We don’t talk much about our Imported Americans. Yes, they have been here almost as long as our Native Americans. They hold an equally sainted place in our memory, the long suffering, the noble, the faithful, the underpaid, abused and isolated.
The genuine smile, the graceful politeness, the relaxed demeanor, tipping their hats to women…all show how the Africans learned gracefulness from their masters. Didn’t they?
Is that what happened? Some kind of re-education progam with sandwiches and lemonade on the lawn of the plantation, with “Ole Massa John” sippin a mint julep and watching his esteemed workforce learn to become good Mississippians? Or were they just beaten down, rolled into submission and obsequious acceptance of their fate…as permanent, lifelong prisoners?
And if these owners were such honorable, upright men, how did the White descendents of Ole Massa John become the violent, gun toting, racist, hate-filled pigs who have become the fanatic Right Wing? How did those supposedly honorable men beget Klan members who begat Segregationists who begat White Supremacists…people who can look at the birth certificate of a President, but because he is Black…not believe he is American?
How did the myths and how did the disaster for this country called “slavery” begin?
From 1619 to 1859 when the last slave ship, the “Clotilde” docked in Mobile, Alabama we imported human beings from Africa to the United States and sold them at good prices to other human beings. We stopped importing human beings in 1860.
By then we had 4 million African slaves in this country, almost all of which were interned on plantations and in communities in Virginia, North and South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas. Maryland, Delaware and parts of Missouri had slaves although those states fought on the Union side in the Civil War.
Why did we have slaves anyway? Did we have a “slave gap” between the U.S. and the Portugese or Spanish, who were already notorious and cruel slavers? Not really. We just had a lot of cotton and sugar and tobacco and had a number of people who wanted to live like aristocrats by forcing other human beings to work for them for nothing. In other words, certain selfish, greedy and arrogant people created a society based on the enslavement of others.
Slavery obviously was not new. For many centuries before the Atlantic Slave Trade, Arab traders had brought African slaves out of Western Africa and across the Red Sea or by caravan into Egypt and beyond to be sold in markets all over the Middle East and as far as Asia.
In all, there were about 12 million Africans exported to various locations in the Americas during the Atlantic slave trade. Of those, about 37% went to Brazil. The U.S. imported about 700,000. By 1860, the slave population had grown to about 4 million in the United States.
Hattie McDaniels was not there. She was only pretending to be a happy-go-lucky, if hectoring, slave maid called “Mammy” in the film “Gone With The Wind.” Her parents and grandparents, however, had been slaves. There were no real “Mammys,” in Southern culture. Nor were there noble, distinguished Southern Gentlemen.
The Plantations were run by slave owners. They were cruel masters who beat, whipped, mutilated and shot other humans who resisted being slaves. They separated families and sold individuals like animals from one part of the country to another. Today, they would be considered the worst kinds of criminals and be put in prison for a long, long time.
Tamerlane was undoubtedly a slave holder, as were the Romans, the Greeks, and, as we said, the Arabs. Particularly malicious were the Barbary Pirates who lived substantially on capturing ships and selling the crews and passengers into slavery.
The only compassionate, witty and sophisticated pirates or slave owners are Hollywood pirates and slave owners. Slaveholders were ruthless men who beat, starved and worked people to death. They split families without concern for the emotional pain and they beat or hanged those who objected. They weren’t “good ole boys” and they certainly were not the “gentlemen” they pretended to be or that Southern revisionist history makes them out to be.
The rebel soldiers who fought for them and died valiantly, heroically, were duped. They fought and died for a corrupt cause…for slavery. They were persuaded by those rich landowners that the North was attacking their livelihoods. You can almost hear it.
The plantation owners lied. They had numerous options besides war. Their war was based on stupidity and arrogance. They could have freed the slaves. The African-American freedmen were largely ignorant and from a completely different culture.
Freed slaves, if it had been done before the war would have been able to compel only minimal wages. As they became more educated and skilled, however, they would have formed a large labor pool for the capitalist plantation owners as the United States industrialized. Instead, those jobs stayed North and the South languished for over 100 years.
No Civil War would have meant the continuation of the Southern economy as it had been for some time. New crops would have come along to replace cotton and rice and sugar to make a low-paid workforce sustainable. The South would have been in a superb position to enter the 20th Century.
A true paternal and Christian attitude would have created a strong workforce, but, despite all their lip service to Christianity, that is exactly what they lacked. They lacked compassion, understanding, and vision. They were ruled by greed and arrogance.
By the turn of the 20th Century even many white Southerners could not wait to leave. But the ex-slaveholders, like so many other criminals—which is how we could characterize them today, despite the Southern myth-makers–had no good intentions. Slaveholders almost by their very nature are not Christians at all but pagans.
So the Civil War was about institutional racism and the arrogance of one man’s power over another. It was not about the right of states to dispute federal regulations. It was about the right of certain wealthy individuals within a state to own and hold other men and women captive. It was not about the serene, pastoral lives of simple-minded Africans. They were not simple-minded and they were certainly not serene. They were oppressed to the point of rebellion.
Like the Right Wing billionaires of today, Southern plantation owners wanted it all–money and power and control. Today, the billionaires hire people like Rush Limbaugh and Mitch McConnell to do their bidding, to find them $800 billion in tax breaks that they will never see, never count, never use while they send the jobs to China and India that would have created the taxes to make up for the rebates to billionaires.
The heirs to the old slave holders are the rich industrialists, the oil barons, the owners and CEOs of the pharmaceutical companies, the manufacturing companies, the health insurance companies, the food companies and the mining, timber and drilling companies.
Their greed knows no bounds. Four hundred times the wage of the average worker is not enough for them. ($16 million a year) They want wage slaves. They want to break the unions and cut the minimum wage. They are already trying. They are…really are…evil.
The top 1% of Americans own two-thirds of all stock in all corporations. These are the people who paid off Mitch McConnell to blackmail the President to sign the tax bill for the rich or they would not give unemployment to the people that they–the Republicans who caused the Great Bush Recession–had put out of work.
Campaign contributions? Are you nuts? These are simply bribes. These Senators and Congressmen and women are taking bribes. The people with the money give the best bribes. And that is why billionaires continue to get tax cuts that they will often never see, or spend or even know that they received.
Getting back to the Imported Americans, we did free them and they were able to live lives as American citizens after the 14th Amendment. But in the South, the states did have “states rights.”
They had the right to create legislation that kept African Americans from voting, from going to White elementary and secondary schools, from going to state universities, from drinking or eating with white people.
And the Old South created interesting institutions, like the Red Shirts and the White League and the Klu Klux Klan. The Civil War devastated the South financially, its infrastructure totally destroyed. But every man had a gun and military training. And they blamed the ex-slaves for their problems, not the ex-slaveholders.
In 1866, bands of armed ex-Confederate soldiers roamed the south killing blacks and members of the Republican Party who were being propped up as local governments by the North. Republicans, who had won the post-war elections, took over the South by force, with union troops still stationed in the South until 1876. But they couldn’t be everywhere, and the vicious resentment and encouragement of racism took hold.
Had the Republicans not taken over governments in the South, it is quite clear that the resentful White poor, whipped up by the Bourbon Democrats from the North and the local politicians who wanted a return to power and total authority, would have massacred most of the freed slaves over time.
Even with some military protection, the anecdotal reporting of killings and hangings and shootings, and massacres large and small of African-Americans in the South in the years after the war is astonishing. There were some more prominent and less deniable incidents such as the murders of several hundred freedmen in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, and the recorded murders of over 1,000 freedmen in only six months of 1868 in Louisiana.
There was the Colfax Massacre in 1872 where a white Democratic militia murdered over 100 Republican elected officials who were Black freedmen. The paramilitary arms of the southern Democratic Party in the Carolinas and in Mississippi and elsewhere beat and killed their way to electoral victories.
The paramilitary groups were open and identified militia for the Democratic Party. The Klu Klux Klan members were cowards, hiding their identities behind silly-looking, pointy-headed white sheets with holes cut out for the eyes.
And the idea that African-Americans would take over government, even when protected by Union troops was preposterous. From 1870 through 1876, African-Americans could vote and could hold office. The Compromise of 1876 sent all Union troops protecting freedmen back North. It was not the free-for-all that Southern political cartoonists of the day would have you believe. During that period, there were only 2 African-American Senators and 15 African-American Congressmen sent to Washington. Hardly a tidal wave of freedmen.
There were more freedmen in state legislatures, but that was because they had not yet been legislated out of voting and because there were still communities where freedmen were the sole ethnic group or where they made up the overwhelming majority.
After Reconstruction and the devastation of the South, all that was left was farming, and even that was a meager existence for Black and White alike. Share cropping and tenant farming bound people to the land and existence was bitter and poor. The animosity between poor Blacks and poor Whites intensified and the laws became more and more restrictive on Blacks.
The period of what the South called “Redemption,” began after Reconstruction, when the Democrats reclaimed local government from the Republicans, many of whom had come from the North and others who were southern Republicans. The Klu Klux Klan continued, but it became less regularly active as state legislatures simply wrote Blacks out of the equation.
They demanded polling taxes which African-Americans could not pay and literacy tests which were set up so that they could not pass. By 1900, restrictions on Black voters were in full swing. In 1903 in Alabama, of 181,000 African-Americans only 2,980 could register, even though there were an identified 74,000 African-Americans who, for a variety of reasons could be proven literate.
Blacks were free but still indentured. Laws concerning vagrancy and making it illegal to be jobless in many Southern states meant that Blacks had to keep their jobs. Keeping their jobs often meant going into debt to business owners, from which they effectively never broke free, or working for whatever wages were offered.
( Part II on Thursday, February 17, 2011)