“Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.” ~ Vladimir Lenin
Every February in many classrooms across the nation, teachers and students divert from their general studies to highlight key African-American figures in American history. They hold on high (and rightfully so) the struggle for equality while praising the efforts of the leaders who helped make that happen. The story woven is one of repression and racism, where would-be slave masters fought on all fronts to prevent legends like Martin Luther King Jr., from succeeding in their righteous quest for equal Liberty, who in the end, sacrificed all for his cause.
But there is a problem with what most are taught about Black History in this country. Increasingly, the scope of time is limited to the 1960′s, while an increasing taint of Social Justice and Communism creeps into the narrative. The nearly 400 year-long struggle of African-Americans has been erased from the national consciousness, and the story has been modified to fit the agenda of a political movement. When the Progressive movement under Democrat President Woodrow Wilson (and even earlier in his time as President of Princeton University) wrenched control of the education system, America’s many great ideas and events became casualties of their Statist-driven revisionism, but undoubtedly the long vibrant history of American blacks was the greatest loss.
This revisionism was designed to forever inculcate a large section of the populace that black history was always a tale of victimization and alienation that only government can remedy, and to white-wash (partial pun) the Democrat’s party sinful history of Racism, and instead paint themselves as the champions of this new “victim class”.
This Black History Month, let us devote ourselves to restoring that history; a 400-year-long epic with heroes of all colors fighting for the idea that all men are created equal.
An economy of flesh
“We think this trade must go on. That is the verdict of our oracle and the priests. They say that your country, however great, can never stop a trade ordained by God himself.” ~ King Pepple of Bonny (now southern Nigeria), 1807
Many envision the origins of slavery as European White traders landing on African shores and ripping innocent mothers, fathers, and children from their home villages and each other and boarding them on cramped ships on a cross-Atlantic voyage to a fate of generational bondage. This half-truth must first be corrected; while Whites willingly participated in the slave trade, they were not the initiators of this barbaric act.
Slavery was common practice in Africa before interaction with Colonial Europeans ever took place. The kings like that of the Asantiand Dahomey were barbaric in war, and waged endless war against their neighbors. Survivors of conquered villages were brought back as slaves. They began selling these slaves to the Europeans in return for muskets and other goods. As recent as the 1890s, slaves were more a commodity in trading than even gold.
This new market caused an explosion in the conquest practice across the region, and continued long after the Europeans abandoned participation in it. These kingdoms were adamant against ending the trade, and even into 1840, King Gezo of the Dahomey would do anything the British requested, save end the slave trade, saying “The slave trade is the ruling principle of my people. It is the source and the glory of their wealth…the mother lulls the child to sleep with notes of triumph over an enemy reduced to slavery…”
(more information here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/africa/features/storyofafrica/9chapter2.shtml)
The Colonial Era and the insatiable need for Labor
“Although volume upon volume is written to prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of the man who wishes to take the good of it by being a slave himself” ~ Abraham Lincoln
Labor in the plantation colonies was harsh, and those who worked in the insalubrious environment had an alarmingly high death rate. The work was very hard, and very manual; there was a constant need to import labor to maintain the productivity of the Southern colonies. At first, these demands were met by “indentured servants”, free-men who took up contracts with Colonial landowners to work the plantations in servitude in repayment for the cost of emigration from England to America, and establishment of a new life in the Colonies. The repayment rate was very slow, and many never did live long enough to repay these debts. Eventually, the labor that came from this willing contract eventually turned to a trickle, and the Colonies struggled to replenish workers to handle their atrocious attrition rate. Those eyes then turned towards slavery; a much more expensive option, but without other options, the British Empire entered into this flesh-trade; a sin that would haunt America and other British colonies for centuries after. But even though the slave trade was an open practice, it was despised by many American colonists, even in the inception.
The first African slaves arrived in the Virginia Colony in 1619, delivered by Dutch Traders traveling up the James River. Most students, if they even learn this fact, probably are skipped forward clear to the start of the Civil War. Many think the white settlers were uniformly in favor of slavery, but nothing could be further from the truth. From the foundations of the British colonies, many settlers stood unequivocally against the sin of slavery. The first slaves to arrive in Massachusetts were not well received. The slavers were arrested, and the kidnapped slaves were sent home at the Colonies expense. (1)
North of Virginia, public animosity towards the slave trade was very prominent. Rhode Island and Providence plantations (now Rhode Island) passed the first abolition of slavery act in the colonies in 1652. (2) Pennsylvania, with its largely Quaker foundations, was home to many abolition movements going as far back as 1688. (3)
While the practice persisted in spite the growing resentment to it, the foundations for its elimination began to take root, as the idea of human rights and liberty began to flourish. Slavery was doomed, though its death would take another century and a half.
Black patriots during the Revolutionary War
“Their ancestors came here years ago against their will; and now this is their country and only flag. They have shown themselves anxious to live for it, and to die for it.” ~ President William Howard Taft
African-Americans during the Revolutionary war are treated by most educators as victimized bystanders in a conflict between White colonists and the British crown. About the only individual they identify would be the escaped slave, Crispus Attucks; the first man to be killed in the Boston Massacre. But there are many black heroes who were not only instrumental in the course of the Revolution, but were critical; and without their leadership, the whole idea of American Independence may have failed.
Leading up to the war, in the northern colonies, both blacks and whites worshipped in mixed congregations. In Maryland, a famous black bishop named Richard Allen led services over such a mostly white mega-church, and was later instrumental in building Pennsylvania’s first black church, with support of Constitutional signer Benjamin Rush. (4)
Prince Whipple– although often attributed in “Crossing the Delaware”, Prince Whipple was not actually at the Battle of Trenton. He was however a soldier with distinction in the Battle of Saratoga and Rhode Island. His master, General Whipple, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and promised to free him for service in the revolution. General Whipple did so on 1784.(5)
Oliver Cromwell– also pictured in “Crossing the Delaware”. Never a slave, he fought as a free man at the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Monmouth and Yorktown. George Washington personally signed his discharge papers as well as designed a medal which he awarded Cromwell. After the war, he was a local hero in his hometown of Burlington, New York. Local lawyers, judges and politicians came to his aid and gave him a veteran’s pension of $96/month.(6)
Peter Salem– heard of the shot around the world? It was fired by Peter Salem – a slave freed by his master to serve in the Massachusetts Minutemen. For his heroism at Bunker Hill, he was presented to General Washington. He also fought at the battles of Concord, Saratoga and Stony Point. (7)
James Armistead– with the consent of his master, he volunteered to serve as a spy under General Marquis deLafayette. He first spied on traitor Benedict Arnold, at this point a General for the British Army, before following the movements of General Cornwallis. His intelligence is largely responsible for the American’s success at the Battle of Saratoga. As a spy and not a soldier, he didn’t qualify for emancipation, but with the aid of his master, and a personal commendation from Lafayette, he petitioned for his freedom and it was granted. He then changed his name to “James Armistead Lafayette”, in honor of his close friendship with the Marquis. He retired a farmer with 3 slaves of his own. (8)Beyond the exploits of various black heroes during the war, many of the Founding Fathers fought for abolition before, and after the war. Ben Franklin and Benjamin Rush founded the American Anti-Slavery Society. John and Sam Adams were vocal advocates for inclusion of abolition in the Declaration of Independence. Even Virginian slave-holders George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in their philosophical awakening and understanding of personal liberty longed to end the practice of slavery. Washington longed for an end to slavery, but did not actively pursue it during his Presidency for fear of tearing the fledgling nation apart. He did however free his own upon the death of his wife. (9) Jefferson was a very outspoken advocate prior to the war for its end, calling it an “abominable crime”.(10)
Working on a More Perfect Union
“Slavery is such an atrocious debasement of human nature, that its very extirpation, if not performed with solicitous care, may sometimes open a source of serious evils.” ~ Benjamin Franklin, An Address to the Public, November, 1789
Current revisionists claim the U.S. Constitution was an inherently racist document; that it does nothing to address slavery, and worse, demeaned the worth of non-white citizens.(11) However, their biggest example of racism is actually the biggest proof of the long term plan to end slavery. The “Three-Fifths” clause of Article I, Section 2 is argued to be proof that the Founders considered blacks as less than a person. But nothing is farther from the truth; it was designed to limit the power of the Southern slave holding States. Even black abolitionist Frederick Douglass (more on him later), who was taught the “racist document” argument, read the Constitution and arguments of the Founders for himself and proclaimed:
“Fellow-citizens! there is no matter in respect to which, the people of the North have allowed themselves to be so ruinously imposed upon, as that of the pro-slavery character of the Constitution. In that instrument I hold there is neither warrant, license, nor sanction of the hateful thing; but, interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT… take the Constitution according to its plain reading and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand, it will be found to contain principles and purpose entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.”(12)
A new nation was born, with heroes of both colors making the Constitution possible. The gears were set in motion for the end of slavery, but the supporters of it were far from defeated. In the next part, I’ll show how blacks continued to contribute to the newborn Republic, and how in the lead-up to the Civil War, one party was born with the purpose to promote government power and to preserve slavery, while another was born out of the desire to see men of all colors made free.
(1) Blake, The History of Slavery and the Slave trade, pp. 370-371
(4) Richard Allen, The Life Experience and Gospel Labors of Rt. Rev. Richard Allen