ONTD Political

10 Things You Should Know About Slavery and Won’t Learn at ‘Django’

11:49 am - 01/10/2013
Much hullabaloo has been made recently about slavery as entertainment in movies like “Django Unchained.” But lost in the discussion is slavery as history, and the simple fact that it was an economic system which seized the economic know-how of Africans in order to construct unimaginable wealth in North America, Europe and throughout the Western Hemisphere. Wealth from the slave trade took Western Europe from being one of the world’s poorest regions to its wealthiest and most powerful in under a century.

Though sadistic and macabre, the plain truth is that slavery was an unprecedented economic juggernaut whose impact is still lived by each of us daily. Consequently, here’s my top-10 list of things everyone should know about the economic roots of slavery.

1) Slavery laid the foundation for the modern international economic system.
The massive infrastructure required to move 8 to 10 million Africans halfway around the world built entire cities in England and France, such as Liverpool, Manchester and Bordeaux. It was key to London’s emergence as a global capital of commerce, and spurred New York’s rise as a center of finance. The industry to construct, fund, staff, and administer the thousands of ships which made close to 50,000 individual voyages was alone a herculean task. The international financial and distribution networks required to coordinate, maintain and profit from slavery set the framework for the modern global economy.

2) Africans’ economic skills were a leading reason for their enslavement.
Africans possessed unique expertise which Europeans required to make their colonial ventures successful. Africans knew how to grow and cultivate crops in tropical and semi-tropical climates. African rice growers, for instance, were captured in order to bring their agricultural knowledge to America’s sea islands and those of the Caribbean. Many West African civilizations possessed goldsmiths and expert metal workers on a grand scale. These slaves were snatched to work in Spanish and Portuguese gold and silver mines throughout Central and South America. Contrary to the myth of unskilled labor, large numbers of Africans were anything but.

3) African know-how transformed slave economies into some of the wealthiest on the planet.
The fruits of the slave trade funded the growth of global empires. The greatest source of wealth for imperial France was the “white gold” of sugar produced by Africans in Haiti. More riches flowed to Britain from the slave economy of Jamaica than all of the original American 13 colonies combined. Those resources underwrote the Industrial Revolution and vast improvements in Western Europe’s economic infrastructure.

4) Until it was destroyed by the Civil War, slavery made the American South the richest and most powerful region in America.
Slavery was a national enterprise, but the economic and political center of gravity during the U.S.’s first incarnation as a slave republic was the South. This was true even during the colonial era. Virginia was its richest colony and George Washington was one of its wealthiest people because of his slaves. The majority of the new country’s presidents and Supreme Court justices were Southerners.

However, the invention of the cotton gin took the South’s national economic dominance and transformed it into a global phenomenon. British demand for American cotton, as I have written before, made the southern stretch of the Mississippi River the Silicon Valley of its era. The single largest concentration of America’s millionaires was gathered in plantations along the Mississippi’s banks. The first and only president of the Confederacy—Jefferson Davis—was a Mississippi, millionaire slave holder.

5) Defense of slavery, more than taxes, was pivotal to America’s declaration of independence.
The South had long resisted Northern calls to leave the British Empire. That’s because the South sold most of its slave-produced products to Britain and relied on the British Navy to protect the slave trade. But a court case in England changed all of that. In 1775, a British court ruled that slaves could not be held in the United Kingdom against their will. Fearing that the ruling would apply to the American colonies, the Southern planters swung behind the Northern push for greater autonomy. In 1776, one year later, America left its former colonial master. The issue of slavery was so powerful that it changed the course of history.

6) The brutalization and psychological torture of slaves was designed to ensure that plantations stayed in the black financially.
Slave revolts and acts of sabotage were relatively common on Southern plantations. As economic enterprises, the disruption in production was bad for business. Over time a system of oppression emerged to keep things humming along. This centered on singling out slaves for public torture who had either participated in acts of defiance or who tended towards noncompliance. In fact, the most recalcitrant slaves were sent to institutions, such as the “Sugar House” in Charleston, S.C., where cruelty was used to elicit cooperation. Slavery’s most inhumane aspects were just another tool to guarantee the bottom line.

7) The economic success of former slaves during Reconstruction led to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan.
In less than 10 years after the end of slavery, blacks created thriving communities and had gained political power—including governorships and Senate seats—across the South. Former slaves, such Atlanta’s Alonzo Herndon, had even become millionaires in the post-war period. But the move towards black economic empowerment had upset the old economic order. Former planters organized themselves into White Citizens Councils and created an armed wing—the Ku Klux Klan—to undermine black economic institutions and to force blacks into sharecropping on unfair terms. Isabel Wilkerson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “The Warmth of Other Suns”, details the targeting of black individuals, as well as entire black communities, for acts of terror whose purpose was to enforce economic apartheid.

8) The desire to maintain economic oppression is why the South was one of the most anti-tax regions of the nation.
Before the Civil War, the South routinely blocked national infrastructure protects. These plans, focused on Northern and Western states, would have moved non-slave goods to market quickly and cheaply. The South worried that such investments would increase the power of the free-labor economy and hurt their own, which was based on slavery. Moreover, the South was vehemently opposed to taxes even to improve the lives of non-slaveholding white citizens. The first public school in the North, Boston Latin, opened its doors in the mid-1600s. The first public school in the South opened 200 years later. Maintenance of slavery was the South’s top priority to the detriment of everything else.

9) Many firms on Wall Street made fortunes from funding the slave trade.

Investment in slavery was one of the most profitable economic activities throughout most of New York’s 350 year history. Much of the financing for the slave economy flowed through New York banks. Marquis names such as JP Morgan Chase and New York Life all profited greatly from slavery. Lehman Brothers, one of Wall Street’s largest firms until 2008, got its start in the slave economy of Alabama. Slavery was so important to the city that New York was one the most pro-slavery urban municipalities in the North.

10) The wealth gap between whites and blacks, the result of slavery, has yet to be closed.
The total value of slaves, or “property” as they were then known, could exceed $12 million in today’s dollars on the largest plantations. With land, machinery, crops and buildings added in, the wealth of southern agricultural enterprises was truly astronomical. Yet when slavery ended, the people that generated the wealth received nothing.

The country has struggled with the implications of this inequity ever since. With policy changes in Washington since 1865, sometimes this economic gulf has narrowed and sometimes it’s widened, but the economic difference has never been erased. Today, the wealth gap between whites and blacks is the largest recorded since records began to be kept three decade ago.

source: Colorlines has easy FB button if you know someone that desperately needs to see this in their feed...
Edit: the comment at source actually have some great suggested reading for more details.
lurkch 10th-Jan-2013 08:15 pm (UTC)
You're missing the last word of the article, OP. Interesting read though, thanks.
fenris_lorsrai 10th-Jan-2013 08:21 pm (UTC)
Fixed it. there's also some good additional reading suggested in the comments at source if you want more on the subject.
evilnel 10th-Jan-2013 08:53 pm (UTC)
This is really interesting. It's a perspective I never learned about in school (big surprise). It's not shocking that it was so economically based.
shadwing 10th-Jan-2013 09:05 pm (UTC)
I didn't learn most of this till at the college level, and in only one class. Teacher was big on showing us the REASON why Slavery was so hard to get rid of for so long, it all boiled down to

"If money wasn't to be made...they never would have done it."
ljs_lj 10th-Jan-2013 09:11 pm (UTC)
OT but related:

I have been asked to do a guest lesson/lecture on racism in the US (to focus specifically on black history/slavery/civil rights movement/Jim Crow + current-day issues, opposed to prejudice against other ethnic groups) in a high school English-as-a-Foreign-Language class. (NB: I am an American teaching English in Europe.) I am not a historian - I can talk about things in sweeping generalities, cultural aspects in modern day racism (like birtherism, racist behavior perpetrated by the police), and so on, but I'm shaky on the history, and - as a white person from a very white state - I know I am not the best person in the world for this lesson. So I want to do it right, and that is where you guys can come in:

I only have about 40 minutes for this lesson. There's only so much you can do in 40 minutes. All they know comes from TV/movies and the two minutes that their history teacher spends on slavery and the American Civil War.

What do I need to make sure to cover so that these students will have a decent grasp of the history of racism / black history in the United States?

Does anyone know of any good educational materials (activities / texts / infographics / etc) that would be ideal for this type of lesson?
fishphile 10th-Jan-2013 10:24 pm (UTC)
The best clip I've seen on the housing disparity, which leads to wealth is in a clip from the third episode of Race The Power of An Illusion called The House We Live In.

This is a clip from that last episode is six minutes long.

apostle_of_eris 10th-Jan-2013 10:46 pm (UTC)
For one class session, you might focus on the writing of the Constitution.* Slavery was already a contentious issue, leading to the great compromise of the bicameral legislature with the [in]famous 3/5 clause, leading to Southern control of the Presidency until . . . Lincoln.
One of the reasons things worked out that way in 1789 was that a lot of people thought slavery was fading away. Then the cotton gin was invented, and by the Civil War, slaves were a majority of all the capital in the country. The Confederacy was counting a lot on the economic clout of "King Cotton".
And even in the 1860's, most of the world was monarchic. The radical experiment of a democratic republic had most definitely not yet proven itself. (cf the Gettysburg Address)

* which is pretty short altogether, and *very* readily available
fenris_lorsrai 10th-Jan-2013 11:26 pm (UTC)
A nice compact little video about more modern things is "A Girl Like Me" first half is about beauty standards and the second half repeats the ClarK doll Experiments

The doll studies were used as part of the evidence in Brown vs Board of Ed which struck down school segregation that claimed to be "separate but equal" by demonstrating they most certainly they were NOT equal, and even little children could see that.
moonshaz 10th-Jan-2013 11:45 pm (UTC)
I don't claim to know anything about Russia, but in the US, us white people ARE fucking to blame. Economics were a major motivation, yes, but who was in charge of the economic system and the government and everything else? WHITE people.

I'm not going to pretend to know anything about the history or causes of similar institutions in other countries, and you need to stop trying to pretend that you understand our history. Because you really, really REALLY don't.
apostle_of_eris 10th-Jan-2013 10:37 pm (UTC)
It’s a movie.
It's make believe. There were no death camps in "Inglourious Basterds", either.
angelofdeath275 11th-Jan-2013 02:26 am (UTC)
No one expects intelligent replies from you
ook 10th-Jan-2013 10:49 pm (UTC)
One won't learn much about slavery from the movie "Lincoln" either.

And no one is really addressing the issue of modern slavery. Slavery continues to be the world's most successful economic model. :(
tallycola 20th-Jan-2013 02:18 am (UTC)
For real. As if we aren't benefitting from present day slavery every time we use a computer or put on clothes or eat food. But it's just capitalism!!! :D :D

darth_eldritch 10th-Jan-2013 11:14 pm (UTC)
An in depth study of this ought to be required for schools in USA and UK, as well as any other countries whose history this involved.
amyura 11th-Jan-2013 03:29 am (UTC)
TOTALLY agreed.

I happened to have one of the most kickass history teachers probably in the world in tenth grade and he didn't sugarcoat; did a big thing on the 1863 draft riots and made sure to point out the racism among whites in the North and how it was the economics and politics of slavery that led to tensions between the north and south.

But my God, it needs to be covered better, period. I fucking CRINGE every time someone points to gorgeous architecture that you know came about due to slavery.
etherealtsuki 11th-Jan-2013 04:55 am (UTC)
Too bad that most of the textbooks in the USA are made through Texas and the people responsible for said books would LOVE to whitewash the history of slavery in the US and are actively trying to make that happen.
rebness 10th-Jan-2013 11:29 pm (UTC)
It always surprises me that we British aren't taught more about the slave trade in schools (and specifically my city, Liverpool, which grew rich on it). One of our most famous streets is named after a slave trader.

There's an excellent international slavery museum here which explores Liverpool's role. It's unpleasant to see the reality of what we did and how we profited, but necessary.
ljtaylor 11th-Jan-2013 08:24 am (UTC)
you beat me to it on mentioning the slavery museum. I'm glad Liverpool acknowledges that part of its history. our school history curriculum was rather arrogant if I remember, focusing on our successes in history, and only the failures of OTHER countries. notice we never learn about the Boer war either? Or much on Imperialism for that matter.

unfortunately I can't see this situation improving with bloody Gove as education minister :/

Edited at 2013-01-11 08:24 am (UTC)
abee 10th-Jan-2013 11:38 pm (UTC)
White people sure love their superiority, don't they?
evildevil 11th-Jan-2013 04:00 pm (UTC)
Read "Why Nations Fail", has an interesting chapter regarding the south and the civil war and the legacy of racism.
redstar826 12th-Jan-2013 02:22 am (UTC)
freedom of speech does not mean freedom from being told off when people don't like what you have to say. If you think it is, then you really don't understand what the right to free speech actually means.
astridmyrna 12th-Jan-2013 07:17 am (UTC)
This is a really, really good article that I'm going to bookmark. Romancing slavery really needs to end.
corbyinoz 18th-Jan-2013 03:31 am (UTC)
Fascinating article. I will definitely refer to it and the suggested reading in preparing for my culture and identity classes. Not so much because we need to know US history per se, but because of the fact that European fortunes and economies were so significantly impacted by this disgusting trade, and that fact remains largely hidden. Might help them look at some of the economic/racial issues closer to home.

We white folk just don't like admitting that we benefited from other people's pain, do we? In Australia, I am sometimes brought close to tears when I face the intransigence of some of my adult students who refuse to see that we reap massive economic benefits on the bones and bodies of the Indigenous Australians we did our best to exterminate, whose country we stole.

History like this *needs* to be disseminated, as widely as possible.
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