Slavery in America
By: Trissean McDonald
American history, what is it? It’s a continuum of alterations about the truth, causing many to believe in unsubstantiated claims that are imposed by mostly high school textbooks and also the mainstream media. Why is this so? The truth is shielded because it imposes a sense of insensitivity to those who may come across it such as high school students, college student, as well as mainstream media. Yet, it’s the truth that gives people a clear understanding of what actually occurred. Rather than upholding the truth from Americans about their history, causing millions of Americans to believe in untruths to fit the norms of society, history books, as well as the media, need serious reform in order to open the minds of the people. Whether if it opens a negative channel of emotions or not, the truth about our history should not be altered.
On July 25, 2016, former First Lady Michelle Obama, gave a heartfelt speech about her views on American history. Her description of our history wasn’t uncommon. And it’s the same speech that is usually repeated amongst blacks, “the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house the was built by slaves,” Obama stated. However, former Fox News affiliate Bill O’Reilly refuted Michelle’s speech stating that slaves were “well-fed” and had “decent lodgings [i].” Even though O’Reilly’s debunking of Michelle’s speech may seem racist, there are texts that support his rhetoric. For example, “Slave Narratives (A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves)” accounts for the many slave stories in which black slaves were actually well-fed and had decent housing. “We lived in log houses with stick an’ dirt chimleys. They called ‘em the slave houses [ii].” This clearly indicates that slaves, even though undergoing exhausting labor, the majority of them were well-taken care of and occasionally underwent abuse.
The abuse of slaves from all slave masters is unsubstantiated. Also, the idea that all slave-owners were white is unsubstantiated. In fact, there were several black slave owners. “The fact is large numbers of free Negroes owned black slaves; in fact, in numbers disproportionate to their representation in society at large. In 1860 only a small minority of whites owned slaves [iii].” The first black slave owner, Anthony Johnson, was an indentured servant. Johnson received land as well as white indentured servants after his servitude. Johnson also had a black indentured servant, in which whom later becomes a permanent slave to Johnson after a court settlement. John Casor became the first African descent in Britain’s Thirteen Colonies to be declared as a slave for the remaining of his life to Johnson. “This daye Anthony Johnson negro made his complaint to the court against Mr. Robert Parker and declared the hee deteyneth his servant John Casor negro under the pretence that said negro was a free man. The court seriously consideringe and maturely weighing the premisses, doe fynde that the saide Mr. Robert Parker most unjustly keepth the said Negro from Anthony Johnson his master…It is therefore the Judgment of the Court and ordered that the said John Casor Negro forthwith returne unto the service of the said master Anthony Johnson, and that Mr. Robert Parker make payment of all charges in the suit [iv].”
Nothing about slavery in America was benign. Additionally, even though indenture servitude was a form of slavery, those under indentured servitude were slaves for a number of years under contract. However, not all indentured servants were able to reach their contract agreement. The case of Casor exemplifies that. Slavery definitely had its hard times for those who were a part of its servitude. Yet many textbooks, as well as the media, have not, and probably will never introduce some of the non-debilitating attributions that were intact for slaves in order for them to be healthy and perfectly perform their duties as slaves. There were even slave masters that respected their slaves, not wanting to sell them for fear that their labor will increase and other masters would treat the slaves unfairly. “I never saw a grown slave whupped or in chains and I never saw a slave sold. Jackson May would not sell a slave. He didn’t think it right. He kept ’em together. He had eighty head. He would let other white people have em to work for ’em sometimes, but he would not sell none of ’em [iii].” However, this didn’t mean that slaves weren’t punished by their masters. But it also illustrates that all slaves were not merely treated as animals. In fact, some slaves were actually treated humanely. “Although the institution of slavery was oppressive for the slaves, paradoxically it benefited their descendants because slavery was the transmission belt that brought African-Americans into the orbit of Western freedom [v].”
Why does the media stir up further confusion about American slavery? The media tends to focus only on black individuals once being slaves; however, that isn’t the case. As mentioned before, there were indeed white slaves too. “One of the things that both the public and many scholars have tended to take as given is that slavery was always racial in nature – that only blacks have been slaves. But that is not true,” Robert Davis, a professor of history at the Ohio State University said. “We cannot think of slavery as something that only white people did to black people [vi].” The reason as to why white slaves are not recognized is because the majority were indentured servants. But, isn’t indentured servitude also slavery? Couldn’t races besides the black had been treated harshly as will? This isn’t mentioned in the mainstream. Even if the facts were to point in a different direction, the mainstream will always choose their own direction of appeasement from the “lashing, lynching, burning of homes” stories that have serviced our nation for over 100 years.
Racial groups such as “blacks are not sharing a special positive intellectual or moral experience; they partake fully in the common culture, with the same goals and tastes as everyone else, but they are doing it by themselves. They continue to have the inward sentiments of separateness caused by exclusion when it no longer effectively exists [vii].” This is due to the constant rhetoric that is imposed not only by media by textbooks as well. We’re taught as we grow up, “the white man forced Africans on ships to come to America and do all their dirty work for them.” In actuality, Africans were actually sold by other Africans into slavery. Additionally, African slavery first was in practice in Africa before the Europeans interfered. “This isn’t to say that the books entirely ignore the slavery that existed in Africa before the Europeans’ coming. The books usually do mention it, but the descriptions are fleeting at best, always distorted, and often apologetic [viii]” Yet, there are definitely stories in which Africans were forced into slavery by the white. However, the majority of African slaves were given over into slavery by their own people. “While I was upon the coast, during one of the voyages I made, the black traders brought down, in different canoes, from twelve to fifteen hundred Negroes, which had been purchased at one fair.” Yet, we’re told by media and textbooks alike that the “white men” in those days were devils. This type of propaganda has been fueling a kerfuffle between whites and blacks for many decades. The media and textbooks still haven’t caught onto this?
As Americans, we’ve hidden the truth about our culture. Because of the way textbooks and the media portray racism and slavery, our nation will never understand that we all share a common ground. That common ground is that almost every race in America today was a part of slavery. “When they have come to an agreement, it happens that adult persons bind themselves in writing to serve 3, 4, 5 or 6 years for the amount due by them, according to their age and strength. But very young people, from 10 to 15 years, must serve till they are 21 years old.” Indenture servitude was not only designed for blacks. It was a universal declaration in order to help build America and a universal call of a new life. “The sight of the land makes the people on board the ship, especially the sick and the half dead, alive again, so that their hearts leap within them; they shout and rejoice, and are content to bear their misery in patience, in the hope that they may soon reach the land in safety [ix].” Once the terms of indenture were completed, some indentured servants were given land and livestock in order to start their life over in the new America. This was a way for poor individuals to start an abundant life with the opportunity of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. However, blacks are the only focus when it comes to slavery and indentured servitude within textbooks as well as the media. There seems to be a race agenda that’s been surfacing at a continuum. Why is this? Should we continue to allow ourselves to absorb the hidden truths about American history? Or, will we take the steps towards continuing to educate ourselves concerning the matter as to why there’s an agenda that is constantly being pushed forward? Why is it causing radical behaviors from racial groups like blacks and whites? “They do not like the notion that whites are in position to do them favors. They believe that everyone doubts their merits, their capacity for equal achievement. Their success become questionable in their own eyes. They are the victims of a stereotype, but one that has been chosen by black leadership [vii].”
Americans tend to believe in untruths to fit the norms of society, history books, as well as the media, need serious reform in order to open the minds of the people. Whether if it opens a negative channel of emotions or not, the truth about our history should not be altered. We should take the liberty to inform ourselves about our history because media and textbooks will usually lead an individual astray from the truth.
[i] CHAUNCEY DEVEGA, Bigotry, denial and the distortion of American history: Bill O’Reilly’s racist dreams of “well-fed” and happy black slaves, THURSDAY, JUL 28, 2016 11:39 AM PDT,
[ii] THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS PROJECT WORK PROJECTS ADMINISTRATION FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA SPONSORED BY THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, SLAVE NARRATIVES A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves,1936-1938, https://memory.loc.gov/mss/mesn/111/111.pdf
[iii] Robert M. Grooms, DIXIE’S CENSORED SUBJECT
BLACK SLAVEOWNERS, 1997, https://americancivilwar.com/authors/black_slaveowners.htm
[iv] Jim Hoft, Did You Know the First Legal Slave Owner in America Was a Black Man?, May 5th, 2017 11:32 pm, http://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2017/05/did-you-know-the-first-legal-slave-owner-in-america-was-black/
[v] Slavery and Human Rights in Global Context, Pt.1, Dinesh D’Souza
[vi] Jeff Grabmeier, WHEN EUROPEANS WERE SLAVES: RESEARCH SUGGESTS WHITE SLAVERY WAS MUCH MORE COMMON THAN PREVIOUSLY BELIEVED, http://www.osu.edu/units/research
[vii]. Allan Bloom, The Closing of The American Mind (How Higher Education Has failed Democracy and Impoverished the souls of today’s students) Relationships: Race, copyright 1987 Allan bloom, foreword copyright 1987 Saul Bellow
[viii] Jonathan Burack, How Textbooks Obscure and Distort the History of Slavery, The Textbook Letter, November-December 1992, http://www.textbookleague.org/35slave.htm
[ix] Mittelberger, Gottleb, Gottleb Mittelberger’s Journey to Pennsylvania in the Year 1750 and Return to Germany in the year 1754 (published by the German Society of Pennsylvania 1898).