Black Slaveowners African-American History Term Paper

Pages: 8 (2773 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Black Studies

Black Slaveowners

Agriculture and even home ownership in the age before the civil war in the United States was a challenging endeavor, one that often required the work of more than one family.

In most places in the U.S. The excess labour needed for the maintenance and growth of even a relatively small estate was taken from only one source, slavery. One long-standing debate associated with slavery is the state of freed blacks ownership of slaves. More specifically, currently there are mainly two arguments suggesting why blacks owned other blacks: the first is given by Carter G. Woodson thesis which suggests blacks owned other blacks for humanitarian reasons (to protect loved ones and the like) while the other argument, written by best by Larry Koger in "Free Black Slave Masters in South Carolina, 1790-1860" that black slave owners were no different than white masters and were involved in owning slaves out of a commercial desire to make money.

In an acclaimed modern novel fictionalizing the reality of black slave owners, "The Known World," written by the talented historical fiction writer Edward P. Jones, the author builds a fictional web of society, associating slave ownership by other blacks as a sometimes awkward but mostly necessary outgrowth of economic and social growth. it's a novel about black slave-owners and their slaves in Virginia and how they deal with the fragile notion of freedom, going from being slaves to becoming slave owners to being sold back into slavery. "In 1855 in Manchester County, Virginia, there were thirty-four free black families... And eight of those free families owned slaves." (Jones, 2003, pg. 7) the ownership of slaves was relegated to those who held land and had some semblance of success, but clearly it was not relegated to the white alone. Against a backdrop of both the previously mentioned arguments is that although both of them are valid, there were also other factors in involved such as: 1. The meaning of freedom (in the North compared to the South) 2. Ideological shifts during times of war (i.e, enlightenment ideals, American Revolution, Abolition of slavery, Civil War 3. racial/social factors such as mulattoes, blacks and Africans (i.e, world views, where was the person born in Africa, America, first-second-third generation, etc.)

Sociological as well as economic factors were the thread of the reality of black slave ownership. Challenges to the system were only lasting when sweeping changes where made in economy and ideology. "They were all members of a free Negro class, that while not having the power of some whites, had been brought up to believe that they were rulers waiting in the wings. They were much better than the majority of white people and it was only a matter of time before those white people came to realize that." (Jones, 2003, pg. 286-287)

Freedom is a precarious idea, even for black slave owners, "He is mine now and freeing him seems out of the question." She did not say that freeing a slave was not in her nature. Someone had once told her a story of a white woman in South Carolina who had freed her slaves after the death of her husband and one of them had returned and killed the woman." (pg. 287) this is coming from one of the most influential of all the free blacks in the community that Jones builds in his work. The very light skinned black schoolteacher, Fern Elston who had influenced the black children she taught to be members of the future ruling class, was frozen where the issues of fear of confrontation were concerned the mind was not to act without self preservation at the forefront.

Freedom was not a right given at birth to all. Freedom was an ideal to be earned through hard work and industry. Freedom was a growth of not only your legal state but a product of economic success, and that success even for free blacks was a freedom that included the ownership of others. Consciously the truest concept of freedom was realistically only possessed by those who did not have it.

These black slave owners were members of an upper class, set apart from the whites but still very much a part of the society in which they lived as slave owners and owners of their own freedom. The meaning of freedom, in the North as compared to the South was rightfully different. Though the foundational belief that the white man was superior to the black did not supercede the north changes over time led the northern states to separate themselves, at least in theory from the institution of slavery. The world of the north was idealized by the many blacks in the south but was not embraced by the free blacks who where invested in the institution.

A the North profited enormously from Southern slavery, and...Northern and Southern whites shared attitudes about race that bound them together in a culture that survived the Civil War to deny African-Americans full equality... despite the importance of profits in the slave trade and later in the manufacture and sale of "negro" cloth and shoes, Northern industrialists moved steadily from a position of accommodating their Southern customers to one of opposing their slave system. (Gerteis, 1999, p. 70)

Yet, their southern contemporaries never really saw the changes in the ideal of freedom within the north, believing that the foundational importance the labor of the slave system would make it impossible to abolish.

The world, through slave owning southerners' own skewed socioeconomic vision, despite the challenges of slavery, did not seem to offer growth of individual, family or society without the curious institution of slavery. Those who did see the changes where those blacks still in chattel, and free blacks who had gained freedom and had not developed the economic position of slave ownership, unless it was for the sake of protecting their loved ones from the harsh institution. "...the central importance of slave labor to the early industrial economy of the United States," (Gerteis, 1999, p. 70) did not always leave room for a greater understanding of life without slavery.

Thomas O'Connor concurs on this point [switching of north away from slavery] and locates the point of transition in the Texas controversy and the Mexican War. (Gerteis, 1999, p. 70)

Yet, despite these ideological changes in the meaning of freedom, the position of blacks as rightful possessors of the fruits of their own labor and the controversy over the humanitarian arguments against slavery even in the north the equality of blacks, free or slave was never universal.

John McKivigan finds that Northern churches never accepted the Garrisonian moral argument against slavery and reunited with their Southern brethren without embracing a commitment to equal rights for Blacks. Alexander Saxton finds in blackface minstrelsy a powerful expression of racism and democratic culture that served to negotiate the shifting economic and political terrain of the Civil War era. David Roediger offers an overview that links chattel slavery and wage slavery to broaden the meaning of slavery in the North.

(Gerteis, 1999, p. 70)

Within the tradition of nearly every growing civilization is the issue of freedom vs. unfreedom, and in many cases race plays a central role in such issues. Those with the least were and still are the backbone of ground force labor.

Assertions about the emerging uniqueness of the Western world's experience -- or at least the part that had to do with freedom -- were common in popular eighteenth-century literature, and as late as the mid-nineteenth century Southern United States newspapers could argue that slavery is "the natural and normal condition of the laboring man, white or black," and that free labor was an unfortunate "little experiment... In a corner of western Europe," that had "failed dismally." 1 Advocates of free labor agreed with all but the "failed dismally" part of this statement. Adam Smith, Arthur Young, and others had pointed out that all Africans, all Asians, and most of those in the Americas were, if not under slavery, at least unfree in the Western sense, and that free labor was a term that could be applied to only a small percentage of the world's population -- almost all of it living in northwestern Europe and related settlements.

(Eltis, 1999, p. 25)

Yet, how did it become a part of such a system that those who were once slaves could in the future own people such as themselves? Challenges were many and the issues at hand were much more colored than they were black and white. The moralistic ideals of the abolition of slavery were strong, yet the convoluted issues associated with skin tone and origin are not clear even today.

As in Jones' work the reality of those who were nearly white or of obvious white decent was different than it was for those who were plainly as dark as a man (or woman) who had just arrived from across the ocean.

A the ultimate result of race-mixing was the creation of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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