Thoughts on “Slave Nation”

Slave Nation:
How Slavery United the Colonies
& Sparked the American Revolution

SlaveNation coverAlfred W. & Ruth G. Blumrosen, (Sourcebooks, Inc., 2005).

by Scott Ainslie

Fiat Justitia, Ruat Coelum [1]*
[Latin: Let Justice be done, though the heavens may fall.]

No one in America – black, white, red, yellow, or brown – gets to grow up without having to struggle in some way with racism, and attending issues pegged to the color of one’s skin.

This very stubborn truth troubled the authors of Slave Nation.

Alfred Blumrosen and his late wife Ruth worked as Professors of Law at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Throughout their careers, both specialized in Civil Rights compliance, labor and employment equity, and both worked with Eleanor Holmes Norton when she chaired the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And Norton wrote the introduction for their book.

Throughout their work and married lives, the Blumrosens asked themselves, “Why has race always been such an issue in America?”

It is a powerful question.

In Slave Nation, they have provided a powerful, if disturbing answer by researching and then providing a readable and revealing look at America’s early history.

Pulling at the threads of race, racism, class, slavery, and the persistent subjugation of people of color in America, the Blumrosens have rendered a history of the United States that is firmly rooted in the actual history of the country, rather than the sweet, idealistic, and misleading pablum found in elementary, middle and high school texts.

Coming to terms with the Founding Fathers and the colonists’s pre-Revolutionary struggles and compromises to preserve a spot in the Republic for hereditary, lifelong human slavery, the oft-promoted myth of America loses some of its brightness.

Seen through the deforming lens of slavery, at best, America appears to be a work-in-progress that is still hobbled by its original sin, rather than John Winthrop’s, or later Ronald Reagan’s, “shining city on the hill.”

King’s Bench, 1772: The Case of James Somerset

Opening with Lord Mansfield’s 1772 ruling from the King’s Bench denying the return of the escaped slave James Somerset to his owner American customs agent Charles Stewart, Slave Nation traces the frantic and uncompromising determination of slaveholders to preserve and extend hereditary slavery – promoting an internal slave market across the American south while extending the right to establish slave markets in the new territories as the colonies expanded to the west.

The level of fanaticism in defense of slavery is a simple measure of the dependency of southern Whites on Blacks. And the pernicious nature of that fanaticism for retaining human beings as ‘property’ was on full display in the run up to Mansfield’s landmark 1772 decision.

Lord Mansfield ruled on the Somerset case only after considerable foot-dragging. The King’s Bench was the oldest and highest common law court in England where, in earlier years, the king himself sat in judgment. As in earlier cases, Mansfield delicately forewarned Stewart from the bench and delayed his ruling – as the court had with others in similar circumstances – to allow Stewart time to consider freeing his slave and rendering the case moot, rather than force the court to rule on the institution of slavery itself.

Stewart was having none of it.

So, in June of 1772, Mansfield ruled that the state of slavery was so odious to the tradition of English Common Law that, absent a statute specifically allowing it, it must be assumed that a man cannot be owned or forcibly sold at home or abroad.

Mansfield closed his statement this way:

“We cannot say the cause set forth by this return [of Somerset to his owner Stewart] is allowed or approved of by the laws of this kingdom, therefore the man must be discharged.”[2]

In this single decision on the disposition of a single slave, the law of the mother country turned against slavery. The King’s Bench concluded that the institution and fact of slavery were an insult to common law tradition and entirely outside any legal justification in the kingdom. Fiat justicia, ruat coelum, indeed. Mansfield’s decision freed all 12,000 slaves held on English soil. And as English law, the ruling would eventually apply to all British subjects – in all her various colonies.

Slaveholders Large & Small

The King’s Bench Somerset decision sent a shock wave throughout the colonies, but the reaction was particularly extreme in the southern colonies, where race-based chattel slavery had made white slaveholders both the wealthiest group in America and entirely dependent upon unpaid Black labor.

Quoted in Slave Nation, economist James A. Henretta explained,

“White southerners had more wealth than white northerners, only because black southerners had none.”[3]

Though the vast majority of white slaveholders held only one or two slaves (not the hundreds held and bred for and often by the plantation gentry), these few unpaid laborers were often enough to allow small farmers to spare the labor of a child and send them to be educated.

In the zero sum game of allocating the precious daylight work hours of a day, week, month, or year, to either fieldwork or schoolwork – Blacks got the fieldwork; Whites got the educations.

And the compounding benefit of getting that education, as well as the compounding deficit of being denied one, both remain active legacies in white and black communities down through the generations.

Social Status

When viewed from above, the inherited privileges of Whites in America are largely invisible, while White privilege and the inherited burdens of being black in America, seen from below, are painfully clear.

In addition to economic and educational benefits, the Blumrosens point to the issue of increased social status automatically accorded to Whites:

“…the existence of black slaves provided the poor white slave owner with a status that connected him with his betters and distinguished him from those destined to labor forever. These conditions gave most poor whites an incentive to protect slavery that was equivalent to, or exceeded, the more obvious interests of those who held a greater number of slaves.”[4]

The Historic Benefits of Exploiting Racial Animus

America’s penchant for dividing working class laborers by race – and providing for the social, economic, and legal dominion of one over the other – has long served the owning classes. By keeping white and black workers at each others’ throats, the owning classes in the South have avoided having workers at their throats.

It is for this reason that the northern spinning mills and shoe factories moved South after the Civil War: it was far easier to manipulate labor in the racially divided South than it was in North where line workers were all essentially in the same boat. The South was essentially colonized by the northern banks, industrialists, and insurance companies. The South didn’t just lose the war, but the race to industrialize and capitalize.

And the South remains the part of the country where so-called ‘right to work’ laws are most common.

The economically profitable manipulation of labor behind these laws is plain: workers are guaranteed the ‘right to work’ (without the protection, wages, safer working conditions, or benefits that having a union would bring).

This self-defeating ‘right’ to work for subsistence wages and have no say in how they were treated or abused was sold to white workers as a way of continuing to protect and maintain their isolation from, and supposed superiority, over Blacks. The owners sidestepped unions in order to avoid paying Southerners of either color a living wage.

The owners also avoided fights over providing humane working conditions, limiting work hours, ending child labor, or providing any of the benefits that were commonly demanded by workers in the North. The White superiority stoked by the owning classes fueled a fair amount of bloodshed and reinvigorated the KKK as enforcers for a social status for Whites that masked an economic order that served the owners and failed workers of both colors.

Beginning in the early years of the 20th Century, Birmingham’s steel and coal industrialists routinely employed the Ku Klux Klan to attack and intimidate any hapless labor organizer that turned up talking about worker’s rights.

It was only in 1963, when the cost of being referred to as “Bombing-ham” in the national press, that rich, white Birmingham begin to consider that maybe their enforcers were going a little too far. The industrialists essentially cut the Klan loose after the September, 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that killed four young black girls as they were sprucing up to usher at the morning service, decapitating one.[5]

The bloody history of America’s civil rights struggle can be tracked easily to the artificially enforced marginally better social ranking of poor southern whites over poor southern blacks.

The industrialists’ self-serving inflation of these residual, color-based attitudes pushed by the economic elite of the South, yielded one very simply, profoundly deforming idea: A man may be ignorant, poor, and unable to care for his family, but at least he’s not black.

The Klan and other hate groups across the nation have always been populated by people who seem determined to live their lives trapped within the narrow social and economic options that follow from talk like that. They align themselves with the interests of their economic oppressors and become ignorant tools for maintaining their own substandard wages.

It’s amazing to continue to behold.

Instead of blaming the industrialists (who were reaping millions by paying them wages guaranteeing that they would be unable to adequately support their families), Whites blamed even lower-paid Blacks.

Extending the Exploitation Today

Sadly, this lopsided manipulation of labor by a savvy corporate upper class isn’t just a matter for the history books.

Today, Latino and Mexican immigrants seem to be replacing Blacks at the bottom of the social pecking order as white and black members of the working class continue to have their attention expertly turned away from the system that exploits them to attack the most recent, slightly worse off victims of the very established social and economic order that victimizes them.

In another obvious example, the rich and secretive Koch Brothers have underwritten, promoted, and provided talking points for the poor Tea Party. Having suffered the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression – caused by the weakening of regulation by the Gingrich Congress, and the resulting fraud, gambling, corruption of Wall Street’s investment houses and bankers, these poor Tea Party people have – with considerable encouragement from the Koch Brothers and other corporatists in the media and Congress – chosen to blame not the banks, but the government.

Once again, by deft sleight of hand, a very few of the richest people in the country have managed to goad overworked and underpaid working class people into attacking their only natural ally in the picture that has the power to help them by regulating and prosecuting the banks. Divorcing natural allies, while avoiding the glare of public scrutiny is a venerable tradition in America.

The shell game to hoodwink the working poor continues unabated.

Indenture is temporary; Slavery is permanent

Race or skin color-based-slavery is something that colonists only conclusively turned to after the 1676 rebellion of white indentured servants in Virginia. The escaped white indentures were next to impossible to find in the relatively isolated and fragmented white communities of colonial America.

A skin-color based system of permanent, hereditary slavery, where the offspring of slave mothers would be forever slaves (whether fathered by masters, sons of masters, or by other slaves) resolved the problem of identifying escapees neatly, but with a significant change.

As the Blumrosens put it, while:

“Black slavery was hereditary; white indentured servitude was temporary.”[6]

Southerners fought to preserve and extend their rights to create and market their property as they, not Northerners – defined it. In the southern mind, slaves were undifferentiated from cotton, tobacco, lumber, land, horses, cows, chickens, pigs, or sheep.

The Second Slave Economy: Selling Human Beings

The hereditary nature of permanent servitude, with enslavement following the status of the mother, created a second slave economy that eventually eclipsed the first.

The selling of cheaply-created black children became a significant engine of profit for slaveholders, at various times outstripping the value of the agricultural products the slaves produced. This led to a call for banning the trans-Atlantic slave trade from some strange quarters.

Dreams of Monopoly:
Virginians Hope to Stop Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

As early as the late 1700s, Virginians loudly clamored for an end to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, providing unexpected evidence that marketing slave children to new slaveholders (in anticipate western territories) had become an important part of the slave-based southern economy.

Virginia’s slaveholders wanted the young nation to prevent any encroachment into, or restrictions on, the continental slave marketplace from new African imports, introduced by established extra-national, slaving corporations. (Some of the first corporations of the world were formed to concentrate capital while dispersing the moral responsibility for the slave trade.)

17th – 19th Century Race-Mixing: Selling Their Own Children

With the legal state of permanent enslavement passing through the womb of a slave mother, a powerful and perverse economic incentive was set up that encouraged the rape of slave women by their owners or their owners sons (it can hardly be called ‘consensual’ when slaves had no volitional control of their physical, legal, social, economic, or political rights).

Any social prohibition against sexual contact between white men and black women paled beside the profit and pleasure motives of male slaveholders. If the genders were reversed, of course, the results of a black man being accused of having sex with, or sometimes even looking, at a white woman, were predictably fatal.

White slaveholders and their male heirs, commonly impregnated black women that they owned (or after ‘emancipation,’ in every aspect, controlled). The raping of black women for profit (or pleasure) remained a tradition that was entirely resistant to the commonly heard southern protestations about keeping the races separate.

The Southerners’ loudly trumpeted defense of racial purity and their vehement protection of white womanhood was never extended to women of color. Exactly the opposite, in fact.

Knowing the widespread and common nature of cross-racial rape across the South, it is incumbent on us to acknowledge that many slaveholding fathers actually held and/or sold their own children and grandchildren into the burgeoning market for indigenous slaves.

By now, it is well known that the Civil War was fought to expand the market for indigenously-bred slaves to the western territories, rather than simply to prop up the already failing agricultural products raised by the slave economy in the South. The money had shifted from raising crops to selling people.

By the late 19th Century, much of the settled farmland in the South had been exhausted by tobacco and cotton cultivation. It took only three or four seasons to destroy the potential of a piece of ground for growing tobacco.

The real money in slavery was in impregnating slave women and selling their children, rather than simply marketing the commodities those slaves raised. Without the prospect of an open slave market in western territories for selling off excess slaves, the Southern economy was slowly collapsing under its own weight.

20th Century: A Southern Tradition Continues

The common, quietly accepted, socially (and maritally) ignored sexual intercourse between dominant white men and subjugated black women did not stop when the Civil War was over. Like other indignities, white-on-black sexual assault bled over into the Jim Crow South, and then, into the Twentieth Century.

As late as 1926, proud Ku Klux Klan member and future segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond – a man who fought for the rights of Whites to drink from water fountains and use separate restroom facilities uncontaminated by the touch of black skin – impregnated the family’s young black maid.

Sexual relations between white men and black women had, by that time, been institutionalized in the south. Making love to women they would not deign to eat with, never troubled a southerner’s conscience.

After a lifetime of secrecy, Strom Thurmond’s mixed-race daughter, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, passed away early in February (by then, designated against Thurmond’s protestations as ‘Black History Month’), in 2003 at the age of 87.

Guaranteeing Black Slavery to Secure White Freedom

What we learn from Slave Nation is that America Revolution was principally made possible and the nation subsequently established by agreements between the North and South (free and slave) states that assured the unmolested survival of race-based hereditary slavery for nearly another century and black subjugation for nearly two and a half.

In their summary chapter, the Blumrosens write:

“The founders – through the decisions of 1774 through 1787 – created tensions that have defined our policies and politics for more than two hundred thirty years.”[7]

White southerners’ economic and social dependence on the subjugation of Blacks has sadly chained all subsequent generations of Americans to a stubborn legacy of racism and discrimination that continues to confound and cripple the us all.

The greatest irony and hypocrisy of our racist history is that – as the slaveholder Thomas Jefferson declared, and later Lincoln both famously echoed – America was founded on the proposition that ‘All men are created equal.’

The Revolutionary freedoms that Whites enjoyed (and enjoy still) were quietly but openly bought at the cost of guaranteeing the continued enslavement and complete physical, economic, legal, and social subjugation of Blacks in America.

States Rights: Founding A Land of Slavery

The “States’ Rights” cry will be familiar to contemporary audiences, but history shows us that it has always been coded-speech for the defense of the enslavement (and later subjugation) of Blacks. As early as two years after the Somerset decision, the Blumrosens note:

“…the British actions against Boston in 1774, that had already occurred by the time the First Continental Congress met in September, aroused such colonial anger that the southerners did not have to publicly assert their desire to preserve slavery.

“The South cloaked that desire within the general demand for colonial liberty and the protection of property – concepts that were broad enough to encompass both the commercial interests of the North and the slavery interests of the South…”[8]

And, later:

“Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, reviewing the history of slavery in Virginia and several other states concluded “From the perspective of the black masses, the Revolution merely assured the plantation owners of their right to continue the legal tyranny of slavery.”[9]

This fact was horrifying to at least one hero of the American Revolution, a man for whom many American cities are named. The Blumrosens wrote that:

“The Marquis de Lafayette, the French nobleman who served as Washington’s aide during the Revolution and who led a charge at Yorktown, certainly felt that way:

 “I would never have drawn my sword in the cause of America, if I could have conceived that, thereby, I was founding a land of slavery.”[10]

Even though sentiment in significant parts of the North had turned against slavery before the Revolution, northern commercial interests were by and large still more interested in freedom from economic meddling and interference from England, than they were in the cause of universal natural rights and freedom:

“Slavery, although legal, was much less prevalent in the northern colonies and northern attitudes toward slavery were uncertain. The southerners needed to understand the Massachusetts view of slavery.

“Southerners would have heard that radical lawyer James Otis’s argument before the Superior Court of Massachusetts in 1760 against “writs of assistance” included an attack on slavery as a violation of ‘natural rights.’ In 1764 he wrote: “The colonists are by the law of nature fee born, as indeed all men are, white or black.”[11]

Though this is disturbing to those of us who were schooled in the myth or the ideals of American Independence, the plain truth is that America fought the Revolutionary War to preserve its freedom to continue to enslave and subjugate Blacks.

In the context of the South’s reaction to Lord Mansfield’s ruling in the Somerset case, the colonial motto: “Don’t Tread On Me” takes on a darker and more ominous meaning.

In the South: Property Rights Over Human Rights

Ninety years after the Revolution, America fought the Civil War to decide the future of slavery. When the North won that contest, southern White terrorists, the KKK and White Citizens Councils subverted the goal decided by the war.

With shockingly brazen and violent vigilantism, southern Whites brought Reconstruction to a bloody end. The North’s weariness with sacrificing the lives of northern boys to resolve southern problems prompted Federal authority’s withdrawal from the South, guaranteed that the hopeful interlude of black participation would end.

The political, social, economic, personal, and legal aspirations of Blacks would be systematically frustrated, and the compounding damage of their enslavement extended, well into the 1960s and 70s.

The contemporaneous Southern motivations for joining the Revolution are perhaps best expressed in a letter from slaveholder John Rutledge of South Carolina to John Jay of New York, written on June 29, 1776.

In this letter, one must understand that, to a Southerner, the phrase ‘fluctuating of property,’ meant meddling with the status of slaves:

“The idea of destroying all provincial distinctions and making everything of the most minute kind end to what they call ‘the good of the whole,’ is in other terms to say these colonies must be subject to the government of the eastern provinces…I dread their low cunning, and those leveling principles which men without character and without fortune in general possess, which are so captivating to the lower class of mankind, and which will occasion such a fluctuating of property as to introduce the greater disorder.”[12]

As the Blumrosens rightly conclude:

“This candid comment captures the concerns that the new government, influenced by northerners, would destabilize the political and economic order. Rutledge feared that the poorer, but more numerous, would take or tax the property (slaves) of the rich.”[13]

Westward Expansion: Critical New Slave Markets

After the Revolution, the ‘settled’ boundaries of the nation continued to be pushed westward. Land holdings exhausted by tobacco and cotton farming were abandoned for unspoiled lands to the west. This amplified both the existing pressures in the South to extend slavery and expand slave markets, and the North’s the resistance to any such expansion of slavery.

Following the Revolution, retired, unrewarded Continental soldiers were eager to move west into Ohio.

“Southerners producing tobacco needed new land, because tobacco ruined the soil after a few years. Northerners, especially former military personnel, wanted new space in the Ohio country – space that was free of slavery. Most of the work of settling new lands was hard labor, and the presence of slavery would have reduced the value of white labor by half.”[14]

Unable to prosper in the overpopulated east, where all the land was controlled by others (as had been the case for centuries in Europe, prompting the rush to America); these veterans rightly feared competition from slave labor, the depressed wages competition with slave labor would create, and the very real prospect of social, political and economic domination by Southern plantation and slaveholding interests in the new territory.

The Constitutional Compromises of 1787

In the summer and fall of 1786, the Constitutional Convention foundered on the issue of slavery.

Fearing an eventual northern threat to their social and economic dependence on Blacks, white Southerners insisted that Blacks be counted as 3/5ths of a person when establishing and implementing the population formulas used to determine representation in Congress.

By counting Blacks as 3/5ths of a person – people who had no legal or political status in any court of law, the southerners were insisting on padding the relative representation of Southern states, thereby inflating their influence in Congress.

“The South wanted slaves to count in their representation in order to preserve slavery; the North would not stand for a government where Whites, with the advantage of votes assigned because they had slaves, would create a slave nation.”[15]

As both North and South looked greedily westward, the Constitutional Convention came to a complete halt in full view of failure during the summer of 1786.

Though larger and smaller states were concerned with issues of equitable representation, the polarization of North and South had come openly to turn with exquisite precision on the issue of protecting and perpetuating slavery.

In Philadelphia, on June 30, 1786, James Madison rose to address the Constitutional Convention. In his contemporaneous notes, he recorded his statement as follows:

“The States were divided into different interests not by their difference in size, but by other circumstances; the most material of which resulted partly from climate, but principally from (the effects of) their having, or not having, slaves.

“These two causes concurred in forming the great division of interests in the U. States It did not lie between the large and small states; it lay between the northern and southern. And if any defensive powers were necessary, it ought to be mutually given to these two interests.”[16]

Eventually, to save the Union and the Constitutional Convention, a momentous idea with long-lasting (and eventually quite deadly) consequences was proposed. If the Blumrosens’ informed conjecture is correct, this came from none other than the hand of old Ben Franklin.

Ben Franklin & the Northwest Compromise

Born in 1706, Franklin was 81 at the time of the Convention, but still an intellect to be reckoned with. Because of his physical infirmities, Franklin attended the Convention sporadically. But he lived just a few blocks away and kept himself apprised on the issues and debate. An experienced negotiator and embassador, Franklin generally wrote out his comments, or sent his ideas to the convention by way of others.

Whether it actually was Franklin’s idea or not, the proposal that would bring slaveholding and non-slaveholding states together to form a imperfect union would further divide the nation North and South, slave and free, as expansion moved westward.

It was proposed that, in the face of the 3/5ths rule – which distorted the influence of southerners over northerners in Congress – the territory north of the Ohio River would forever remain free of slavery.

The First Territorial Compromise: Separating Slave and Free

This first territorial compromise on slavery’s expansion, made between slave and free states, laid the groundwork for subsequent deals. Such deals would eventually culminate in the Civil War. By the early 1800s, the 1787 demarcation of slave and free territory along the Ohio River had created noticeable differences on either side of the Ohio.

In 1835, during his tour of America, Alexis de Tocqueville remarked about startling discrepancies on either side of the Ohio River (slave labor to the south; free labor to the north). Heading upstream in his account, de Tocqueville wrote:

“Upon the left bank of the stream (South), the population is sparse; from time to time, one discerns a troop of slaves loitering in the half-desert fields; the primeval forest reappears at every turn; society seems to be asleep, man to be idle, and nature alone offers a scene of activity and life.

“From the right (North) bank, on the contrary, a confused hum is heard, which proclaims afar the presence of industry; the fields are covered with abundant harvests; the elegance of the dwellings announces the taste and activity of the laborers; and man appears to be in the enjoyment of that wealth and contentment which is the reward of labor.”[17]

The difference between what a man did freely and what a man constrained would do was dramatic and remarkable.

The Cost of Freedom: Centuries of Black Slavery & Subjugation

Over the course of reading this refocused history of the Revolutionary period in Slave Nation, we have noted that it becomes quite clear that here is a key that will unlock many of the confusing, often chaotic and violent contradictions that have for so long seemed endemic to America: America’s founding was only possible when North-South compromises that guaranteed the continuing enslavement of Blacks had been enshrined in the Constitution.

If this is startling to us, that is only because throughout our lives, in school and out, we have learned and heard more about America’s ideals than we have about her history.

As Slave Nation concludes, the Blumrosens write:

“The various compromises of the founding fathers produced a single nation. The price slaves paid for the maintenance of that nation was nearly a hundred more years of slavery, and another hundred years of subordination to white ‘superiority.’ Their descendants – indeed, all citizens – should understand the price they paid for our liberties.”[18]

Interestingly, in the book’s closing pages, we find text taken from the last letter Thomas Jefferson wrote before his death.

Lamenting that he was too ill to come to Washington, DC to celebrate the 50th anniversary the ‘Declaration of Independence’, Jefferson wrote that he was pleased that the sentiments expressed in the document still commanded “the allegiance of his countrymen.” He believed that the Declaration continued to be:

‘…the rousing signal to men to…the palpable truth that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them.”[19]

Trapped between his own idealism and his aristocratic privileges, Jefferson was one of the wealthiest slaveholders in Virginia, at least on paper. At Monticello, Jefferson owned more than 200 slaves. But his estate was weighed down with a considerable debt, run up over the course of his lifetime.

Jefferson formally freed only two slaves in his lifetime: his common law brothers-in-law, the brothers of his slave and mistress Sally Hemmings.

Jefferson also allowed just two of his four slave children, fathered with Hemmings, to ‘escape.’ His remaining two half-black children were freed through his will after his death, which occurred just shortly after the letter quoted above was composed. Jefferson was one of those “favored few [born] booted and spurred, ready to ride them.”

Race: America’s Birth Defect

It is no wonder we Americans are crippled and obsessed with issues of race. Our nation was born with a particularly far-reaching and damaging congenital deformity: slavery. Like a crazy Aunt in a bad southern novel, we’ve been hiding our racial history in the attic.

It is long past time to deal with the shameful parts of our history openly. Isn’t the first step toward healing admitting that we have a problem?

Right To Work (For Lower Wages & Longer Hours)

Our history of torturous and bloody race relations has masked the underlying issues of economic manipulation, class and equity that can be found to one degree or another in almost all human societies.

In other societies – absent our particular history of race-based economic, legal, socially and physically-enforced exploitation and discrimination – issues of fairness and equity are dealt with more openly by the gradual and natural formation of guilds, mutual benefit societies, unions, and political parties based upon shared interests and needs.

These formal and informal institutions are the precise social and economic mechanisms that Northern industrialists moved south after the Civil War to avoid.

By demonizing Blacks and stressing inherent White supremacy, the owning interests separated men and women who struggled next to each other, doing similar if not the same jobs for subsistence wages; each unable to adequately feed, clothe, house, or educate their children.

Distracting working people from the obvious class-based distinctions between owners and workers by showcasing and pressing race-based social distinctions between workers themselves, kept rich Whites rich and their workers scrabbling amongst themselves over the economically irrelevant issue of skin color.

Even today, workers have almost no representation. There are very few unions in the South.

Correcting the Astigmatism of Race: Rising Generations

In the early years of the 21st Century, we have new generations rising, North and South. They have been raised in desegregated schools, with more formal and informal interracial contact. They have naturally built interracial friendships and relationships that were less likely in previous decades and illegal if not lethal in many parts of the nation before the 1960s.

These new generations were raised in the very different social norms that began to gradually gather steam in the 1960s. A certain portion of the functioning racist social infrastructure for the subjugation of people of color will certainly atrophy as earlier generations die and these generations mature.

But still, if left uncorrected, the astigmatism of this inherited racism will continue to deform our vision of who we are as a nation. We have to know our history, if we will transcend it.

Slave Nation makes very clear that the economic, political, and social deals our Founding Fathers cut to bridge the gap between slavery’s defenders and free labor states remain deeply embedded in our history and beyond that in our own personally held ideas of who we, as Americans are.

Our ability to form an accurate perception of America remains obstructed by more than two centuries of educational and social indoctrination.

The durability of the carefully nurtured, deeply held blind spots around slavery and race continue to obscure our understanding of our history. The success of this racial propaganda would be the envy of the politburo of any Soviet bloc state trapped behind the Iron Curtain, any Serb or Croat or Khmer Rouge in their respective killing fields. Even the North Koreans would be envious of the success of the myth of America in the face of the facts of America.

Freeing Ourselves: An American Truth Commission

It is past time to tear down these popular fictions and free all Americans from the weight of our collective belief in a story about America that, though fondly held, is a lie.

It is time for a truth commission in America, modeled of the one in South Africa. We need a formal process by which the original sins of our nation can be acknowledged and confessed. Only then progress can be made toward establishing a fair and reasonable communal sense of resolution and take a step closer to actually becoming the just society we have long fancied ourselves to be.

It will only be with considerable effort on all sides that we will be able to begin to forgive ourselves and each other. But, if we can find the strength to actually see who we are as a nation and acknowledge what do and have done, we will then be able to take a step away from the shameful and bloody history that has been piled up. And a step towards the ideals that were so hopefully professed in our founding documents, by so many flawed men, so long ago.

[1] [Pron: Fee-at Yus-ti-tee-ah Ru-at Kii-lum]

[2] Slave Nation, p. 11.

[3] Slave Nation, p. 25-26.

[4] Slave Nation, p. 26.

[5] I recommend “Slavery By Another Name” by Douglas A. Blackmon; and “Carry Me Home” by Diane McWhorter for a deeper look at the racial impact of 20th Century American business practices.

[6] Slave Nation, p. 256.

[7] Slave Nation, p. 256.

[8] Slave Nation, p. 108.

[9] Slave Nation, p. 143.

[10] Slave Nation, p. 97.

[11] Slave Nation, p. 83-84.

[12] Slave Nation, p. 147.

[13] Slave Nation, p. 148.

[14] Slave Nation, p. 158.

[15] Slave Nation, p. 186.

[16] Slave Nation, p. 178-79.

[17] Slave Nation, p. 248.

[18] Slave Nation, p. 224.

[19] Slave Nation, p. 257.

Scott Ainslie

Born in Rochester NY in 1952, Scott Ainslie has been playing music on something since he was three years old. A guitarist since 1967 with powerful appreciation for and apprenticeships with elder black and white musicians in different musical traditions, Ainslie carries a portion of them forward in his own traditional blues performances and songwriting.

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