America’s Original Sin

Here’s BluesNotes for April, 2004 – I hope this finds you well, curious, and happy. This issue of BluesNotes presents excerpts of an article on three books in the NY Review of Books (March 25, 2004) by George M. Fredrickson entitled, America’s Original Sin.

In his article, Fredrickson notes that each of these books offer its own perspective on “the enslavement and brutal exploitation of millions of people of African descent over a period of almost 250 years,” and goes on:

“From whatever angle it is examined … slavery left deep scars that have not yet healed. Its legacy persists to this day in the failure to extend full equality to African-Americans. Slavery and its consequences, these books tell us, were not incidental or secondary aspects of American history but constitute its central theme. Rather than being an exception to the grander themes of liberty and democracy, slavery and the racism it engendered have exposed the shallowness and narrowness of the national commitment to these ideals.”

The quotations cited here come from Challenging the Boundaries of Slavery by David Brion Davis, Harvard University Press, 115 pp., $18.95. This is some pretty stunning stuff. Enjoy this and join me at one of the gigs below if you can. I encourage you to pursue some of the books mentioned below. Note the gigs below that please and join me if you can.

Many thanks for reading along, and for your interest in peace and justice, of course.

There were strong economic reasons for the broad national reach of American Slavery. Southern Slave-grown cotton was by far the nation’s leading export. It powered textile-manufacturing revolutions in both New England and England, and it paid for American imports of everything from steel to investment capital. Moreover, since the price of slaves continued to soar through the antebellum decades, American slaves represented more capital than any other asset in the nation, with the exception of land. In 1860 the value of Southern slaves was about three times the value of the capital stock in manufacturing and railroads nationwide.”

Starting with the Portuguese taking the first slaves out of west African in the early 1400’s, and accelerating through the next four centuries, the greatest population shift that the world had ever seen–most of it from Africa to the Americas–took place by means of the Atlantic slave trade. The article goes on:

“By 1820,” Davis writes, “…at least ten million African slaves had arrived in the New World, as opposed to a grand total of two million Europeans.”

Immediately following this in his article, Fredrickson notes that, “the shocking fact is that by 1820, the two million Europeans had become twelve million, whereas the ten million Africans had left only six million descendants. No other set of figures so graphically illustrates the inhumanity of slavery and the slave trade.”

Fredrickson continues, “What was new about New World slavery was not only the sheer numbers involved, but also its specifically racial character.” Davis points out that, “degrading stereotypes of the slave” had long existed but were now for the first time associated exclusively with people of African ancestry. The linkage of Africans with slavery and servility was, Davis concludes, “at the heart of white racism.”

Fredrickson makes the the plain and obvious assertion that “once the association was made between servitude and pigmentation, it would take more than the abolition of slavery itself to remove the stigma associated with blackness.”

Books cited in Fredrickson’s article:
Challenging the Boundaries of Slavery
by David Brion Davis
Harvard University Press, 115 pp., $18.95.

Generations of Captivity: A History of American Slaves
by Ira Berlin
Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 374 pp., $29.95

The Slave Holding Republic: An Account of the United States Government’s Relations to Slavery
by Don E. Fehrenbacher, completed and edited by Ward M. McAfee
Oxford University Press, 466 pp., $19.95.

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