major turning point in the effort to gain public support for the Civil Rights Movement, the clearest demonstration up to that time of the dramatic potential of King’s nonviolence strategy. King, however, was not present. After meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson, he decided not to endorse the march, but it was carried out against his wishes and without his presence on March 7 by the director of the Selma Movement, James Bevel, and by local Civil Rights Leaders. King’s next attempt to organize a march was set for March 9, it was known as “Turn Around Tuesday.” The SCLC petitioned for an injunction in Federal Court against the State of Alabama; this injunction was denied and the judge issued an order blocking the march until after a prayer session, before turning the marchers around and asking them to disperse so as not to violate the court order. The unexpected ending of this second march aroused the surprise and anger of many within the local movement. The march finally went ahead fully on March 25, 1965. At the conclusion of the march and on the steps of the state capitol, King delivered a speech that has become known as “How Long, not Long”.  (source: National Voting Rights Museum and Institute)

Bridge to Freedom, 1965: Selma, Alabama

NARRATOR: Selma, Alabama, 1965.

C. T. VIVIAN: I don't want to ... (inaudible) leave. We have come to register to vote.

RACHEL WEST NELSON: If we can't vote, you ain't free. If you ain't free, well then you're slaves.

C. T. VIVIAN: We're willing to be beaten for democracy.

NARRATOR: Years of struggle came down to this climactic battle for voting rights. Before it ended, black and white Americans gave their lives. But would that be enough?

C. T. VIVIAN: You people beat people bloody in order that they will not have the privilege to vote.

MALCOLM X: In the areas of the country where the government has proven itself unable or unwilling to defend the Negroes when they are being brutally and unjustly attacked, then the Negroes themselves should take whatever steps necessary to defend themselves.

NARRATOR: To many Americans, black and white, this was their worst nightmare. Race riots in northern cities during the summer of 1964. The civil rights movement was ten years old, nonviolence had been the strategy. But could nonviolence work in a society which grew angrier each day?

GUNNAR JAHN: On behalf of the Nobel Committee --

NARRATOR: To the world, Martin Luther King, Jr., had come to symbolize the success of nonviolent strategy. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in December, 1964.

GUNNAR JAHN: -- and the gold medal.

NARRATOR: But in America, young militants were beginning to challenge King's leadership. Dallas County, Selma, Alabama. For more than a year, organizers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC, had worked with local residents in waging a voter registration campaign. They met some resistance.

By the end of 1964, SNCC was exhausted, with little money to continue. Selma's black leaders turned to Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for help.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR: Today marks the beginning of a determined, organized, mobilized campaign.

NARRATOR: King's presence reopened an old rivalry between the ministers of SCLC and the young organizers of SNCC.

JAMES FORMAN: We felt that there should be a projection and an organization of indigenous leadership and leadership from the community. Whereas the Southern Christian Leadership Conference took the position that Martin was a charismatic leader who was mainly responsible for raising money and they raised most money off of his leadership. But this differences in leadership then led to differences in style of work. We wanted a movement that would survive the loss of our lives; therefore, the necessity to build a broad based movement and not just a charismatic leader.

NARRATOR: SNCC and SCLC put aside their differences and launched a combined effort on January 18th, 1965. The Dallas County courthouse steps became a dramatic stage as prospective voters lined up for the registrar's office in Selma. The key actor was Sheriff Jim Clark. Movement leaders counted on Clark to draw media attention, the kind of attention that would interest Washington and win voting rights legislation.

MAYOR SMITHERMAN: I am a segregationist. I do not believe in biracial committees.

NARRATOR: Selma's political leaders understood the movement's tactics and were desperate not to get caught in the middle. Mayor Joseph Smitherman and his public safety director, Wilson Baker, hoped to restrain the volatile Sheriff Clark as he dealt with the demonstrators.

JOSEPH SMITHERMAN: They picked Selma just like a movie producer would pick a set. You had the right ingredients. I mean, you'd had to have seen Clark in his day. He had a helmet on like General Patton, he had the clothes, the Eisenhower jacket and a swagger stick, and then Baker was very impressive and I guess I was the least of all. I was 145 pounds and a crew cut and big ears. So you had a young mayor with no background or experience.

MAYOR SMITHERMAN: Our city and our county has been subjected to the greatest pressures I think any community in the country has had to withstand. We've had in our area here outside agitation groups of all levels. We've had Martin Luther Coon -- Pardon me, sir, Martin Luther King, we have had people of the Nazi Party, the States Rights Party, both of these groups have come in, they have continually harassed and agitated us for approximately three or four weeks.

NARRATOR: More than half of Dallas County's citizens were black, but less than one percent were registered by 1965. Throughout much of the South, custom and law had long prevented blacks from registering. In Selma, the registrar's office was open only two days a month. Registrars would arrive late, leave early, and take long lunch hours. Few blacks who lined up would get in. And getting in was no guarantee of being registered.

President Johnson knew the problem, and now having soundly defeated conservative Barry Goldwater in the recent election, he set this goal.

PRESIDENT LYNDON B. JOHNSON: I propose that we eliminate every remaining obstacle to the right and the opportunity to vote.

NARRATOR: But Johnson's staff had doubts about pushing for more legislation.

NICHOLAS KATZENBACH: I think those of us who had been involved day in and day out in civil rights legislation, in getting the 1964 Civil Rights Act through Congress were the people who were dragging our feet and wanted breathing room. The President didn't want that. He said, "Get it and get it now because we'll never have a better opportunity to get legislation on any subject including civil rights than we have right now in 1965. We have the majority to do it, we can do it."

NARRATOR: Although Sheriff Clark tried to control his temper, the strain began to show. In mid-January, he arrested Mrs. Amelia Boynton, a highly respected community leader. Angered by Mrs. Boynton's arrest, 105 local teachers marched to the courthouse in protest, knowing they might be fired by the white school board.

SHERIFF CLARK: This court house is a serious place of business and you seem to think you can take it just to be, uh, Disneyland or something on parade. Do you have business in the court house?

TEACHER: We just, we just want to pass through.

SHERIFF CLARK: Do you have any business in the court house?

TEACHER: The only business we have is to come by the Board of Registrars to register...

SHERIFF CLARK: The Board of Registrars is not in session this afternoon as you were informed. You came down to make a mockery out of this court house and we're not going to have it.

REV. FREDERICK D. REESE: So I saw then that he was not going to arrest us, as I really wanted him to do. Therefore, we asked the teachers then to regroup and we marched back, not to the school but to the Brown Chapel Church, at which time there was a rally held.

NARRATOR: The teachers march was the first black middle class demonstration in Selma. Sheyann Webb and Rachel West were schoolchildren at the time.

SHEYANN WEBB: And it was a amazing to see how many teachers had participated. I remember vividly on that day when I saw my teachers marching with me, you know, just for the right to vote.

RACHEL WEST NELSON: Teachers there was somewhat like up in the upper class, you know. People looked up to teachers then, they looked up to preachers. They were somewhat like leaders for back then.

REV. FREDERICK D. REESE: Then the undertakers got a group and they marched. The beauticians got a group, they marched. Everybody marched after the teachers marched because teachers had more influence than they ever dreamed in the community.

C. T. VIVIAN: And we want you to know, gentlemen, that every one of you, we know your badge numbers, we know your names.

NARRATOR: In mid-February, Reverend C. T. Vivian, an SCLC organizer, confronted Sheriff Clark and his deputies on the courthouse steps.

C.T. Vivian
C. T. VIVIAN: But believe me, there were those that followed Hitler, like you blindly follow this Sheriff Clark who didn't think their day was coming. But they also were pulled into courtrooms and they were also given their death sentences. You're not this bad a racist, but you're a racist in the same way Hitler was a racist. And you're blindly following a man that's leading you down a road that's going to bring you into federal court. Now, I'm representing people in Dallas County and I have that right to do so. Now, and as I represent them and they can speak for themselves, is what I'm saying true? Is it what you think and what you believe? For this is not a local problem, gentlemen. This is a national problem. You can't keep anyone in the United States from voting without hurting the rights of all other citizens. Democracy is built on this. This is why every man has the right to vote, regardless.

JIM CLARK: And he started shouting at me that I was a Hitler, I was a brute, I was a Nazi. I don't remember everything he called me. And I did lose my temper then.

C. T. VIVIAN: We have come to be here because they are registering at this time.

SHERIFF CLARK: Turn that light out. You're blinding me and I can't enforce the law with the light in my face.

C. T. VIVIAN: We have come to register and this is our reason for being here. We're not --

SHERIFF CLARK: You're blinding me with that light. Move back.

C. T. VIVIAN: You can arrest us. You can arrest us, Sheriff Clark. You don't have to beat us.

JIM CLARK: I don't remember even hitting him, but I went to the doctor, got an x-ray and found out I had a linear fracture on my finger on my left hand.

C. T. VIVIAN: With Jim Clark, it was a clear engagement between the forces and movements and the forces of the structure that would destroy movement. It was a clear engagement between those who wished the fullness of their personalities to be met and those that would destroy us physically and psychologically. You do not walk away from that. This is what movement meant. Movement meant that finally we were encountering on a mass scale the evil that had been destroying us on a mass scale. You do not walk away from that, you continue to answer it.

C. T. VIVIAN: If we're wrong, why don't you arrest us?

POLICEMAN: Why don't you get out of in front of the camera and go on. Go on.

C. T. VIVIAN: It's not a matter of being in front of the camera. It's a matter of facing your sheriff and facing your judge. We're willing to be beaten for democracy, and you misuse democracy in this street. You beat people bloody in order that they will not have the privilege to vote. You beat me in the side and then hide your blows. We have come to register to vote.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR: I'm here to tell you tonight that the businessmen, the mayor of this city, the police commissioner of this city, and everybody in the white power structure of this city must take a responsibility for everything that Jim Clark does and has created. It's time for us to say to these men that if you don't do something about it, we will have no alternative but to engage in broader and more drastic forms of civil disobedience in order to bring the attention of a nation to this whole issue in Selma, Alabama. (Transcript: Eyes On The Prize, Bridge To Freedom, 1965)

Friday, January 9, 2015

Anne Farrow: The Enduring Scars of Slavery

From the Hartford Courant, "Recognize Enduring Scars Of Slavery's Shackles," by Anne Farrow of Haddam (the author of "The Logbooks: Connecticut's Slave Ships and Human Memory" and co-author of "Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery."), on 19 December 2014

We may never know what happened between black teenager Michael Brown and white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo., but if we knew our history with slavery, we would know all that we need to about what happened during their 90-second fatal encounter and its devastating aftermath.

I am 63 years old, a white woman and in the odd and probably fortunate position of having written a newly published book on America's memory of slavery just at the moment when black anger over continuing racial injustice has captured national attention. Nine years ago, when I spoke about a book I co-wrote on connections to slavery in the antebellum North, anguished audiences asked: Why don't we know about this?

Now, the questions are about Ferguson, and the gulf between the way white and black Americans view and experience our justice system. The questions are about rage. There is a continuum between the questions a decade ago and the ones I hear now.

Slavery in America was not a footnote, not "the sad chapter" of our history but the cornerstone of our making. Three generations of eminent historians have documented the astonishing scope, duration, economic importance and savagery of bondage in America, but this key piece of our past still is not prominent in the narrative of our nation.

In studying a set of 18th-century ships' logs linking Connecticut and the slave trade, I saw that when we made stolen black labor our national bedrock and created a system where inferiority was identifiable by color, we doomed ourselves to the present day and a nation where justice and parity for black people have not been achieved.

The Connecticut seamen and commanders in these ships' logs did not regard their suffering African cargo as human. When they shoved them onto the English Caribbean islands, where the captives suffered and died in an agricultural system infamous for its cruelty, notions of kidnap and murder did not cross their minds. These black men, women and children were not seen as innocent people; they were a business opportunity, part of a supply-and-demand chain that separated an estimated 12.5 million Africans from their homes and changed a hemisphere.

Several hundred thousand in that involuntary migration came to the American colonies, and their palpable humanity didn't really pose a problem for most settlers here, either. The most pressing exigency of this brave new world was labor, and these valuable workers were the key to America's early success. Their stolen, uncompensated labor gave us our running start.

The best and most educated people owned slaves, promulgated its benefits and enjoyed the wealth slavery created — the keeper of my Connecticut logbooks was not an obscure mariner but a Saltonstall and the scion of an aristocratic family. This comfort level with the omnipresence of human bondage became a cascading series of accepted and pathological untruths: Black people were designed for slavery; they didn't mind being enslaved; they weren't really human; and they didn't recognize degradation and injustice.

Scholar Arna Alexander Bontemps documented the way captives in the South became invisible. Their labor was essential to their captors, but because they were not regarded as human beings, their emotions, their lives and their grief as exiles were not part of the record. They appeared as purchases, or as laborers. These one-name possessions appear in many Northern records as well.

By the time of the Civil War, 4 million black people were held in slavery in the U.S. The suffering of those millions — the majority of whom were born here — has never been adequately addressed and explored by Americans. The emancipation that ended legal slavery did not end racial prejudice, and those Americans who believe that it did need only look at the most recent statistics on African-American poverty, access to education, housing and health care. African-Americans are poorer than they were nine years ago.

Americans still do not have a shared and meaningful body of knowledge about a labor system that held those millions in bondage. The hard question of how a post-Enlightenment nation, founded on principles of personal liberty, became the largest holder of slaves in the Western world is still waiting to be answered.

If, as a country, we truly understood the extraordinary human catastrophe we created when we became economically dependent on the oppression of black people, if we took this in all its terrible dimensions into our hearts and then our history, we would not be scratching our heads over Ferguson. We would understand exactly why the legacy of enslavement is raging through our cities and begin to do something about it.  (source: Hartford Courant OP Ed)

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Cotton Empire

From the Kansas City Star, "‘Land of cotton’ was — and is — not such a happy place," by Kevin Canfield, in a Special to The Kansas City Star, on 3 January 2015 -- It plays a part in nearly everything we do. Not only is cotton found in clothes, bedding and books, Sven Beckert reminds us — it’s also “in the banknotes we use, the coffee filters that help us awaken in the morning, the vegetable oil we use for cooking, the soap we wash with, and the gunpowder that fights our wars.”

On one level, Berkert’s “Empire of Cotton: A Global History” is about the omnipresence of a single, extremely versatile plant. But more than that, it’s a comprehensive look at the ways in which cotton has shaped life in America and in countries all over the world — sometimes for the better, yet all too frequently for the worse.
Empire of Cotton: A Global History, by Sven Beckert 
Though Beckert, a Harvard history professor, offers an overview of 5,000 years of cotton-growing, he devotes most of his energy to a smaller block of time.

In his formulation, the economic system that would fuel the modern cotton trade took root in the 16th century. “War capitalism,” as Beckert terms the era’s ruthless network of international commerce, was built on the sale of human beings, and on the theft of land and natural resources from native people.

In the years after European explorers landed on these shores, they grabbed as much gold as they could get their hands on. Later, the newcomers turned to sugar and tobacco farming — and then, to the cultivation of cotton. This necessitated lots of laborers. The slave trade exploded.

“In the three centuries after 1500, more than 8 million slaves were transported from Africa to the Americas,” Beckert writes.

Cotton raised by slaves on this side of the ocean was shipped to England and mainland Europe. There it was processed in sweatshops where impoverished laborers — adults and children alike — logged 85-hour workweeks.

This arrangement was nearly upended in 1791, when slaves in Saint-Dominique (present-day Haiti) rebelled against the country’s French regime. As they won their freedom, Saint-Dominique’s ex-slaves also shook the global cotton trade. The island had been producing nearly a quarter of the cotton imported into Britain, according to Beckert, but after the uprising that figure plummeted to less than 5 percent.

To make up for the shortage, Beckert writes, European cotton magnates sought increased output from America. A series of technological breakthroughs — foremost Eli Whitney’s seed-removing cotton gin — sped the growth of the stateside cotton industry. More and more slaves were needed on Southern plantations.
How prevalent was slave holding among American cotton producers? On the eve of the Civil War, Beckert tells us, “85 percent of all cotton picked in the South in 1860 was grown on units larger than a hundred acres; the planters who owned those farms owned 91.2 percent of all slaves.

“Cotton demanded quite literally a hunt for labor and a perpetual struggle for its control. Slave traders, slave pens, slave auctions, and the attendant physical and psychological violence of holding millions in bondage were of central importance to the expansion of cotton production in the United States and of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain.”

The scope of slavery in America remains shocking, no matter how often the story is told. But the degree to which Europeans supported it well into the 19th century is often underplayed. In 1807, Britain outlawed the sale of slaves, but some English traders continued to aid American slaveholders until the Civil War.

“Liverpool, the world’s largest cotton port, was the most pro-Confederate place in the world outside the Confederacy itself,” he writes. “Liverpool merchants helped bring out cotton from ports blockaded by the Union navy, built warships for the Confederacy, and supplied the South with military equipment and credit.”

“Empire of Cotton” also features a host of edifying — and largely untold — stories about the destruction wrought by the fluctuating cotton market. In the middle of the 19th century, encouraged by English traders looking to make up production lost to the Civil War, some farmers in India switched from food crops to cotton. India began to import more food. But cotton prices fell, food costs spiked in the 1870s, and many poor workers couldn’t afford to eat.

“In India alone,” Beckert writes, “between 6 and 10 million people died in the famines of the late 1870s.”

Today the cotton industry is dominated by China and other countries where labor is extremely cheap. According to 2012 figures cited by Beckert, 29 percent of the world’s cotton is grown in China and 21 percent in India. Uzbekistan, a country with 0.004 percent of the global population, accounts for 4 percent of the world’s cotton — in part, Beckert writes, because child agricultural labor is legal.

Virtually every piece of clothing now sold in America — 98 percent, Beckert says — is manufactured beyond our borders.

“Workers in Bangladesh stitch together clothing under absurdly dangerous conditions for very low wages,” he writes, “while consumers in the United States and Europe can purchase those pieces with abandon, at prices that often seem impossibly low.”  (source: The Kansas City Star)

A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia

As reported in the New York Times, "‘A Tale of Two Plantations,’ by Richard S. Dunn," reviewed by Greg Grandin, on 2 January 2015 -- For enslaved peoples in the New World, it was always the worst of times. Whether captured in Africa or born into bondage in the Americas, slaves suffered unimaginable torments and indignities. Yet the specific form their miseries took, as the historian Richard S. Dunn shows in his painstakingly researched “A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia,” depended on whether one was a slave in the British Caribbean or in the United States. The contrasts between the two slave societies were many, covering family life, religious beliefs and labor practices. But one difference overrode all others. In the Caribbean, white masters treated the slaves like “disposable cogs in a machine,” working them to death on sugar plantations and then replacing them with fresh stock from Africa. In the United States, white masters treated their slaves like the machine itself — a breeding machine.

Dunn began working on this comparative study in the 1970s, around the time historians like Winthrop D. Jordan, Edmund S. Morgan and Eugene D. Genovese were revolutionizing the study of American slavery. Drawing on Freud, Marx and other social theorists, these scholars painted what Dunn calls the “big picture,” capturing the psychosexual terror, economic exploitation, resistance, and emotional and social dependency inherent in the master-slave relation.,204,203,200_.jpg
A Tale Of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia,  By Richard S. Dunn
Decades of extensive research led Dunn, a professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, in a different direction, away from making large historical claims or speculating about the “interiority” of slavery’s victims. Instead, he’s opted to stay close to the facts, using demographic methods to reconstruct “the individual lives and collective experiences of some 2,000 slaves on two large plantations” — Mesopotamia, which grew sugar on the western coastal plain of Jamaica, and Mount Airy, a tobacco and grain estate on the Rappahannock River in Virginia’s Northern Neck region — “during the final three generations of slavery in both places.”

In Jamaica, Joseph Foster Barham I and his son Joseph Foster Barham II presided over Mesopotamia during its most profitable decades. Absentee but involved masters, they supervised the plantation’s progress from their homes in England, approving new planting fields, reviewing the amount of sugar boiled and rum distilled, and auditing the ledger books. The one thing they believed they had no control over was life and death. During the seven decades Dunn studies (1762 to 1833, the year Britain abolished slavery), Mesopotamia recorded 420 births and 751 deaths, figures that do not include abortions, miscarriages or, for the most part, stillbirths. At a time of rising production, the data “show twice as many deaths as births, and a high proportion of the slaves who died during these years were children, teenagers or young adults.”

The younger Barham said he took seriously his responsibility to improve the material and moral condition of his slaves. And his agents in Jamaica told him they did everything they could to increase the survival rate of newborns, including lightening the work burdens of expecting women. Nothing helped. As the ratio of deaths to births remained high, slaves themselves were held to blame. “The Negro race,” Barham wrote, “is so averse to labor that without force we have hardly anywhere been able to obtain it.” He is referring to the labor of sugar production. But the sentiment covered white opinions regarding the labor of slave reproduction. Women were punished for miscarrying, sent to the workhouse or to solitary confinement. Yet despite the death rate, the plantation’s population increased, replenished by new captives purchased from slave ships or other Jamaican estates.

In Virginia, John Tayloe III, master of Mount Airy from 1792 to 1828, bred horses and slaves. The horses he raced, earning him the reputation “as the leading Virginia turfman of his generation.” The slaves he worked and sold. “There were,” Dunn counts, “252 recorded slave births and 142 slave deaths at Mount Airy between 1809 and 1828, providing John III with 110 extra slaves.” Tayloe, a fourth-generation enslaver, moved some of these surplus people around his other Virginia holdings and transferred others to his sons. The rest he sold, providing Tayloe with both needed capital and an opportunity to cull unproductive workers, keeping his labor force fit and young.
Colonial Virginia
Tayloe’s son William Henry took over Mount Airy in 1828, and its slave population continued to increase, even as depleted soil led to crop shortfalls and declining profits. So where the Barhams responded to their demographic crisis by buying more slaves and intensifying production, the new master of Mount Airy opted for expansion. He struck out west with his brothers, acquiring cotton fields in Alabama. Between 1833 and 1862, William Henry moved a total of 218 slaves from white-fenced Virginia to the Cotton South’s slave frontier, a distance of 800 miles. Many of these captives were teenagers, “of the right age to learn how to pick cotton.” By this point, with the Atlantic slave trade closed, Virginia had become a net slave exporter; in the early 1800s, there were fewer than a million enslaved people in the United States, mostly concentrated in the coastal and piedmont South. Four decades later, there were four times as many, spread from Charleston to Texas, from Mount Airy to west-central Alabama, where William Henry Tayloe established his new estates.

Dunn identifies three reasons Mesopotamia’s slaves couldn’t reproduce themselves: deadly body-wasting diseases, a poor diet and an onerous work regime. He is careful, though, to highlight the brutality of both plantations, especially the casualness with which the Tayloes broke up the families of slaves, either as punishment or to maximize the effectiveness of their labor. Dunn’s prose can be bracing in its understatement: “The extraordinarily large number of deaths,” he writes, “strongly suggests that the managers of Mesopotamia had been overtaxing their workers.”
Dunn’s restraint extends to a reluctance to engage in current debates concerning the relationship of slavery to capitalist development, which dilutes the power of his research and leads to some imprecision. It is unclear whether he believes antebellum slavery was inherently expansionist, as Walter Johnson and others have recently argued, or if the Tayloe family was merely making the most of the opportunities afforded by a growing slave population to diversify into Alabama.

Likewise, Dunn’s discussion of interracial sex seems tone deaf to decades of scholarship on the subject. Forty years ago, Winthrop D. Jordan wrote about the libidinal foundations of white supremacy in America. More recently, the historians Jennifer L. Morgan and Diana Paton have explored the linkages between ideology, law and sexual domination in slave societies. Dunn devotes a chapter each to two slave women, empathetically tracing their family history and considering the many hardships they endured. He mentions rape and “predatory” whites and discusses the sharp differences in the way mixed-race offspring were treated on the two plantations. Yet at times he plays down the varieties of sexual coercion that enslaved women lived under. At one point, he calls the relationship between a white overseer, his black “mistress” and his distraught wife a “ménage à trois.” Still, “A Tale of Two Plantations” is a substantial achievement. That it is the product of four decades of exacting research and deliberation comes through in each of its many details.  (source: New York Times)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, by David Eltis and David Richardson

A Brief Overview of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade
David Eltis (Emory University)
Early Slaving Voyages

From The Trans Atlantic Slave Trade Database Voyages, "A Brief Overview of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade," by David Eltis  (2007)--  With the key forces shaping the traffic briefly described, we can now turn to a short narrative of the slave trade. The first Africans forced to work in the New World left from Europe at the beginning of the sixteenth century, not from Africa. There were few vessels that carried only slaves on this early route, so that most would have crossed the Atlantic in smaller groups on vessels carrying many other commodities, rather than dedicated slave ships. Such a slave route was possible because an extensive traffic in African slaves from Africa to Europe and the Atlantic islands had existed for half a century before Columbian contact, such that ten percent of the population of Lisbon was black in 1455,(2) and black slaves were common on large estates in the Portuguese Algarve. The first slave voyage direct from Africa to the Americas probably sailed in 1526. Before mid-century, all trans-Atlantic slave ships sold their slaves in the Spanish Caribbean, with the gold mines in Cibao on Hispaniola emerging as a major purchaser. Cartagena, in modern Columbia, appears as the first mainland Spanish American destination for a slave vessel - in the year 1549. On the African side, the great majority of people entering the early slave trade came from the Upper Guinea coast, and moved through Portuguese factories initially in Arguim, and later the Cape Verde islands. Nevertheless, the 1526 voyage set out from the other major Portuguese factory in West Africa - Sao Tome in the Bight of Biafra – though the slaves almost certainly originated in the Congo.

The slave traffic to Brazil, eventually accounting for about forty percent of the trade, got underway around 1560. Sugar drove this traffic, as Africans gradually replaced the Amerindian labor force on which the early sugar mills (called engenhos) had drawn over the period 1560 to 1620. By the time the Dutch invaded Brazil in 1630, Pernambuco, Bahia, and Rio de Janeiro were supplying almost all of the sugar consumed in Europe, and almost all the slaves producing it were African. Consistent with the earlier discussion of Atlantic wind and ocean currents, there were by 1640 two major branches of the trans-Atlantic slave trade operating, one to Brazil, and the other to the mainland Spanish Americas, but together they accounted for less 7,500 departures a year from the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, almost all of them by 1600 from west-central Africa. The sugar complex spread to the eastern Caribbean from the beginning of the 1640s. Sugar consumption steadily increased in Europe, and the slave system began two centuries of westward expansion across tropical and sub-tropical North America. At the end of the seventeenth century, gold discoveries in first Minas Gerais, and later in Goias and other parts of Brazil, began a transformation of the slave trade which triggered further expansion of the business. In Africa, the Bights of Benin and Biafra became major sources of supply, in addition to Angola, and were joined later by the more marginal provenance zones of Sierra Leone, the Windward Coast, and South-east Africa. The volume of slaves carried off reached thirty thousand per annum in the 1690s and eighty-five thousand a century later. More than eight out of ten Africans pulled into the traffic in the era of the slave trade made their journeys in the century and a half after 1700. (source: The Trans Atlantic Slave Trade Database Voyages)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy 2015 From The US Slave Blog!!

This year let's resolve to make better bad decisions.

"What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"

"What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"  --  Nancy Wilson
Written By Frank Loesser (1947)

Maybe its much too early in the game
Ah, but I thought Id ask you just the same
What are you doing New Years
New Years Eve?

Wonder whose arms will hold you good and tight
When its exactly twelve oclock that night
Welcoming in the New Year
New Years Eve

Maybe I'm crazy to suppose
Id ever be the one you chose
Out of the thousand invitations
You receive
Ah, but in case I stand one little chance
Here comes the jackpot question in advance
What are you doing New Years
New Years Eve?

Maybe I'm crazy to suppose
Id ever be the one you chose
Out of the thousand invitations
You receive

Ah, but in case I stand one little chance
Here comes the jackpot question in advance
What are you doing New Years
New Years Eve?

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Underground Railroad Network at the Great Dismal Swamp

From the US Fish and Wildlife  --  More than 150 years after the last slave escaped to freedom through the thick forest of what is now Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, VA, an Underground Railroad Education Pavilion has been opened on the refuge.

The Great Dismal Swamp Refuge was the first refuge named to the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program by the National Park Service in 2003. “It is our hope to host groups to learn about the runaway slaves that came through the swamp and lived here,” says refuge manager Chris Lowie.

Since the 17th century, the swamp has served as a place of safety and a route to freedom. For some, it was a stopping point on the way to cities further north. During the Civil War, Union regiments of the United States Colored Troops marched down the canal bank from Deep Creek, VA, to northeastern North Carolina to liberate and recruit enslaved African Americans. 

Some of those who hid in the swamp established “maroon” communities. “Maroon” is from the Spanish word cimarron, meaning fugitive or runaway. These maroon communities remain the subject of significant historical research. Different historians estimate that between 2,000 and 50,000 maroons lived in the swamp, originally about 10 times larger than its current 190 square miles. (source: US Fish and Wildlife)

Frederick Law Olmsted: Runaways and Slave Hunters in the Dismal Swamp

While driving in a chaise from Portsmouth to Deep-river, I picked up on the road a jaded looking negro, who proved to be a very intelligent and good-natured fellow. His account of the lumber business, and of the life of the lumbermen in the swamps, in answer to my questions, was clear and precise, and was afterwards verified by information obtained from his master.

He told me that his name was Joseph, that he belonged to a church in one of the inland counties, and that he was hired out by the trustees of the church to his present master. He expressed entire contentment with his lot, but showed great unwillingness to be sold to go on to a plantation. He liked to “mind himself,” as he did in the swamps. Whether he would still more prefer to be entirely his own master, I did not ask.

The Dismal Swamps are noted places of refuge for runaway negroes. They were formerly peopled in this way much more than at present; a systematic hunting of them with dogs and guns having been made by individuals who took it up as a business about ten years ago. Children were born, bred, lived and died here. Joseph Church told me he had seen skeletons, and had helped to bury bodies recently dead. There were people in the swamps still, he thought, that were the children of runaways, and who had been runaways themselves all their lives. What a life it must be; born outlaws; educated self-stealers; trained from infancy to be constantly in dread of the approach of a white man as a thing more fearful than wild-cats or serpents, or even starvation.

There can be but few, however, if any, of these “natives” left. They cannot obtain the means of supporting life without coming often either to the outskirts to steal from the plantations, or to the neighborhood of the camps of the lumbermen. They depend much upon the charity or the wages given them by the latter. The poorer white men, owning small tracts of the swamps, will sometimes employ them, and the negroes frequently. In the hands of either they are liable to be betrayed to the negrohunters. Joseph said that they had huts in “back places,” hidden by bushes, and difficult of access; he had, apparently, been himself quite intimate with them. When the shingle negroes employed them, he told me, they made them get up logs for them, and would give them enough to eat, and some clothes, and perhaps two dollars a month in money. But some, when they owed them money, would betray them, instead of paying them.

I asked if they were ever shot. “Oh, yes,” he said, “when the hunters saw a runaway, if he tried to get from them, they would call out to him, that if he did not stop they would shoot, and if he did not, they would shoot, and sometimes kill him.

“But some on ‘em would rather be shot than be took, sir,” he added, simply.

A farmer living near the swamp confirmed this account, and said he knew of three or four being shot in one day.

No particular breed of dogs is needed for hunting negroes: and one white man told me how they were trained for it, as if it were a common or notorious practice. They are shut up when puppies, and never allowed to see a negro except while training to catch him. A negro is made to run from them, and they are encouraged to follow him until he gets into a tree, when meat is given them. Afterwards they learn to follow any particular negro by scent, and then a shoe or a piece of clothing is taken off a negro, and they learn to find by scent who it belongs to, and to tree him, etc. I don’t think they are employed in the ordinary driving in the swamp, but only to overtake some particular slave, as soon as possible after it is discovered that he has fled from a plantation. Joseph said that it was easy for the drivers to tell a fugitive from a regularly employed slave in the swamps.
“How do they know them?”

“Oh, dey looks strange.”

“How do you mean?”

“Skeared like, you know, sir, and kind ‘o strange, cause dey hasn’t much to eat, and ain’t decent [not decently clothed], like we is.”

When the hunters take a negro who has not a pass, or “free papers,” and they don’t know whose slave he is, they confine him in jail, and advertise him. If no one claims him within a year he is sold to the highest bidder, at a public sale, and this sale gives title in law against any subsequent claimant ... [Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States: with Remarks on Their Economy (1856), pp. 160–162.]

"The Slave in the Dismal Swamp" By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Poems on Slavery, and Voices of the Night; By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1842

The Slave in the Dismal Swamp 
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1842

In dark fens of the Dismal Swamp
The hunted Negro lay;
He saw the fire of the midnight camp,
And heard at times a horse's tramp
And a bloodhound's distant bay.

Where will-o'-the-wisps and glow-worms shine,
In bulrush and in brake;
Where waving mosses shroud the pine,
And the cedar grows, and the poisonous vine
Is spotted like the snake;

Where hardly a human foot could pass,
Or a human heart would dare,
On the quaking turf of the green morass
He crouched in the rank and tangled grass,
Like a wild beast in his lair.

A poor old slave, infirm and lame;
Great scars deformed his face;
On his forehead he bore the brand of shame,
And the rags, that hid his mangled frame,
Were the livery of disgrace.

All things above were bright and fair,
All things were glad and free;
Lithe squirrels darted here and there,
And wild birds filled the echoing air
With songs of Liberty!

On him alone was the doom of pain,
From the morning of his birth;
On him alone the curse of Cain
Fell, like a flail on the garnered grain,
And struck him to the earth!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
After publishing Poems on Slavery in 1842, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) supported Senator Charles Sumner’s legislative efforts to end slavery, communicated with like-minded friends and colleagues through his correspondence, clubs, and other social gatherings, and used his growing
influence and financial resources to quietly assist abolitionists and slaves seeking freedom. Richard Henry Dana, Jr., Charles Sumner, James Russell Lowell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lydia Maria Child, Susan Hillard, Lunsford Lane, Josiah Henson, and others shared Longfellow’s anguish about ending slavery in the United States. (source: The National Park Service)

Runaway Slave Life In The Swamps of Virginia

As reported by The New York Times Opinionator, "Life in the Swamp," by J. Brent Morris, on 19 October 2013 --  In early September 1863, a young Union soldier wrote a letter to his former professor back at Oberlin College, where he had studied before the war. The soldier, who identified himself only as “G,” had been tasked with taking a census of the freedmen on Craney Island, near Norfolk, Va. The African-American population of the area had been swelling since the arrival of Union forces the previous May, and soldiers like G were to provide the first step toward, among other things, organizing and recruiting black soldiers for the war effort.

As G related in his letter, the simple chore of tallying newcomers quickly transformed into a fascinating afternoon of storytelling when the soldier encountered two nondescript blacks, the 46-year-old Abraham Lester and his wife, Larinda.

After quickly noting his subjects’ names and ages, the student-soldier moved on to a more detailed set of queries, the answers of which, up until that point, had varied little among his respondents.

Abraham, however, piqued his interest with his answer to the first of these questions.

“How long have you been from home?,” the soldier asked. This was a variant on the question listed on G’s tally sheet, “How long have you been in our lines?” Other census takers had often encountered “contrabands” who did not fully understand what was meant by the question, and this simplified version assumed that their presence among Union troops dated from approximately the time they left “home” – that is, their former masters.

Without hesitation, Lester replied, “Four years.” This, however, predated the commencement of the war itself. G tried to clarify himself. “How long have you been with the Union Army?”

“Ever since they came to Suffolk,” Lester replied. “I was in the Dismal Swamp three years, and when I heard that the Army had come to Suffolk, I went to them, and have been with them ever since.”

Abraham Lester had understood the question perfectly, and only slowly did G realize that the couple before him were maroons, fugitives who had fled slavery and precariously settled within the dark recesses of the Great Dismal Swamp, a wasteland spanning the Virginia-North Carolina border where few masters dared follow their fleeing bondsmen.

Hailing as he did from Oberlin, the soldier would have undoubtedly read about these maroons in one of the antislavery publications that circulated freely in that hotbed of abolitionism. But firsthand accounts of maroon life were nearly unheard of. In fact, Abraham Lester’s story is one of only a handful of known primary glimpses into the life of a maroon in the Great Dismal Swamp. It is one of even fewer that captures the merger of Dismal Swamp maroons’ century’s old fight to survive in the very midst of a plantation society with the larger fight for emancipation that was the American Civil War.

The Great Dismal Swamp was historically one of the most inhospitable tracts of land along the east coast of North America. Originally covering more than 1.3 million acres, very little of the swamp was above water. Here and there, dry ridges rose from the muck, providing precious solid ground that became the territory of numerous wild cattle, bears, deer and wolves. From the outside looking in, early Americans swore that the gases rising from the swamp were highly poisonous, that buzzards would not even fly over the quagmire, and that only suicidal fools dared venture in. Speculators contemplated draining the swamp but were largely unsuccessful. To most, the swamp seemed truly dismal — an eyesore, an obstacle, a quagmire.

Yet all the reasons white society gave for eschewing the swamp made it the perfect refuge for fugitives from slavery. The first self-emancipating slaves who sought the protection of the swamp in the late 17th century probably joined the remnants of long-defeated Native American groups who had sought the protection of the swamp much earlier. By the beginning of the 18th century, maroons of African descent were serving as military leaders of some of the burgeoning outlaw communities in regular raids on nearby plantations.

The considerable numbers of maroons who used the swamp as a base for these attacks, as well as those who settled in the innermost communities of the deep swamp, were constant thorns in the side of plantation society, both militarily and ideologically. Through trade, appropriation and their own ingenuity, maroons obtained or made weapons and developed remarkable skills as guerrilla fighters. Just as important, however, was their symbolic variance from the ideological foundations of American slavery: the notion that African-Americans could not survive without benevolent white supervision, that they did not truly desire their freedom and that they were pathetically inferior to the “master race” in every way. Rather, they challenged white authority and stood for centuries, unsubdued, as a powerful rebuke to the Slave Power.

When larger conflicts arose outside their swamp, Great Dismal maroons merged their own campaigns with those who would also make war on the people that enslaved them. Maroons in the Revolution, already loosely organized into war bands, served as guerrilla foragers for the British and as regular soldiers in Lord Dunmore’s Royal Ethiopian Regiment. Their own struggle for freedom spanned generations at that point, and it was bravely maintained until Union gunboats arrived in 1862 and the centuries-old fight again merged with another war against slaveholders. While the mass of the Union Army fought in Northern Virginia, former slaves, maroons and white Unionists undertook a guerrilla war to disrupt Confederate power in areas surrounding the swamp.

Many maroons who left the swamp to fight did not become regulars in the Union Army, but rather maintained their status as guerillas in the region. Dismal Swamp guerillas helped provision Union forces with beef and corn obtained in their plantation raids. Perhaps as important, dozens of maroons emerged from the swamp and served as scouts necessary for passage through the swamp. Moreover, maroon fighters already busy “spread[ing] terror over the land,” in the words of a North Carolina woman, loosely joined forces with the Confederate deserter Jack Fairless and his “Wingfield Buffaloes.” From their base on the North Carolina edge of the Great Dismal, guerrilla bands set off on regular campaigns into northeastern North Carolina, both to plunder and make good on their explicit pledge to “clear the country of every slave.”

So successful, in fact, were the maroons and other Buffaloes in commandeering supplies and helping to liberate bondsmen in the region that by mid-1863, a hastily organized local white “home guard” made desperate attempts to destroy their increasingly fortified base, or at least hit the guerrillas where it might hurt them the worst. Suggesting that they were aware of the crucial link between the maroons of the swamp and the guerrilla fighters, the home guard braved a direct assault on a deep-swamp maroon community, surprising the noncombatant group and killing many swampers in the process. Their attempts on the Buffalo base camp on the Chowan River were less successful. After initial forays in March failed to eject the Buffaloes, a larger force of partisan and regulars the next month found that the Buffaloes had dispersed back into the depths of the swamp ahead of the attack. All that greeted the frustrated Confederates was simple note pinned to a tree: “A leetle too late.”

The Carolinians must have already felt the truth of that note. Besides missing their guerrilla targets, by the fall of 1863 the Confederates were also rapidly losing ground in the region to Unionists. For the most part, the home guard had done a miserable job protecting the nominally pro-Confederate home front from Union-allied guerrillas. Indeed, the incompetence of the home guard only served to provoke further maroon reprisals on the civilian population.

In December 1863 Gen. Edward A. Wild led a raid through the swamp against white communities in North Carolina in December, but already that fall local residents were already declaring 1863 the “year of the black flag.” The Dismal Swamp counties in North Carolina passed resolutions addressed to the Confederacy formally withdrawing their support for the home guard and demanding they be officially recalled. The Buffalo’s adversaries would thereafter be no more than a dwindling clutch of vigilantes lacking even the support of a sympathetic civilian population. The Civil War thus came to an early end in the region around the southern Great Dismal Swamp.

Though some Buffaloes soon joined the fight at the Richmond front, others, like Abraham Lester, a maroon fighter and never an army regular, paused to enjoy something new but uncertain: liberty and the freedom to venture outside the protection of the Great Dismal Swamp. Toward the end of G.’s interview, Abraham’s wife, Larinda (whom he had met and wed in the swamp), joined the conversation, and it became clear that the war was perhaps the least of the worries that would burden now-former maroons like them. Still a bit skittish at the sight of whites after so many years in hiding, they would have to wrestle with uncertainties besides the still-ambiguous meaning of freedom: how to deal with a child that had never seen a white face, how to retrain one’s feet to tread upon solid dry ground, how to live alongside those who had once sent snarling bloodhounds into the swamp after their trail.

In September 1863, life outside the swamp offered an uncertain new world. The only certainties were the marks recorded in the young soldier’s notebook before he continued on with his census of the island: “Abraham Lester and Larinda White, Dismal Swamp, freedmen.” (source: The New York Times)

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