Frederick Douglas was born a slave in Maryland in the late 1820’s, he can only guess how old he is, like most slaves he did not know when he was born. He escaped slavery on his second attempt to run away to the Northern states, and not only did he teach himself how to read, he became a spell-binding orator and abolitionist, agitating for the end of slavery, and becoming a best-selling author, publishing three autobiographies, other books and a newspaper. Some bigots claimed it was impossible for an ex-slave to be able to write that well, though they could not argue that it was not him making his speeches. […]
Booker T Washington’s autobiography, Up From Slavery, offers an interesting glimpse in what it was like to be born a slave, live through the tumultuous Civil War era, and as a young man to experience the consequences blacks faced with the end of Reconstruction when the Ku Klux Klan night-riders enslaved the former black slaves anew through terror by lynching them, burning their bodies and their farm and their churches, suppressing them and denying them justice, even denying them the ability to defend themselves in daylight through the courts. […]
Dubois’ subhead reads: “How civil war in the South began again, indeed had never ceased; and how black Prometheus bound to the Rock of Ages by hate, hurt an humiliation, has his vitals eaten out as they grow, yet lives and fights.” Dubois continues: “The civil war in the South which overthrew Reconstruction was a determined effort to reduce black labor as nearly as possible to a condition of unlimited exploitation and build a new class of capitalists on this foundation. The wage of the Negro, despite the war amendments, was to be reduced to the level of bare subsistence by taxation, peonage, caste, and every form of discrimination, in open defiance of the clear letter of the law.”
An eyewitness tells a Senate Committee: “Some planters held back their former slaves on their plantations by brute force. Armed bands of white men patrolled the country roads to drive back the Negroes wandering about. Dead bodies of murdered Negroes were found on and near the highways and byways. Gruesome reports came from the hospitals, reports of colored men and women whose ears had been cut off, whose skulls had been broken by blows, whose bodies have been slashed by knives or lacerated with scourges. A veritable reign of terror prevailed in many parts of the South.” […]
Southerners were stubborn, Southerners were intransigent, Southerners could never accept St Paul’s declaration that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It was anathema, unthinkable, incomprehensible that Southerners, and many Northerners, would ever regard negroes as equal to free white men, in their eyes negroes were inferior, they would always be subservient. General Sherman may have burned Atlanta and destroyed livestock, crops, and railroads in his mark to the sea; General Grant may have continually fought and flanked Robert E Lee until he was cornered and cut off from supplies at Appomattox; these two Union generals may have momentarily exhausted the ability of the Southern generals to continue the war; but the true Civil War to change racial attitudes is a war that is being fought to this very day.
The South may have lost the Civil War, but it won the peace. The history of Reconstruction is in three phases. In Presidential Reconstruction lenient terms entice the Southern states back into the Union, but the South overreaches, enacting black codes so harsh that they effectively re-enslave the free blacks to their former masters, denying blacks any rights as citizens. Radical Reconstruction is enacted when many in the North to be outraged by the attitudes of their Confederates, the Radical Republicans gain a veto-proof majority in both houses of Congress, the South is placed under military rule, and new elections are held and policies that benefit free blacks are enforced. But there is mass resistance, the Ku Klux Klan and similar white supremacy bands spring up, terrorizing the South in their night rides and burning crosses, lynchings become commonplace. The Panic of 1873 causes a deep recession, Northern public opinion tires of the endless struggle against the old Confederacy, leading to the final phase, Redemption. Federal troops are withdrawn from the South and the Southerners are free to rule as they see fit, Jim Crow laws are passed denying blacks their civil liberties and their ability to live a normal life with a decent paying job. The KKK and other night riders step up their lynchings to intimidate blacks, in some cases violently overthrowing legitimately elected local governments. […]
To win the war, Lincoln drafted the Emancipation Proclamation, shared it with his Cabinet, and then pocketed the document until the fortunes of war improved for the North. After the victory at the Battle of Antietam and Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, Lincoln released the Emancipation Proclamation as an executive order issued under his war powers as Commander-In-Chief in September 1862.
What the Emancipation Proclamation did not do was emancipate any slaves immediately, nor did it emancipate the slaves in the border states loyal to the Union cause. Lincoln proclaimed that if the Confederacy surrendered by January 1, 1863, she could keep her slaves, but if the rebellion persisted after that date all slaves in the rebelling states would be free.
David Blight in his lecture says:
There were at least four immediate and visible effects of the Emancipation Proclamation. First, every forward movement the Union armies now would, whether some of those officers liked it or not, liberate more slaves. Second, news of this Proclamation, whatever the details and the fine print, would spread like wildfire across the South, and it would attract towards Union lines more freed people. We have testimony of Confederate soldiers and white Southerners saying they first heard about the Emancipation Proclamation from their slaves. Third, it committed the United States Government in the eyes of the world to Emancipation. That’s terribly important when we remember that Great Britain was on the verge of recognizing the Confederacy as an independent nation. Fourth, Lincoln formally authorizes once and for all, although it’s already begun to happen, the recruitment of black men into the Union Armies and Navy, and it authorizes a formal process now to recruit black men to the Union uniform. And before the war will end about ten percent of all Union forces will be African American– approximately 180,000–eighty percent of whom were former slaves, from the slave states. […]
When Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe, he remarked, So you are the little lady whose little book started the Civil War. This book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was the best-selling book by far in 1852, eventually selling over a million copies, galvanizing Northern opinion about the horrors of slavery. This romantic novel from the point of view of ordinary slaves, and it really promoted that the lives of even slaves should have dignity, they were not just mere property like cows or horses, that slaves could the heroes and heroines of a tragic novel allowing the reader to imagine the horrors of a life lived bound in chains, of souls bound in cruel inequities, of human beings bound in a life of unending cruelties.
The antithesis of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott vs Sanford in 1857. Dred Scott was a slave who sued his master for his freedom as his master moved him and his family between slave states and free states that banned slavery under the Missouri Compromise law. The Southern Chief Justice Roger Taney held that no negro had ever enjoyed the rights of a citizen under the Constitution. Negroes were denied the dignity of personhood, negroes were always property and would also remain property, negroes were declared by the Supreme Court decision to be “so far inferior that they had no rights which a white man was bound to respect.” This decision, which denied that the Constitution gave Congress the right to bar slavery in the territories, enraged public opinion in the North, bolstering the popularity of Lincoln and the Republican Party […]
Slavery in the ancient world was not based solely on race like in the Confederate South. Slavery in the ancient world happened to you when your city was conquered or when you were kidnapped by pirates. When a city was defeated the women and children were often enslaved, the men were often slaughtered, though sometimes they were enslaved to work in the mines. Or if you could not pay your bills you could be sold into slavery. […]
We are tempted to view slavery as something that went away with the Civil War, that with regards to slavery the modern world is so morally superior to the ancient world. The truth is that there were no employees in the ancient world, that slaves in the ancient worlds did the work that employees are hired to do in today’s world.
To understand the role of slaves in the ancient world we have a totally distorted picture when we only focus on the moral wrong of owning another person, treating servants like talking draft animals. The other aspect of slavery is paying someone such low wages that they cannot feed their family with dignity, that they feel like they live forever on the edge of the abyss, where the slightest crisis could force them to live in the streets. Someone who earns starvation wages is very much a modern-day slave. […]