All Articles Tagged "slavery"
If you’ve ever watched Henry Louis Gates find celebrity roots, only to try to duplicate his success in your own personal search, you’ve probably found yourself discouraged after hitting the inevitable wall that exists for many African Americans in this country.
It’s not long before you start to realize that it takes money to find your roots.
But next year all of that might change.
The Guardian reports that in 2016 many African Americans will be able to trace their families through slavery and back to some of the countries where their ancestors originated.
Handwritten records featuring information about newly freed slaves were collected just after the Civil War and will be available for easy searches through a new website, discoverfreedmen.org.
The records belong to the Freedmen’s Bureau, an administrative organization created by Congress in 1865 to former slaves transition into the fullness of free American citizenship, a feat we’re still trying to accomplish in many regards.
The project, run by several organizations is beginning to digitize 1.5 million handwritten records from the Bureau which include more than four million names.
The records will be released online to coincide with the opening of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Holis Gentry, a genealogy specialist at the Smithsonian, told The Guardian, “The records serve as a bridge to slavery and freedom. You can look at some of the original documents that were created at the time when these people were living. They are the earliest records detailing people who were formerly enslaved. We get a sense of their voice, their dreams.”
Records from the Bureau include marriages, church and financial details, dates of birth and histories of slave ownership.
This information will serve as a huge resource not only to African American families but the country as a whole.
Sharon Leslie Morgan, founder of Our Black Ancestry Foundation, told USA Today, “In order for us to deal with contemporary issues that we have today – racism, black boys being shot down in the streets – you have to confront the past. The land was stolen from the Native Americans. The labour was provided for free by African slaves. The entire foundation of American capitalism is based on slavery, on a free labour market. People don’t want to deal with that, and you have to.”
In a controversial editorial for the New York Times, columnist Timothy Egan shares an interesting theory about how President Barack Obama could help resolve race relations in this country. He thinks President Obama should apologize for slavery.
Yes, you read that right: Egan believes President Obama – America’s first Black president – should issue an apologize for slavery.
After you are done rolling your eyes into the back of your heads, check out this passage from his essay in the Times:
The first black man to live in the White House, long hesitant about doing anything bold on the color divide, could make one of the most simple and dramatic moves of his presidency: apologize for the land of the free being, at one time, the largest slaveholding nation on earth.
The Confederate flag that still flies on the grounds of the Statehouse in South Carolina, cradle of the Civil War, is a reminder that the hatred behind the proclaimed right to own another human being has never left our shores. An apology would not kill that hatred, but it would ripple, positively, in ways that may be felt for years.
As the son of a Kenyan father and a white mother who died more than a century after slavery ended, Barack Obama has little ancestral baggage on this issue. Yet no man could make a stronger statement about America’s original sin than the first African-American president.
Um, I think there are stronger statements he could make. He could actually call White people out on their current shit (the Charleston terrorist attacks for example), or reclassify hate crimes, particularly murders, as terrorist acts, or sign some laws that would offer harsh penalties for cops found guilty of police brutality. Those “statements” could actually evoke change. Still, Egan has a point. Although Congress apologized back in 2009 for the enslavement of Black people, the apology was a bit half-hearted. You see, it also came with a stipulation that their admittance could not be used as “legal rationale for reparations.”
Egan also has a point when it comes to elevating conversations on race:
For this year’s Juneteenth — commemorating the day in 1865, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, when a Union general landed in Galveston, Tex., and told the last of the dead-enders in Texas that “all slaves are free” — President Obama could close a loop in a terrible history. He could also elevate the current discussion on race, which swirled earlier this week around the serial liar Rachel Dolezal, and the race-baiting billionaire vanity blimp of Donald Trump.
For some (okay, for most), suggesting a Black man apologize to the country for what happened to our ancestors is likely the most egregiously hilarious bit of post-racial victim-blaming nonsense ever heard. While we’re at it, why don’t we ask the Chinese workers making Jordans and iProducts to apologize for slave labor and being locked inside of sweatshops all day. Or better yet, let’s make a pig apologize to a slaughterhouse for becoming a fried pork chop.
But what is particularly absurd about the essay is the part where he states that President Obama wasn’t burdened by slavery like most African Americans because his father is Kenyan. For one, colonization happened in just about every country in Africa. Hell, it happened in much of the brown world even. So what that means is that there is no Black or brown land or person who hasn’t felt the burden of White supremacy. Likewise, the fact that President Obama’s African father is not native to America, and that Obama was raised apart from the American Black community, has not deterred those within Congress, as well as the conservative right, from attacking him because of his race. Therefore, it is naive to suggest that President Obama has somehow been spared the experience of what our ancestors and their descendants have and continue to go through in America.
I also reject Egan’s notion that an apology for slavery is just about sending a strong statement about the historic wrongs committed against African Americans. He seems to believe that a government-issued apology would address what are largely systematic problems. While it is true that it would be a statement, the reality is that we don’t need anymore symbolic gestures. Instead, what we need are tangible assets. A real apology for slavery – one that does not include caveats – should lay the groundwork for a much more substantive legal action. Yes, I am talking about reparations. And not only do I want my 40 acres, preferably the land right under Wall Street, but I will also take the damn mule.
After all, an apology comes with regret. It is meant to show the victim, or victims, that the apologist not only empathizes with how they have been wronged, but it also shows the victim, or victims, that the apologist has every intention to make amends and offer restitution. What an apology does not do is shield a person or even an institution from culpability, which is exactly what another symbolic apology for slavery would mean. What good would an apology do if schools in largely Black communities continue to be underfunded or when cops are still getting passes from the government for killing and maiming Black people? Or better yet, how will an apology help Black redlined communities or reduce the Black unemployment rate, which is usually double that of whites?
Listen, I am all in favor of President Obama issuing a real and substantive apology for slavery. But what Egan has in mind sounds like more political manipulation meant to give the appearance that we are in a post-racial society. And if a symbolic gesture is the only reason for an apology, well Egan and the United States government can keep it.
Earlier this week, we told you about Ben Affleck requesting that his slave-owning ancestor be left out of his “Finding Your Roots” special with Henry Louis Gates Jr. The information became public knowledge when e-mails between Gates and Sony executives leaked out and eventually gained national attention.
Affleck’s desire to hide this bit of his history, to many, represented an ongoing problem in this country: The propensity to disregard and dismiss the role slavery and racism played, and still play, in America.
After all the attention, Affleck addressed the situation and apologized for his decision on his Faebook page.
Here’s what he wrote:
I’m sure the decision to apologize probably made him a bit uncomfortable but this was certainly the right move. Kudos to Ben!
Black History is so important to me personally because any time I get ready to complain about something…virtually anything, I can think back on the people, Black men and women in this country who had far less resources and material means than I do today, but somehow managed to accomplish great feats.
Today, we’re highlighting and honoring Bridget “Biddy” Mason.
Biddy was born into slavery in Hancock County, Georgia on August 15, 1818. (Some sources cite Mississippi.) She had both African American and Native American ancestry but she was separated from her parents and sold several times, so no one ever recorded her last name. She worked on plantations in Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina. She spent most of childhood on John Smithson’s plantation in South Carolina where she worked as a midwife to the other house servants.
In 1836, when Mason was 18, Smithson gifted Biddy to his cousins Robert and Rebecca Smith as a wedding present.
With the Smiths, she continued working as a midwife, birthing six of the Smith children. She also worked outdoors in the cotton fields and with livestock.
Biddy had three daughters. Historians believe all three children were Robert’s.
Around the time Biddy’s second daughter was born, Robert became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. A few years later, they left Mississippi for what is now Salt Lake City, Utah. The group was made up of 56 Whites and 34 Black slaves, including Mason and her three daughters, the youngest of which was still an infant. The slaves, on the 2,000 mile, 7 month journey, were required to walk behind the wagons and livestock. After walking all day, the slaves were responsible for cooking, cleaning and tending to the animals. Biddy, specifically, was responsible for setting up camp and packing it up in the morning. During the trip several children were born to both Blacks and Whites. Biddy helped to deliver them.
When a group of Mormon pioneers decided to leave for San Bernardino, California, Robert Smith decided to go with them. His decision would eventually lead to Biddy’s liberation.
In 1849, California forbid slavery and entered the Union in 1850 as a free state. Slave owners who had arrived before 1850 were allowed to keep their slaves as indentured servants. Smith, Biddy, her daughters and the rest of the slaves in the party arrived in 1851.
Smith likely did not know California was a free state.
Once they’d reached San Bernardino, several free Blacks told Biddy that she could live as a free woman here. One person in particular, Charles Owens, took a particular interest in Biddy and her daughters’ freedom because he had been dating Biddy’s eldest daughter Ellen.
Once Smith learned that California was not only a free state, but the anti-slavery sentiment was growing, he decided to travel to Texas, in order to settle there and sell his slaves for a profit. The trip was delayed because another woman owned by Smith was about to give birth to another one of his children.
While they waited for her give birth, Charles Owens’ parents persuaded the county sheriff to prevent Smith from taking his slaves out of the state. The sheriff kept the slaves in the county jail for protection. Meanwhile Owens filed a petition stating that Smith was holding his slaves illegally in a free state. Smith tried to assert that they weren’t slaves but members of his family.
Los Angeles County District Judge Benjamin Hayes granted the petition and set all of Smith’s slaves free on January 21,1856.
The Owens family invited Mason and her family to live with them in Los Angeles. Charles and Biddy’s first daughter married soon after that. In L.A. she continued her work as a midwife and nurse for a doctor. She became known for her herbal remedies and delivered babies for families of all races and social classes. She earned $2.50 a day, which was considered a good wage for a Black woman at the time. She offered her services for free to those who were unable to pay. After working as a midwife for ten years, she’d saved $250.
With her savings she bought two plots of land on the outskirts of the city near Spring, Fort, Third and Fourth Streets.
She was one of the first African American women to buy property in America.
Initially, she used the land for gardening and built small, wooden houses to rent for additional income. She did this for the next 18 years. She moved to her own land in 1884, sold the initial piece for $1,500 and built a commercial building on another part. She rented out storerooms on the first floor and lived with her family on the second.
The neighborhood developed quickly. And by the late 1800’s Biddy was the wealthiest African American woman in L.A.
But what is most admirable about Biddy is that she didn’t just sit on her money and influence. She used it to help uplift others. She founded a travel’s aid center and an elementary school for Black children. In 1872, she was instrumental in founding the city’s First African Methodist Episcopal church, the first Black church in L.A. She donated the land where the church was built.
When she died on January 15, 1891, she spoke fluent Spanish, had dined with the mayor and had amassed a fortune of $300,000.
She was buried in an unmarked grave but in 1988, during a ceremony attended by the mayor of Los Angeles and members of the church she founded, the tombstone was located and marked.
Her great granddaughter, Gladys Owens Smith quoted Mason as saying, “If you hold your hand closed, nothing good can come in. The open hand is blessed, for it gives in abundance, even as it receives.”
Thank you Ms. Biddy Mason!
Being Black in America often means not knowing enough about your history, your contributions, your triumphs and subsequently yourself. And we know that the pattern of pushing our stories to the wayside, altering them or disregarding them entirely is not some type of coincidence. It’s a very calculated and psychologically damaging tactic. And while it would be relatively easy for me to slip into a understandable funk about the centuries long campaign to erase Black people, I’ll chose a more productive course of action in my decision to tell, or in this case, share the stories about ourselves.
Yesterday, I stumbled across a story–a very old story, particularly in the context of newsworthiness, that Jezebel published. Ellen Craft, the Slave Who Posed as a Master and Made Herself Free. Naturally, I was hooked from the title. Jezebel has this series, written by New York-based writer and historian, Angela Serratore, that details the lives of extraordinary women from the past. And Ellen certainly seemed to fit the bill.
Here’s the story of how she and and her husband led themselves to freedom.
A few days before Christmas, 1848, a man named William Craft gave his wife Ellen a haircut—in fact, he cut it to the nape of her neck, far shorter than any other woman in Macon, Georgia, where the Crafts lived. They picked out her clothes—a cravat, a top hat, a fine coat—and went over the plan for what felt like the hundredth time.
Ellen was scared. “I think it is almost too much for us to undertake; however, I feel that God is on our side,” she would later write, “and with his assistance, notwithstanding all the difficulties, we shall be able to succeed.”
Ellen and William were Black, and they were enslaved. The morning after the haircut they would leave Macon forever, disguised—William as a slave, Ellen as his white master.
If it worked, they would be free.
Ellen Craft was born in 1826 in Clinton, Georgia. Ellen’s status in the world was the perfect example of the ways in which the “one drop rule” operated in this country. She was the biological daughter of Maria, a mulatto slave born to a plantation owner, and James Smith a White slave master. By all accounts, Ellen was far more White than Black. (Three-fourths White.) But since her mother was a slave–and partially Black, Ellen was too.
Ellen’s lighter complexion made her life as a slave much different than that of other slaves. She worked as a house slave and, with her lighter complexion and genetic makeup, she was often “confused” for a member of her master’s family. James Smith’s wife was so troubled by Ellen’s presence in her home, a constant reminder of his affair, that at 11-years-old, she gave Ellen to her daughter Eliza and her husband in Macon, Georgia, as a wedding gift. (It’s almost too strange to comprehend; but if Eliza was James’ daughter, Mrs. Smith would have essentially been sending her daughter “a sister slave” as a gift.)
Ellen continued to work as a house slave for Eliza. When she turned 20, she met William Craft. Craft, was partially owned by Ellen’s master, Dr. Robert Collins and partly by another businessman in Macon who had been given partial ownership to cover a gambling debt. William also was loaned out to a town carpenter, who taught him and used his labor start a successful business.
In 1846, William and Ellen married. Their masters allowed the union but didn’t allow them to live together. At the time, both William and Ellen knew that any children they produced would be relegated to a life of slavery. WIth both Ellen and William watched their own families be separated at a whim, Ellen was afraid to give birth to children who might suffer the same fate. After two years of marriage, the two decided that rather than succumb to the rules of the injustice institution, they would escape it.
You don’t have to be a woman on the street to be harassed. And now, thanks to the internet and social media, you don’t even have to work with your harasser to be targeted.
Just ask Cari Champion, of ESPN’s “First Take.”
Yesterday, while she was at work just doing her job, comedian Artie Lange was tweeting away. What started as an appreciation for Champion’s looks quickly escalated into a disgusting, hyper-sexualized, racially charged fantasy, in the guise of a joke. And Lange decided to share it with all of his Twitter followers.
Here’s what he wrote.
Are you ready for another production about slavery? Well, you better get ready because one, a web series at that, is in production.
According to Shadow and Act:
Created by playwright, screenwriter and actor Steve Harper, and starring Tracie Thoms (“Annie,” “Death Proof,” “Looper” among many other film and TV roles), “Send Me” deals with a black woman (Thoms) who has the power to send black people back in time to slavery days.
But Harper makes clear to point out that the people who do this in the series are doing it of their own free will: “It’s not a punishment. They want to go – to explore their blackness, their history, to connect to who they are. It takes place now, in 2014, and it involves time travel. Candidates apply for the chance to take the trip. Those who want to go are trying to find out who they are now based on who their ancestors were.”
Harper is currently crowdfunding to cover production costs and thus far, he has raised a little over $10,000 out of the $100,000 requested. As such, it’s hard to really visualize how this series will finally look if it ever comes to fruition. But judging by all of those involved, including the director and the producer, “Send Me” sounds pretty original.
And according to Harper, who wrote this on his IndieGoGo page:
Almost every time I mention the premise of this show, I get into a deep conversation about race in this country. The conversations are wide ranging and there are no easy solutions. That’s the same spark I hope to ignite in homes all over the world as a result of making this series. People are, apparently, eager to talk about race relations even though some consider this a “post-racial” moment. By creating and producing this drama about 21st century people who are dealing with the past, I want to continue the conversation in a unique and entertaining way.
Entertaining and slavery don’t really sound like they belong in the same sentence. And I imagine that for some folks, purely fictionalized accounts of slavery might touch a few nerves. However, it has been done before. The 2011 French film Case départ broke all sorts of barriers in using comedy to tell a similar story about two time-traveling blacks, who venture back to the antebellum South where they get sold to a plantation owner. On the surface, it sounds like a horrible idea, but as a film, it’s not that bad.
And in general, why should slavery be off-limits in terms of topics, which art can be created around? As I’ve mentioned many times before, comedy and tragedy are not that strange of bedfellows. People laugh because it hurts. People laugh because sometimes what is happening is so absurd, the best and only non-violent response is laughter. So if this series does take on a lighthearted approach, I’m actually kind of cool with it – just as long as it is tasteful.
However, I do wonder if the slave theme and period, which Hollywood has taken a tremendous interest in as of late, has finally reached its peak. Thus far, we have had Django, 12 Years a Slave, Belle, I Am Slave and a slew of other film and TV movies still working their way down the underground railroad pipeline. At this point, what could another production centered around slavery teach us or even entertain us with that hasn’t already been done?
Not to mention, it’s hard to imagine people – real or fictionalized – who want to travel back in time to visit the era of American slavery. I mean, I can certainly see going back in time if the intent was to kill a slave owner or two, but to go back just to see what things were like? What is this, a zoo trip? Plus, we had plenty of history of our own before slavery. And as a black person, I think I might prefer a time traveling trip down the Nile as opposed to a donkey trek on the plantation. I mean, what if I get caught and forced into the fields?
But what say you? Are you ready for another production revolving around slavery? And what do you think of the premise? If the technology was available, would you take a trip back to in time to help an ancestor? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.
Last week, The Economist published an controversial piece that made the media community halt and ask “Harpo, who wrote this article?”
The article was a book review of historian Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.” The journalist who reviewed Baptist’s work believed the book depicted slave owners as villains, which he deemed an unfair portrayal. The journalist wrote:
“Slaves were valuable property, and much harder and, thanks to the decline in supply from Africa, costlier to replace than, say, the Irish peasants that the iron-masters imported into south Wales in the 19th century. Slave owners surely had a vested interest in keeping their “hands” ever fitter and stronger to pick more cotton. Some of the rise in productivity could have come from better treatment. Unlike Mr Thomas, Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.”
Mediaite reported the article was accompanied by a photo of Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey from “12 Years A Slave.” Along with the photo, read the caption: Patsey was certainly a valuable property.” For those who did not see the Oscar award winning film, Mediaite stated Patsey was whipped to death by her master who was also her rapist, when he found out she was trying to borrow a bar of soap to clean herself. With both the editorial and visual integrity lacking, readers began to complain about the article and eventually started the Twitter trend:#economistbookreviews. Below are tweet responses to The Economist’s book review.
The great flaw in the narrative is that Rowling fails to recognise or exploit the market value of wizards to muggles #economistbookreviews
— John BH (@PutneyDebates) September 5, 2014
— Kathleen Bachynski (@bachyns) September 5, 2014
After much backlash, The Economist issued an apology to its readers with a statement: “In our review of “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” by Edward Baptist, we said: “Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains.” There has been widespread criticism of this, and rightly so. Slavery was an evil system, in which the great majority of victims were blacks, and the great majority of whites involved in slavery were willing participants and beneficiaries of that evil.”
The Economist also retracted the review but published it along with their apology so readers can read the original copy.
Researchers are proposing that areas where social mobility is lacking are still feeling the ramifications of slavery. On some level, the fact that this country’s history of slavery would still resonate today isn’t surprising. The fact that more people can’t see that might be more surprising. But that slavery manifests itself through the fabric of America, especially in the South, across a broad swath of the population is the more shocking idea.
According to new report from Standard and Poor’s Rating Services on income inequality and social mobility in the United States, the current levels of inequality were “dampening” growth, and the S&P predicted that “inequalities will extend into the next generation, with diminished opportunities for upward social mobility.”
Former Confederate states seem to be even more behind. The report found that the larger the Black population in a county, the lower the overall social mobility. But “both Blacks and whites living in areas with large African-American populations have lower rates of upward income mobility,” say the report’s authors.
And it’s all tied to slavery.
In 2002 Stanley Engerman and Kenneth Sokoloff, published a paper in which they found that “regions where sugar could be profitably grown invariably gave rise to societies defined by extreme inequality. The reason, they speculated, had to do with the fact that large-scale sugar plantations made intensive use of slave labor, generating institutions that privileged a small elite of white planters over a majority of black slaves,” reportsThe Boston Globe.
But Harvard economist Nathan Nunn has a more detailed analysis of this “Engerman-Sokoloff hypothesis” in a paper he published in 2008. He found a strong correlation between past reliance on slave labor and both economic underdevelopment and contemporary inequality. “He disagreed with Engerman and Sokoloff’s claim that it was only large-scale plantation slavery that generated these effects; rather, he found, any kind of slavery seemed to have begotten long-term economic woes,” reports The Globe.
The theory goes that in areas where there was slavery there was no focus on so-called public goods—schools, libraries, and other institutions—or services that might attract migrants. There was no need because these areas already had free labor. But in the North, they invested in public goods in order to lure workers. And because these public goods were well-developed, even today there is more social mobility for Blacks and Whites in the North.
Some former slave states are trying to reverse this trend and have created regional institutions that will promote social mobility and economic growth. In Georgia, for example, there is now a program called “HOPE Scholarship,” which enables high schoolers with a “B” average or higher to attend in-state public colleges and universities for free and private in-state schools at a deep discount.
“Such programs, with some modifications, could go a long way toward promoting social mobility in the former slave-holding regions of the United States,” concluded The Globe.
What else needs to happen?
This past weekend you may have had dinner at your favorite restaurant. The live music, drinks and mango chutney butterfly shrimp were to die for! The only problem: you may have happily ingested “slave shrimp” and went home to your apartment. While life was all good for you, the East Asian slaves who caught your shrimp cannot say the same. An investigative piece by The Guardian says slaves work for years at a time in the fishing industry, with no pay.
Their work environment is a danger zone where slaves are subjected to extreme violence. The shrimp they catch supplies select US and Europe food retailers. The Guardian‘s investigation lasted six months and revealed “large numbers of men” were purchased and held against their will and sold to work on fishing boats in Thailand. The top four retailers who sourced shrimp caught under these conditions are: Walmart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco. Men escaped the slave trad, candidly expressed the horrendous conditions they endured: 20-hour shifts, torture and even execution-style killings and pressure to take methamphetamines to increase their energy levels.
Migrant workers from Burma and Cambodia noted they paid brokers who were supposed to help them emigrate from one country to the next. Although they were transported from their home countries to Thailand, their dreams of working in factories were altered when they were sold to boat captains for approximately $419.
A monk named Vuthy from Cambodia said of the slave experience: “I thought I was going to die.They kept me chained up, they didn’t care about me or give me any food … They sold us like animals, but we are not animals – we are human beings.”
CP Foods, a $33 billion company that’s called “the kitchen of the world,” sources some of their goods from sellers who keep their workers in these inhuman conditions. Bob Miller, the UK managing director for the company, said of the situation: “We’re not here to defend what is going on. We know there’s issues with regard to the [raw] material that comes in [to port], but to what extent that is, we just don’t have visibility.”
Vijavat Isarabhakdi, the Thai ambassador to the US says, “Thailand is committed to combatting human trafficking. We know a lot more needs to be done but we also have made very significant progress to address the problem.” CP Foods also stated the only way for the fishing industry to become slavery-free is to show the Thailand government how it will affect the overall economy. To see the video production on this news topic, click here.
How careful are you about where your food is sourced?