So this fellow Robert Smalls is pretty badass.
On this day in 1888, Princess Isabel of the Empire of Brazil enacted the Lei Áurea (Golden Law), formally abolishing slavery in Brazil, which had the largest number of slaves and was the last Western country to abolish slavery. Both Isabel and her father, Emperor Dom Pedro II, were opponents to slavery (she signed as his regent because he was in Europe).
The law was very short, stating only that “From this date, slavery is declared abolished in Brazil. All dispositions to the contrary are revoked.” This was intended to make clear that there were no conditions or qualifications to abolition — slaves were to be totally freed, full stop. (Previous laws had freed the children of slaves, or freed slaves when they turned sixty; this time, slavery was stamped out for good, at least formally.)
Known variously as the Baptist War, the Christmas Uprising and the Great Jamaican Slave Revolt, it mobilized as many as 60,000 of Jamaica’s 300,000 slaves. It was initially begun as a peaceful protest, with slaves refusing to work during the crucial and often brutal surar harvest until they were treated better and paid at least half the average wage. Sharpe and his followers believed that a general strike alone would achieve their goals, envisioning violence only as a last, defensive resort.
Unfortunately, like slave owners across time, Jamaican landowners were not forgiving of this challenge, and immediately used violence to end the strike. The subsequent eleven-day conflict resulted in the deaths of fourteen whites and over 200 black slaves. Hundreds more were killed after the rebellion ended in “various extrajudicial killings”, often over minor or trumped up offenses.
Just before Sharpe was hanged for his role, he said in his last words: “I would rather die among yonder gallows, than live in slavery.” Though he and many of his followers did not live to see their goals achieved, the scale of the rebellion and the subsequently severe reprisals afterward are believed to have spurred Parliament to pass the Slavery Abolition Act a year later, with the final abolition of slavery across the British Empire in 1838.
Samuel Sharpe was officially proclaimed a National Hero of Jamaica in 1975, and is featured on the $50 of the Jamaican dollar.
It is hard to believe that so many Americans doubt that slavery was the central cause of the U.S.’ deadliest conflict, considering that the Confederacy and its members said as much explicitly and clearly.
First up is the state that started the Civil War, South Carolina:
…A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction. This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.
Other states followed suit, often in much clearer terms. Consider Mississippi:
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin…
As a separate republic, Louisiana remembers too well the whisperings of European diplomacy for the abolition of slavery in the times of annexation not to be apprehensive of bolder demonstrations from the same quarter and the North in this country. The people of the slave holding States are bound together by the same necessity and determination to preserve African slavery.
Upon the principles then announced by Mr. Lincoln and his leading friends, we are bound to expect his administration to be conducted. Hence it is, that in high places, among the Republican party, the election of Mr. Lincoln is hailed, not simply as it change of Administration, but as the inauguration of new principles, and a new theory of Government, and even as the downfall of slavery. Therefore it is that the election of Mr. Lincoln cannot be regarded otherwise than a solemn declaration, on the part of a great majority of the Northern people, of hostility to the South, her property and her institutions—nothing less than an open declaration of war—for the triumph of this new theory of Government destroys the property of the South, lays waste her fields, and inaugurates all the horrors of a San Domingo servile insurrection, consigning her citizens to assassinations, and. her wives and daughters to pollution and violation, to gratify the lust of half-civilized Africans.
…in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states….
As early as 1858, then-Mississippi Senator — and future President of the Confederacy — Jefferson Davis threatened secession if the institution of slavery were to be threatened:
I say to you here as I have said to the Democracy of New York, if it should ever come to pass that the Constitution shall be perverted to the destruction of our rights so that we shall have the mere right as a feeble minority unprotected by the barrier of the Constitution to give an ineffectual negative vote in the Halls of Congress, we shall then bear to the federal government the relation our colonial fathers did to the British crown, and if we are worthy of our lineage we will in that event redeem our rights even if it be through the process of revolution.
If the policy of the Republicans is carried out, according to the programme indicated by the leaders of the party, and the South submits, degradation and ruin must overwhelm alike all classes of citizens in the Southern States. The slaveholder and non-slaveholder must ultimately share the same fate—all be degraded to a position of equality with free negroes, stand side by side with them at the polls, and fraternize in all the social relations of life; or else there will be an eternal war of races, desolating the land with blood, and utterly wasting and destroying all the resources of the country.
Many Southern elites even fantasized about extending a slave-based empire across the Americas, especially Cuba, Mexico, and Central America. Numerous Southern publications echoed these sentiments as well, both leading up to and throughout the course of the conflict. Slavery was not a fringe position in the South — it was part and parcel of its cultural identity, social order, and economic power. And many Southerners felt aggressive enough about it to want to expand the institution well beyond U.S. borders, let alone allow it to be contained or threatened.
In short, the U.S. Civil War was an inevitable, even logical, outcome of having one-half of the country steadfast in its commitment to a barbaric and increasingly polarizing ideology. Slavery was incompatible with America’s ostensible values of liberty and the consent of the governed, and it formed the crux of the country’s debate about what sort of place it was going to be. One way or the other, it was going to be challenged, and given the aforementioned attitudes towards the practice, it was always going to be violent.
Source: The Atlantic
On this day in 1739 , the Stono Rebellion (sometimes called Cato’s Conspiracy or Cato’s Rebellion) erupted near Charleston, South Carolina, becoming the largest slave rebellion in the Thirteen Colonies.
The uprising took place among African-born slaves, most likely from the Kingdom of Kongo, led by a literate slave named Jemmy (referred to in some reports as “Cato”). He and 20 other enslaved Kongolese, possibly former soldiers, obtained arms and marched south from the Stono River to Spanish-ruled Florida, where they were promised freedom and land at St. Augustine. (Spain’s made such offer to British owned slaves in an effort to destabilize their rivals hold on North America.) Continue reading
DemocracyNow.org has an excellent video of James Earl Jones reading one of Frederick Douglass’ most famous speeches, The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro. It was first given on July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York, in an address to the Rochester Ladies Antislavery Society. Born into slavery, Douglass became a key leader of the abolitionist movie, and one of America’s most gifted writers and orators.
I think you will find Jones’ emotive and iconic voice to be a great fit for such a powerful and eloquent speech. You can read the transcript here. (Unfortunately, I cannot product the video here, so just click the first hyperlink to see if for yourself.)
I was surprised to learn recently that the United States has only one permanent museum dedicated to the history of slavery: the Whitney Plantation near Wallace, Louisiana, which opened just this past December.
According to The Atlantic, the museum is the brainchild of a white, 78-year-old lawyer named John Cummings, who has spent 16 years and $8 million of his own fortune to build the project. Partnering with Senegalese-born scholar Ibrahima Seck, who serves as the museum director, Cummings hopes to use the Whitney Plantation to educate people on the realities of slavery, both historically and in terms of its modern legacy.
You can see a great short film about it here or below.
While American society is known for its poor historical memory in general (though especially as it pertains to uncomfortable matters like slavery), it still intrigued me that there has never been a museum about this seminal topic in U.S. history.
Nostalgia for the “Old South” is alive and well not just in the southern United States but, in of all place, Brazil (and to a lesser degree other parts of Latin America). That is because thousands of Confederates opted to leave the country to continue keeping their culture and practices alive in places where slave-based agriculture persisted.
As an interesting piece at Vice reports, the legacy of these southern transplants persists to this day:
For miles around the graveyard, unfiltered sun beat down on sugarcane fields planted by the thousands of Confederates who had rejected Reconstruction and fled the United States in the wake of the Civil War—a voluntary exile that American history has more or less erased. Their scattered diaspora has gathered annually for the past 25 years. The party they throw, which receives funding from the local government, is the family reunion of the Confederados, one of the last remaining enclaves of the children of the unreconstructed South.
Almost everyone had come to the festa dressed as an American—in jeans and boots, Johnny Cash T-shirts and camouflage. Visitors haggled at a booth stocked with Southern paraphernalia: aprons, quilts, commemorative glasses, a used copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. An amplified voice called the crowds to pull their chairs up to the main stage—an enormous concrete slab with a flag painted across it and the words XXVI FESTA CONFEDERADA emblazoned at its top. The mayor of the nearby town Santa Bárbara d’Oeste surveyed his assembled constituents and welcomed the state representatives in attendance. “It’s the first time I have the honor being here as mayor,” he beamed, leaning over the microphone as descendants in homemade hoop skirts and sewn Confederate grays standing behind him hoisted flags up long, thin wooden poles. “But I’ve been here many times as a spectator, a fan.” The banners of São Paulo, Brazil, Texas, the United States, and the Confederacy flapped languidly in the breeze. “North American immigration has helped build our region, has helped build Santa Bárbara d’Oeste, has helped build the city of Americana,” he proclaimed. “That’s what we celebrate today.”
By and large, the thousands of Texans and Alabamans and Georgians who sailed to Cuba and Mexico and Brazil failed. They folded into cities and set up doomed plantations on rain-forest plots. But not the town of Americana. Led by an Alabaman colonel, its settlers introduced cotton and turned the town into an industrial textile powerhouse. For generations their children spoke English with a drawl. Today the city of 200,000 boasts Latin America’s largest cowboy-rodeo arena. The festa brings it great pride
It is a long and intriguing read, which also touches upon Brazil’s struggle to come to terms with its own history of slavery (which was outlawed only in 1888) and its continued fight against the practice of de facto slavery, which mostly involves the invisible migrant workers from neighboring Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay (a familiar problem in America).
For a sobering but vital reminder that the scourge of slavery is still with us, check out the Global Slavery Index, the first comprehensive index of its kind that provides country-by-country estimates of the number of people who remain enslaved. It’s an initiative of the Walk Free Foundation, an activist group that tries to raise awareness and elicit action to help end modern slavery.
Here is some of the data gleaned from the report, which concludes that slavery remains a global problem nonetheless concentrated in a few key nations and regions.
You can visit the interactive global map here to see the estimates for each individual country along with other relevant data.
It’s worth pointing out that in absolute terms, more people are enslaved today than ever before in human history (yes, the global population is much larger today than ever before, but the point is to highlight how slavery isn’t a dead concept or practice). Because it is mostly illegal or formally frowned upon in most parts of the world, modern slavery takes many forms and names.
- Slavery broadly refers to the condition of treating another person as if they were property – something to be bought, sold, traded or even destroyed.
- Forced labor is a related but not identical concept, referring to work taken without consent, by threats or coercion.
- Human trafficking is another related concept, referring to the process through which people are brought — through deception, threats or coercion — into slavery, forced labor or other forms of severe exploitation.
The key unifying feature of all forms of modern slavery is that it involves one person depriving another person of their freedom: their freedom to change jobs, leave one workplace for another, control their own body, and so on.
We’ve come a long way in abolishing this once widely-accepted practice, but clearly we have a ways to go.
According to a comprehensive new report issued by the Walk Free Foundation of Australia, there are nearly 30 million slaves in the world right now, including forced laborers, forced prostitutes, child soldiers, and child brides in forced marriages. Slaves were found to be living in all 162 countries that were investigated, including in the United States, which hosts around 60,000. Read more about this issue here.