The Legacy of Slavery

Slavery is when one person owning another person. The effects that slavery has had on the nation is something many people still struggle to understand. A recent article by Rochelle Riley for USA Today describes slavery as America’s open wound, the painful injury that a third of America lives with and the rest of the country attempts to ignore because, for them, it is an ancient scar and, well, hasn’t it healed by now? Slavery has left a very noticeable division in the country. Today we see groups like the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People and shows like Dear White People displaying this clear divide. An article by Bryan Stevenson on the legacy of slavery talks about how many people today are still burdened by a history of racial inequality and injustice. He also talks about how does not believe slavery ended in 1865. Instead, it turned into decades of terrorism and violence and lynching that terrorized people of color. Even during the civil right era, we never confronted all the pain and anguish that was created by decades of segregation. These negative effects are never ending, and even if we were to ever get past this, what will it take for us to unite as a country?

The start of slavery probably followed the development of farming about 10,000 years ago, the World Book Online states. This article defines slavery as a practice in which people own other people. The slavery of ancient times reached its peak in Greece and the Roman Empire. During the 1500’s and 1600’s, the Colonization of the New World by Europeans resulted in a great expansion of slavery. Today, slavery is illegal in almost every country. However, slavery does continue to exist in many parts of the world. Slavery was starting to be introduced or reintroduced in the British colonies in the 1600’s and used primarily for tobacco plantations. Theses slaves were the start of a necessary evil that was carried out until the 1800’s. A high demand for tobacco meant a high demand for slave workers. We see this primarily happen more often in the South while the North relied on families to work. By the 1700’s, slavery became embedded in the southern economy. Spanish and Portuguese colonists relied on Indian workers, at first, but when Indian populations started to decrease, they began to import and eventually rely on African laborers. During the 1800’s most of the plantation slaves were field hands who planted and picked cotton. House slaves worked as servants in the owner’s home. Other plantation slaves became skilled craft workers such as blacksmiths, bricklayers, cabinetmakers, or carpenters.

The conditions and harsh punishments slaves went through is something I find hard to believe and fully understand. Anthony Hazard discusses, in a Ted-Ed animation, some of the terrible condition’s slaves went through just to get to the country. Many inland Africans had never seen whites before, and thought them to be cannibals, constantly taking people away and returning for more. Afraid of being eaten, or just to avoid further suffering, they committed suicide or starved themselves, believing that in death, their souls would return home. Those who survived were completely dehumanized and treated as mere cargo. The Atlantic Slave Trade also contributed to the development of racist ideology. The end of the video talks about how many religions needed justification for punishing blacks, so they claimed that Africans were biologically inferior, and destined to be slaves. Thus, slavery in Europe and the Americas acquired a racial basis, making it impossible for slaves and their future descendants to attain equal status in society.

James Henry Hammond, a wealthy landowner, spoke on his theory on why slaves were a necessary evil for the country, we do not think that whites should be slaves either by law or necessity. Our slaves are black, of another and inferior race. They are elevated from the condition in which God first created them, by being made our slaves. None of that race on the face of the whole globe can be compared with the slaves of the South. They are happy, content, unaspiring, and utterly incapable, from intellectual weakness, ever to give us any trouble by their aspirations. Hammond went on to say that he believed making whites work was morally wrong, that whites were far too superior to be doing such labor. He did not believe in giving slaves any power and in the end of his speech he speaks about how politics should be kept secret from blacks because if they give them the power to vote, they could overthrow the government. Hammond believed that by giving blacks nothing they were happy. Was Hammond so filled with power and money that he believed he was almost god-like? Most of his speech consisted of assumptions he had on blacks, never really hard facts. There was no real evidence it seemed that he knew blacks were content. Unaspiring? Well after years of being told no, you can’t have anything, I’m sure anyone would feel this way. He felt that God had put these people on the earth to serve him. Many pro-slavery advocates turned to the bible because many said the bible spoke on the division of class. In a speech to the senate on March 4, 1858, The Mudsill Theory holds that there is, and always will be a lower class – a mudsill of a foundation on which the house of the upper class, the ruling class, rests and should rest, since it is superior and bred for command. Socially, economically, morally, and in terms of intellectual capacity, the two classes were eternally separated and would always be.

Frederick Douglass was a former slave and from most articles I found, one of the biggest voices for the anti-slavery movement. An article on the Guardian spoke of how he delivered the greatest anti-slavery speech in American History, and how its relevance endures today. He made his speech on July 4, 1852 in hopes of reaching Americans who were unaware of how bad things had gotten. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty and call upon to him to join in joyous anthems, is inhuman mockery. This was such a powerful speech to people who clearly needed to open their eyes. It was a great find, and reminded me that there was some kind of hope, even in such terrible times. Upon all of my findings for pro-slavery speeches, I almost couldn’t believe what I was reading. How could one human feel that another human deserves anything less? After reading this, I was reminded that in such a terrible time, some people were able to stand up for what was right and unafraid of the consequences, and this attitude is still carried out today after all these years.

So, the question still arises, what exactly happened after the 13th amendment was passed. The 13th amendment abolished slavery in 1865. To protect the rights of newly freed people, Congress enacted two additional constitutional amendments. The 14th amendment guaranteed African American citizenship rights and promised that the federal government would enforce ‘equal protection of the laws’ the 15th amendment stated that no one could be denied the right to vote based on ‘race, color, or previous condition of servitude.’ What followed was hundreds of years of racism which again, we still see today. Slavery had a variety of effects on slaves and owners. It broke the spirit of many blacks but, made many others vow to resist it. Slavery caused fear and hatred between owners and slaves. After the civil war, discrimination and a lack of education prevented most former slaves from obtaining a good job. Discrimination also kept them from receiving the civil rights they had been legally granted. As soon as the war ended, many whites organized to oppose black freedom. Using terrorism and the courts, they forced African Americans away from voting booths and other public places. By the 1890’s, southern states passed laws legally segregated black and white Americans. States excluded black voters by enacting literacy tests, poll taxes, elaborate registration systems, and whites-only democratic party primaries. In Mississippi, fewer than 9,000 of the 147,000 voting-age African Americans were registered after 1890. Rebuilding a life after years of oppression and almost no rights were hard for so many African Americans. While trying to hopefully carry out a normal life, came the rise of white supremacy. By the year 1877 groups like the Klu-Klux-Klan triumphed in the south. Almost a century later, resistance to the lingering racism and discrimination in American began during the slavery era would lead to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, which would achieve the greatest political and social gains for the blacks since reconstruction.

After all of this, are African Americans still being oppressed? Yes! Years of oppression and mistreatment has left them angered, some uneducated, and feeling worthless. Today, we see social movements like Black Lives Matter, whose primary goal was to illuminate the use of extreme force by law enforcement in communities of color. Black Lives Matter put the spotlight on these problems, which and a longstanding history in African American communities dating back especially to antebellum slavery and the rise of Jim Crow. Black Lives Matter centers black experience as it is. As a country, what did we expect to happen after all of these years? These movements are real and very clearly growing. People are not afraid of their voices being heard now, and making a difference isn’t easy, but we see more people still going for it. Seeing not just African Americans, but people of any race unite reminds me that there is hope. In times where Donald Trump is our president, I think its time we really start waking up and seeing what’s in front of us. I am a Teaching major, and I want to be able to teach kids that their dreams are reachable. I want to be able to say the bullying, the discrimination, the clear divide in our country is slowly, but surely going away.

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