Black lives matter! In fact, all lives matter.
Thomas Jefferson, a long time ago, spoke about America having “separate nations,” one white and free and another black and in slavery. He doubted whether or not the former slaveholder and the former slave could ever live together in the same country peacefully. In the 21st Century the question Jefferson posed is still relevant. The events of the last year regarding black males and how the police treat them bring back into focus the question of how can we deal with our two Americas and how can we hopefully bring our two separate nations closer together?
A brief review of our sordid history of slavery in America is in order. If we are to move forward it is helpful to try to put yourself in another’s shoes and try to understand how we got in this predicament in the first place.
The year was 1619 when the Dutch first brought slaves into the colonies. Initially indentured servants were used for cheap labor until, it was realized that there was a cheaper way to do it and that was to import slaves into Virginia from the Caribbean. Surprisingly most of the first slaves to come into America came from the sugar colonies of the Caribbean. England, France, Spain, Portugal and the Dutch all participated in the slave trade. In the early years Native Americans were exported as slaves. Later the African importation of slaves began.
Charleston, became a major hub for slavery importation. Slaves were used as cheap labor in the rice fields. It is said that a sought after male slave would be between the ages of 14-18, the darker skin the better. Those deemed most fit would fetch between 100 and 200 lbs. sterling. In today’s dollars that would be between $11, 600 and $23,000 per slave. Women would go for between $14,000 and $20,000 depending on whether they were of a number 1 quality women or just ordinary. The cost and economic value of each slave became part of the problem especially in the Southern states where slavery became a way of life.
It was not uncommon for families to be torn apart. Disease was rampant and for the children of slaves, two out of three would not make it to the age of 16. Can you imagine the human degradation living the life of a slave?
Jefferson considered slavery to be an act of ” moral depravity” with grave consequences for the future of the nation. His helping to craft the “Northwest Ordinance of 1787.
We have had two different cultures, two different views of society from the time of the first settlements in America.
Free blacks fought at Bunker Hill and at Lexington in the early days of the Revolution. They participated in the arguments for the ratification of the Constitution. The Founders sought to end the slave trade and did not agree to allow the expansion of slavery into the Northwest territories. The North was less rural and more industrial and with a much larger merchant class. They encouraged more immigration.
While people like John Rutledge of South Carolina, made it clear that unless each state could determine what would happen regarding slavery, the southern colonies would not have ratified the Constitution.
The South justified slavery, it’s peculiar institution for economic reasons. Many preached the idea that blacks were inferior from the beginning. They used religion to justify the use of slaves. Southerners were more isolated than their Northern brothers, they viewed slaves as less than human. The slave culture sought to continue its isolation as newcomers from the outside were seen as dangerous, more likely to bring into the region a different view of slavery.
Chief Justice Richard Taney from Maryland ,of the famous Dred Scott decision. The decision stated the following: Blacks “are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the words citizens in the Constitution.” In a revealing way Taney made his beliefs more clear when he stated,” Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution had been intended to apply to blacks.” Blacks were “so inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” That decision was made in March of 1857.
Move forward to the 21st Century and there are still two America’s, a white America and a black America. The South has improved but we are still racially divided. For many of the older generation the white man’s view of the inferiority of blacks has not diminished.