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O Lord, O my Lord! O my great Lord keep me from sinking down. No issue has more scarred our country nor had more long-term effects than slavery. When we celebrate American freedom, we must also be mindful of the long and painful struggle to share in those freedoms that faced and continue to face generations of African Americans. To understand the present, we must look to the past. A painting depicts George Washington and workers on his plantation. Wikimedia Commons. Before the Civil War, nearly 4 million black slaves toiled in the American South.
Modem scholars have assembled a great deal of evidence showing that few slaves accepted their lack of freedom or enjoyed life on the plantation. It is all night — night forever. In , a bounty hunter kidnapped Solomon Northup, a free black man from Saratoga, New York, on the pretext that he was a runaway slave from Georgia. When the bounty hunter sold him into slavery, Northup lost his family, his home, his freedom, and even his name. Freeman [the while slave broker] would make us hold up our he, walk briskly back and forth, while customers would feel of our he and arms and bodies, turn us about, ask us what we could do, make us open our mouths and show our teeth Sometimes a man or woman was taken back lo the small house in the yard, stripped, and inspected more minutely.
By law, slaves were the personal property of their owners in all Southern states except Louisiana. Slaves had no constitutional rights; they could not testify in court against a white person; they could not leave the plantation without permission. Slaves often found themselves rented out, used as prizes in lotteries, or as wagers in card games and horse races. Separation from family and friends was probably the greatest fear a black person in slavery faced.
When a master died, his slaves were often sold for the benefit of his heirs. Solomon Northup himself witnessed a sorrowful separation in the New Orleans slave pen when a slave buyer purchased a mother, but not her little girl:.
Freeman [the slave broker] sternly ordered [the mother] to be quiet, but she did not heed him. He caught her by the arm and pulled her rudely, but she clung closer to the child. Then with a volley of great oaths he struck her such a heartless blow, that she staggered backward, and was like to fall. How piteously then did she beseech and beg and pray that they not be separated.
Perhaps out of pity, the buyer did offer to purchase the little girl. Of all the crops grown in the South before the Civil War including sugar, rice, and corn, cotton was the chief money-maker. Millions of acres had been turned to cotton production following the invention of the cotton gin in As more and more cotton lands came under cultivation, especially in Mississippi and Texas, the demand for slaves boomed. A mature female would sell for a few hundred dollars less. Slaves worked at all sorts of jobs throughout the slaveholding South, but the majority were field hands on relatively large plantations.
Men, women, and children served as field hands. The owner decided when slave children would go into the fields, usually between the ages of 10 and The cotton picking season beginning in August was a time of hard work and fear among the slaves. In his book, Solomon Northup described picking cotton on a plantation along the Red River in Louisiana:. The hands are required to be in the cotton field as soon as if is light in the morning, and, with the exception of ten or fifteen minutes, which is given them at noon to swallow their allowance of cold bacon, they are not permitted to be a moment idle until it is too dark to see No matter how fatigued and weary he may be If it falls short of weight Only when the slaves finally finished working for their master could they return to their own crude cabins to tend to their own family needs.
Slave food was adequate but monotonous, consisting mainly of corn bread, salt pork or bacon , and molasses. The master also usually provided a winter and a summer set of clothes, often the cast-offs of white people. Sickness was common and the infant death rate doubled that of white babies. They were forbidden to learn how to read and write. They could be searched at any time. They could not buy or sell things without a permit.
They could not own livestock. They were subject to a curfew every night. Marriage among slaves had no legal standing and always required the approval of the master. Generally, slaves could marry others living at their plantation, or at neighboring ones. Solomon Northup discovered the following rules during his enslavement in Louisiana:. Either party can have as many husbands or wives as the owner will permit, and either is at liberty to discard the other at pleasure.
The law in relation to divorce, or to bigamy, and so forth, is not applicable to property, of course. If the wife does not belong on the same plantation with the husband, the latter is permitted to visit her on Saturday nights, if the distance is not too far. The painful cries and shrieks of the tortured Patsey, mingling with the loud and angry curses of Epps [the slave master whipping her] loaded the air.
She was terribly lacerated — I may say, without exaggeration, literally flayed. The lash was wet with blood Neither slavery not involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Some like Nat Turner rebelled. In , he led a slave revolt that left nearly 60 white persons dead in Virginia. Such insurrections were relatively rare in the South. White people outed slaves in most places, possessed firearms, and could call on the power of the government to suppress rebellions.
Nevertheless, slaves everywhere found other ways to resist their bondage. The most effective way that a slave could retaliate against an owner was to run away. It is estimated that 60, black people fled slavery before the Civil War. Solomon Northup attempted to run away but failed. Then, in , a white carpenter with abolitionist sentiments met Northup and learned about his kidnapping. The carpenter wrote several letters to New York state officials on behalf of Northup. In response, the governor of New York sent an agent carrying documents proving that Northup was a free black man.
After a court hearing in January , a Louisiana judge released Northup from his bondage. He finally returned home to his wife and children. Boles, John B. Black Southerners, — In this activity and based on the reading, the class will create narratives of six slaves who have run away from different southern plantations in After forming small groups, as each group one of the following profiles. Each should work cooperatively to write a narrative of one of the following runaway slaves:.
Eliza, age 15, a house servant whose mother was sold to another master one year ago. Thomas, age 12, a stable boy who wants to learn how to read and write. Marcus, age 70, a coachman and butler who has worked for the same family all of his life. The following questions are intended to help the groups develop their slave narratives. Every response should be written in first person as if the runaway slave had answered himself or herself.
What was your family life like in the slave quarters? What was it like to be punished for violating a slave code regulation? What was it like to resist your master without his knowing it? After all the narratives have been read, hold a class discussion on what seemed to be the worst part of slavery in the American South.
This could also be the subject of an essay asment. Alumni Volunteers The Boardroom Alumni. Curriculum Materials. Add Event. Main Menu Home. Slavery in the American South. Slave Labor Of all the crops grown in the South before the Civil War including sugar, rice, and corn, cotton was the chief money-maker.
Solomon Northup discovered the following rules during his enslavement in Louisiana: Either party can have as many husbands or wives as the owner will permit, and either is at liberty to discard the other at pleasure. They are content and are actually better off than free white laborers working in northern factories. What was the legal status of slaves and their families? The 13th Amendment was finally ratified in , long after most other nations in the world had abolished slavery.
Why do you think slavery lasted so long in the American South? Today practices such as slavery seem to us unjust and unthinkable. When students of the future read about our world in their history books, will they be horrified by any of the conditions we find acceptable? What causes public opinion to change? Stampp, Kenneth M. The Peculiar Institution. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Each should work cooperatively to write a narrative of one of the following runaway slaves: Jackson, age 25, a field worker with many scars on his back. Polly, age 18, a field worker who is 8 months pregnant.
Hattie, age 45, a cook whose master recently died. What is your name and how old are you? What was it like to be sold? What was your work day like? Why did you run away?Black adult personal day blow
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