By George E. Curry
The disclosure that Dylann Roof, the admitted killer of nine unarmed African Americans attending Bible study at Emanuel A.M.E. Church June 17 in Charleston, S.C., was photographed dozens of times holstering the rebel flag ignited a long overdue discussion on what that flag represents and prompted the removal of the flag from the state Capitol grounds in Columbia, S.C. after more than 50 years.
An examination of the documents of the states that seceded from the Union, beginning with South Carolina, as well as the statements and documents surrounding those traitorous acts made clear the rebels were primarily worried about one thing – their ability to maintain and expand the institution of slavery.
But Americans, including many Blacks, casually toss about the term “slavery” without comprehending the extent of its cruelty. Below are excerpts from the website History.com that will serve as a reminder:
Slavery in America began when the first African slaves were brought to the North American colony of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, to aid in the production of such lucrative crops as tobacco. Slavery was practiced throughout the American colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries, and African-American slaves helped build the economic foundations of the new nation. The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 solidified the central importance of slavery to the South’s economy. By the mid-19th century, America’s westward expansion, along with a growing abolition movement in the North, would provoke a great debate over slavery that would tear the nation apart in the bloody American Civil War (1861-65).
Though it is impossible to give accurate figures, some historians have estimated that 6 to 7 million slaves were imported to the New World during the 18th century alone, depriving the African continent of some of its healthiest and ablest men and women.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, black slaves worked mainly on the tobacco, rice and indigo plantations of the southern coast. After the American Revolution (1775-83), many colonists (particularly in the North, where slavery was relatively unimportant to the economy) began to link the oppression of black slaves to their own oppression by the British, and to call for slavery’s abolition.
Slavery did not dominate the economy of the North like it did the South. Over a 30-year period from 1774 until 1804, each northern state abolished slavery.
Though the U.S. Congress outlawed the African slave trade in 1808, the domestic trade flourished, and the slave population in the U.S. nearly tripled over the next 50 years. By 1860 it had reached nearly 4 million, with more than half living in the cotton-producing states of the South.
Slave owners sought to make their slaves completely dependent on them, and a system of restrictive codes governed life among slaves. They were prohibited from learning to read and write, and their behavior and movement was restricted. Many masters took sexual liberties with slave women, and rewarded obedient slave behavior with favors, while rebellious slaves were brutally punished.
Even against tremendous odds and at a distinct disadvantage, enslaved Africans rebelled every way possible, including taking up arms. The most famous rebellions involved
Gabriel Prosser in Richmond, Va.; Denmark Vesey in Charleston, S.C. and the most famous was one led by Nat Turner in 1831. Turner’s group, which grew to approximately 75 men, went from farm to farm in Southampton County, Va., killing more than 50 White slaveholders over two days. When they were captured, the men were immediately killed by White slave owners who had formed militias. Turner eluded capture for two months. When caught, he was quickly tried and hung.
Free blacks and other antislavery northerners had begun helping fugitive slaves escape from southern plantations to the North via a loose network of safe houses as early as the 1780s. This practice, known as the Underground Railroad, gained real momentum in the 1830s and although estimates vary widely, it may have helped anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 slaves reach freedom.
The South would reach the breaking point …when Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected as president. Within three months, seven southern states had seceded to form the Confederate States of America; four more would follow after the Civil War (1861-65) began. Though Lincoln’s antislavery views were well established, the central Union war aim at first was not to abolish slavery, but to preserve the United States as a nation. Abolition became a war aim only later, due to military necessity, growing anti-slavery sentiment in the North and the self-emancipation of many African Americans who fled enslavement as Union troops swept through the South. Five days after the bloody Union victory at Antietam in September 1862, Lincoln issued a preliminary emancipation proclamation, and on January 1, 1863, he made it official that “slaves within any State, or designated part of a State…in rebellion,…shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and BlackPressUSA.com. He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, http://www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at http://www.twitter.com/currygeorgeand George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook. See previous columns at http://www.georgecurry.com/columns.