Prior to 1000 BC:
In the lush, green lands of what is now the Sahara Desert, cave drawings done by the Paleolithic hunter/gatherer societies of the region depict the wild beasts they hunted. Using oxidized minerals, clay, blood and animal fat to bind the pigment to the rock African cave drawings evolve into paintings. Based on the paintings, which depict people herding, archeologists suggest that the "people of Africa" had learned to domesticate animals such as sheep, cattle and goats. Although there is little information about the pre-Egyptian communities of North Africa, it is known that small, agricultural villages were forming up and down the Nile River. These sedentary and agricultural societies laid the groundwork for what became one of the cradles of civilization, the Egyptian Empire of northeastern Africa.
Approximately 1000 BC:
The Mande-speaking people of what is now Western Sudan and Chad modified their culture from hunting and gathering to agriculture. Their cultivation of native plants, like millet and sorghum, produced a population explosion. As population densities grew, people migrated, forming federations of villages that reached as far as the Atlantic Ocean by 400 AD.
Among the ancient lands of the "Bantu-speaking people", rudimentary iron forges were discovered in what is now Nigeria. Whether they were imported or forged on sight is a matter of debate. However, there is no debate about the important advantage a culture possessing the technology to forge iron had over a culture that did not.
Approximately 200 AD:
The camel, which originated from Asia, was introduced to North Africa. The camel’s ability to carry heavy loads, while traveling long distances without any water, opened up immense and profitable trading networks across North Africa.
Through the wealth generated by the trans-Saharan trade, credited to the camel, great African cities and kingdoms of the Muslim faith arose. By the 11th century, Western Africa was the Western world’s greatest producer of gold. However, gold was not the only valuable item on the market. Ivory, salt and slaves were treasured commodities on the trade routes of Northern Africa. Slavery existed among many civilizations around the world. The economies of the African kingdom of Mali and the Songhai Empire were greatly dependant on the wealth produced by the labor of slaves in the salt mines and on plantations. These economies also profited from the lucrative trade of slaves to other regions. Slavery was also common in the Kingdom’s of Oyo, Benin and the kingdom of Great Zimbabwe. Furthermore, slavery was an integral part of the economies of the Islamic city-states founded by Arabic merchants along the east coast of Africa. It is important to note that, among small tribes and villages found in sub-Saharan Africa, slavery existed too. However, it did so on a much smaller scale, and most importantly, slaves were not segregated from the tribes and they often married into the families who owned them.
The trans-Saharan slave trade never reached the scale of the transatlantic slave trade, which was started by the Portuguese and taken over by the Europeans. Furthermore, slaves among the African Empires were regarded as human beings. A person’s enslavement was rarely inherited and was often due to misdeeds, losing a war, losing a crop or being unable to pay their debts. Being a slave had less to do with the color of a person’s skin and more to do with social status. Freedom was earned through military valor and social interaction was more open.
For most of the 15th century European countries were on a race to find a passage by sea to Asia. Portuguese rulers, Prince Henry the Navigator in particular, commissioned his ships southward along the western shores of Africa in the hopes of finding a seaway to Asia. Portugal captured the North African city of Ceuta in 1414. In 1441, Antam Gonsalvez of Portugal was honored for his successful ambush and kidnapping of 12 Africans off the coast of West Africa and, by 1444, Lisbon received its first sizeable slave shipment from Africa.
In 1492, believing he was actually in Asia, Christopher Columbus, sailing for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, landed in Cuba. Commissioned by Columbus, Pope Alexander XI helped to create the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. The treaty allocated the new world of non-European countries to Spain and Portugal. The majority of the Americas and the Pacific went to Spain. Asia, Brazil and Africa went to Portugal.
During medieval and Renaissance Europe, Black servants were greatly desired because they were symbols of wealth. Furthermore, as Christians, Europeans considered the enslavement of Muslims and “heathens” a social and religious duty. But when a slave denounced their religion and converted to Christianity, they often gained their freedom. The social custom of freeing a slave through Christian conversion was practiced for centuries and extended all the way to the Americas until slavery became an integral part of North America’s economy.
Europe did not have enough open land or the climate to cultivate plantations all year long and the combination of the high costs of slaves and the limited resources of seasonal crops did not make a profitable economic equation for mass slavery in Europe. With the discovery of unlimited lands in the “New World” and the mastery of sugar cane cultivation by Europeans, the demand for a large labor force emerged and the trans-Atlantic slave trade was born. The model for the trans-Atlantic slave trade was formed by the Spanish who conquered the rich soils and tropical climate of the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa. By the early 1500’s the Island’s native population, the Guanche, were completely wiped out by the Spanish who proceeded to import thousands of slaves from West Africa to work the sugarcane plantations. The Portuguese did the same on the nearby island of Madeira. The only difference being that the island of Madeira did not have a native population to destroy. Initially, Spain’s interest in the “New World” was not in the new market of agricultural plantations, but in plundering the region’s gold and silver. Spain’s slave mining labor force consisted of a steady flow of South and Central American Natives. Millions of Natives were worked to death and died of disease and starvation, but enough survived to keep the slave labor force going. A Spanish priest named Bartolome de Las Casas, was appalled and disturbed by Spain’s ruthless treatment of the Natives. In 1542, based on his pleas, Spain banned the formal trade of Indian slaves. Bartolome de Las Casas advised King Charles I to look to Africa as the source for their slave labor force. He later came to regret his suggestion and condemned African slavery too. During the 1500s and 1600s, the French, Dutch and English displaced the Spanish and took over most of the Caribbean and the southern part of North America’s mainland. The emigration-oriented northern Europeans transformed the subtropical lands and tropical islands into vast plantations, cultivating crops with slave labor for a mass European market. The exact number of Africans brought across the Atlantic as slaves is still a matter of debate. However, it is estimated that the number is somewhere between 9 million and 12 million. Here is a rough breakdown of how many Africans were distributed to the Americas over the centuries:
15th century: 50 000
16th century: 300 000
17th century: 1.5 million
18th century: 5.8 million
19th century: 2.4 million (the majority of which were smuggled illegally)
Approximately 40% of all enslaved Africans went to the Portuguese colony of Brazil, 20% went to the British colonies of the Caribbean, Spanish American colonies on the mainland and the Caribbean took 17.5 %, the French Caribbean (Saint-Domingue and Haiti) received 13.5%, 2.5% were sent to the Dutch and Danish colonies of the Caribbean islands, and the remaining 6.5% was acquired by British North America, and after independence, the United States. Everywhere it existed, slavery was a brutal business. The slaves were starved, beaten, separated from their loved ones and then subjected to grueling, back-breaking labor in hot and harsh tropical climates. This is what lay in waiting for them should they survive the many diseases and pathogens that the Europeans carried to which Africans and native Americans had little to no immunity. However, slavery on the North American mainland was less fatal than slavery in the Caribbean for two reasons. North America had an enormous amount of land and was able to sustain food crops as well as commercial crops and the slaves ate better. However, the majority of Caribbean land was devoted to commercial crops. The master class of the Caribbean was heavily dependant on expensive imports for a balanced diet, which was not accessible to slaves. As a result, many slaves exported from Africa to the Caribbean did not survive because their immune systems were run down by exhaustion and poor diet, which made them susceptible to fever and disease. The high fatality rate of slaves in the Caribbean forced slave-owners to rely on regular shipments of slaves from Africa to replace their dead slaves. The master class of North America came to realize that healthy, well-fed slaves produced more on the plantations and procreated more. They were also inclined to import slaves from the Caribbean who had already survived the tropical climate and the flood of foreign diseases. By the early 1700s, the North American slave population was self-sustaining and, unlike their Caribbean counterpart, their dependency on slave imports diminished.
Due to constant imports of new Africans, Blacks in the Caribbean were able to retain their African heritage, religions, languages and social customs. The rich cultural traditions fresh from Africa harbored ideal circumstances for slave rebellions, especially as the population of slaves grew to greatly outnumber that of slave owners. Britain conquered the Spanish colonies of Jamaica in 1655 and quickly took advantage of Jamaica’s abundant land and tropical climate to produce the largest sugar crop within the English Caribbean. Under the British, the Black population of Jamaica skyrocketed to maintain the plantations. The Spanish masters of Jamaica freed their slaves as the English seized their land and power. Many of these freed slaves fled into the mountainous regions, which provided ideal shelter for runaway slaves. Slaves were escaping and setting up small, independent settlements as early as 1600. Despite many efforts on behalf of the British, many slaves were never recaptured and they successfully defended their freedom. The freed slaves became known as Libertos and would later become the maroons who broke out in guerilla warfare against the British in the 1680s. Jamaica’s first serious "slave revolt" occurred in 1663 and involved 400 slaves.
Meanwhile in America...
In 1607, The Virginia Company, at the request of King James I of Britain, founded Jamestown in the region around Chesapeake Bay. The colony barely survived due to malnutrition and disease. In 1612, the town’s leader, John Rolfe, imported tobacco seeds to the region. Within a decade tobacco plantations were sprouting up and down the rivers creating conflicts with the Native Americans. The planters needed laborers for their farms and were unable to convince and entice the Natives to partake in their plans. They decided to import indentured servants from England who would work their land for 7 years. At the end of their term, each servant would be given a stake of land of their own, and they became known as yeomen. Slave codes had yet to be drawn up and it was under these conditions that the first Africans arrived in America.
By 1670, the African population of Virginia was just 5% out of an estimated 40 000 settlers. Due to the fact that most people arriving in North America died within their first year, many planters were unwilling to invest in the cost of importing slaves. As more and more servants became yeomen (both White and Black), less arable lands were available. The government, called the House of Burgesses, did not sympathize with the yeomen who were forced onto the frontier to fight against the Natives who were appalled at the “White man’s greed” for land. Yeomen insisted on their rights as Englishmen, and requested fairer taxes and tolls to compensate for their lack of safety and smaller profits. In 1676, led by the aristocrat Nathaniel Bacon, the yeomen attacked the planters and almost won. To the wealthy planter’s dismay, it was not possible to enslave Englishmen due to cultural and legal reasons. Since they were unsuccessful in their attempts to enslave the Natives, and they were not legally sanctioned to enslave yeomen, the prosperous British planters looked to Africans to make up their slave labor force. Here is a brief summary of the early slave codes in Virginia:
1639: Virginian Legislature provides arms and ammunition to all colonists, except Blacks
1642: Virginia passes the fugitive slave law to punish colonists helping slaves escape
1657: A colonial militia is formed to track down runaway servants
1658: To promote slave trades, Virginia lowers its import duties for slave merchants
1661: Virginian legislature legally recognized slavery Between 1667 and 1671 a series of laws were passed that stipulated that Baptism and conversion to Christianity did not qualify African slaves for eventual freedom. In 1692, marriage and sexual relations between Blacks and Whites was outlawed, and, in 1705, the burgesses passed a law stipulating: “All servants imported or brought into this country by sea or land who were not Christians in their native country shall be accounted and be slaves.” These laws divided and defined Virginian politics. Slavery became an institution based solely on the color of a person’s skin and it served as the template for all the colonies in the south. Plantation owners and masters benefited not only from slave labor itself, but also from the "skills" that slaves brought with them. For example, White settlers in Carolina repeatedly failed to grow rice crops. It was not until West Africans, imported as slaves from what is now known as Sierra Leone and Liberia, brought their rice making skills and technology to America, that the White planters succeeded in cultivating rice. The plantation masters of Carolina grew very rich off their rice exports. The 1700s:
After 50 years of fighting, the Jamaican maroons led by such infamous leaders as Accompong, Quao and Nanny, signed a treaty with the English in 1739. In exchange for their freedom, the maroons agreed to stop invading plantations, stop harboring runaway slaves and they agreed to help the British quell further slave rebellions. Almost 100 years later, after the emancipation of slavery within the British Empire many freed slaves went on to live in the well-preserved maroon communities. In 1763 the British Empire emerged victorious after seven years of war with France. To help settle the debt they incurred during the war, the British increased taxes and duties in their colonies. Over the next five years Britain would impose tariffs, taxes and regulations that American colonies refused to pay. In 1775, war broke out and in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was set in motion. Many Freed Blacks chose to fight alongside the oppressive Americans against the imperialist British. But most Blacks were only given the chance to do so after 1777, when American military manpower was suffering. George Washington opened the military to Blacks and many colonies in the north and upper south approved laws giving slaves their freedom in exchange for military service. The Bucks of America, an all Black regiment led by George Middleton, fought in the Revolution and received their own flag from Governor John Hancock. In 1778, the British formed a new plan of attack against the American colonists who were backed by France and Spain. Desiring the valuable crops of the South and knowing that a large population of oppressed and unarmed slaves inhabited the region, the British set out to invade the southern colonies. As the British advanced, runaway southern slaves flooded the British forces. Blacks dug trenches, carried supplies and did field work for the British in exchange for their freedom. The Empire’s “southern strategy” was defeated in Yorktown by Washington in 1781. For the most part, the British honored the freedom they promised to slaves who fought on their behalf, many of which were shipped to the Bahamas as free people. Following the American Revolution, for a brief period of time, states of the North and upper South wrestled with the contradiction of fighting for their freedom and independence while oppressing and robbing the freedoms of Blacks. By 1794, four northern states abolished slavery and over the course of the next fifteen years, every state north of the Delaware would follow suit. Slavery was retained in the upper south, but laws were modified enabling a slave’s right to earn freedom. The leaders of the Revolution, Jefferson, Washington and the author of the Constitution, James Madison claimed to support abolition. However, Washington was the only one to free his slaves and he only did so in his will upon his death and the death of his wife Martha. Critics have suggested Washington’s motivation was not based on idealism or moral grounds, but rather the simple fact that he had no heirs to pass his slaves onto. In the deep southern states, a tightening of the slave regime occurred and it was made clear that the newfound freedoms of the revolution were for Whites only. Ignorance and intimidation were the South’s magic ingredients for keeping slaves in bondage. Legally, slaves were considered a form of livestock and they did not distinguish between women and men. Inciting pain was the method slave owners used to motivate their herd of slave laborers. Brutal whipping, physical beatings, branding, shackling for extended periods of time and the intentional separation of loved ones and families were common, and legal, punishments used against Black slaves. However, the most effective and detrimental way for slave masters to control their labor force was to keep them in a state of ignorance. Slaves were not allowed to leave the plantations, when they did they required a written note explaining why they were off the premises of their owner. Any slave who knew how to write was viewed as a threat because they could escape easily by faking a written pass. Not only did legislation ban a slave from learning how to read, they also banned all abolitionist literature in the south. The labor of slaves provided the fieldwork and house work for the slave owners. Lighter slaves were regularly chosen to work in the house, leaving darker slaves to do the backbreaking work in the fields, which often created tension and bred resentment among the plantation’s slave communities. Keeping close ties with religion, family and friends became the recipe for survival for the slave population. However, these ties and bonds were of no value to Whites, as they did not recognize the marriage between two slaves, nor did they respect the sanctity of such a union. White plantation owners often took slaves, married or not, as mistresses, threatening physical punishment and rape upon them and their families should they refuse him. Despite entrenched racism and prejudice, one thing did change after the American Revolution: Within less than fifty years of the Declaration of Independence, the "free black population" of the North and Upper south grew to 200 000. In 1787, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, the newly independent nation drew up the Northwest Ordinance, outlawing slavery in all the territories between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes. Southern representatives, concerned for their rights as slave owners drew up a compromise that stipulated the value of each slave would equal 3/5 of one full person. In doing so, the southern states gained controlling power in congress and were able to annihilate any abolitionist legislature from the North. Furthermore, the south was not forced to participate in the abolition of the international slave trade for another 20 years. The United States became the first nation on the American continent to free itself from European colonial rule. However, it did not end plantation agriculture or slavery for that matter. The first nation to achieve the latter occurred on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola (modern-day Haiti and Dominican republic). The native Arawak population of the island was decimated within the first 50 years of Spanish conquest. By 1540, the island housed a population of 6 000 Europeans and 30 000 Africans, most of which lived on the eastern 2/3 of what is now the Dominican Republic. The French took advantage of the mostly uninhabited western third of the territory and settled in Haiti. Within a century, France was producing 60% of the world’s coffee and 40% of its sugar. Among the general population, which now consisted of 30 000 Europeans and 450 000 African slaves, lived about 25 000 mixed-race mulattos, many of which were free and had become prosperous, slave-owning planters. During the 1780s, the French passed laws banning these “gens de couleurs” from holding office and possessing firearms. These restrictions bred resentment, and, after the successful coup of the “ancien regime” in Paris during the French Revolution, calls for freedom and citizenship among the population’s African majority arose. Led by Francois Dominique Toussaint L’Ourverture, an ex-slave, thousands of slaves and free people of color drove the French, and their institution of slavery, out. Napoleon’s attempts to retake the island consistently failed and, under Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Haiti became the first Black republic in the world and the second independent nation in the Americas in 1803. Haiti’s newfound independence and emancipation of slavery spread tremendous and immediate fear throughout the United States of America. Furthermore, the American cotton industry was on the verge of a major technological breakthrough that would make vast, southwestern lands become agriculturally and economically ideal for the production of short-staple cotton. This breakthrough was the cotton Gin. As the use of the cotton Gin spread across the south, so did the use of slaves. The slave population in 1790 sat at about 200 000. The invention of the cotton gin was in 1793 and by 1860, the slave population had grown to 4 million and the southern states were producing two thirds of all the world’s cotton. With Southerners getting wealthy off the cotton gin and Northerners getting rich by meeting the cotton manufacturing demands of the European markets, the idea that Blacks deserved the same freedoms as Whites took a back seat. The 1800s:
The banning and outlawing of slavery began in the 1800s, below is a breakdown:
1807: British ban the international trade of slaves
1808: Americans ban the international trade of slaves
1821: Mexico outlaws slavery upon its independence from Spain
1833: Britain outlaws slavery in all territories under their control
1848: France outlaws slavery in all territories under their control
1863: Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation
1865: America outlaws slavery in all territories under their control
1880s: Portugal outlaws slavery in all territories under their control The ban on the slave trade occurred as the demand for slaves increased on cotton plantations. As the number of slaves on the market decreased, due to the bans, the price of slaves rose. This situation created a ruthless Black market for greedy slave merchants who made enormous profits off the prospering underground trade of human beings. In addition, as planters moved further west to set up new cotton plantations using the cotton gin, planters in the east, no longer in need of a large slave labor force because of the cotton gin, sold their slaves to the west, creating a national slave trade. African communities and families were broken up and torn apart because slave masters did not legally recognized or sanctify the marriage between slaves. Pro-slavery expansionists of the south proceeded to migrate and settle in what was then Mexico and today Texas. During the mid-1830s Texas fought for and won its independence from Mexico. Part, if not the majority, of Texas’ motivation for annexation from Mexico was to escape Mexico’s laws against slavery. Texas, upon its independence, requested to be admitted into the Union as a slave state. Their request was denied by Northern, anti-slavery congressmen. Their request was finally granted in 1845 under the presidency of James Polk, a slave-owning expansionist from Tennessee. Ironically, Texans, in the famous battle for freedom at the Alamo in 1836, were primarily fighting for their right to retain and propagate the institution of slavery. The western spread of farming had devastating effects on the Native Americans and the slave population. The Cherokee and Creek of western Carolinas and eastern Alabama and Tennessee; the Choctaw and Chickasaw of western Alabama and Mississippi; and the Seminole of Florida, known as the “Five Civilized Tribes” because of their agrarian culture, were settled in “Indian Territory” west of the Appalachian crest. Between 1800 and 1840, the Five Civilized Tribes saw their land seized by Whites. In the 1830s, the federal government decided that all Native Americans were to be removed from the territories east of the Mississippi and Oklahoma. Having stamped out Native armed resistance in 1814 at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alabama, the government encountered little opposition. The Natives were forced into a mid-winter march from their homeland that became known as The Trail of Tears. During the forced exodus, thousands of Native Americans died of starvation, malnutrition, disease and cold. Some slaves who attempted to escape bondage did so temporarily, but others managed to do so permanently. Some fled to Mexico, where slavery was banned altogether. Others joined the Seminole Indians in the dense forests and swamps of Florida. During the 1840s and 1850s, aided by Black and White abolitionists, many escaped north, going as far as Canada, in what became known as the "Underground Railroad". As the population of freed-Blacks grew, ignorance diminished and the anti-slavery movement began to take form. Organized slave rebellions were not unknown at the time thanks to the slave uprisings of 1663, 1712, 1739 and 1741. However, it was also known that a slave’s participation in anti-slavery movements in the south would result in almost certain death. This pattern continued through the 1800s. Gabriel Prosser, a Virginian slave, was captured and hanged for the discovery of his plan to lead 40 000 slaves in an attempt to overtake Richmond. In 1822, Denmark Vesey planned an attack on Charleston, South Carolina. When his plot was discovered, he and 47 others were executed. In 1831, the infamous Nat Turner led approximately 70 rebels against the slave masters and their families in Southampton County, Virginia. Nat Turner and his army of slaves vowed to kill any Whites in their path. In all, 57 Whites were murdered. In retaliation 100 slaves were killed by White militias. Among them were slaves who did not participate in the rebellion. The Turner uprising eliminated the notion that the abolishment of slavery would occur peacefully and quietly. It also conclusively dispelled the ridiculous justification of slavery based on the philosophy of White paternalism. In the upper south, where slavery was becoming less ideal economically, Turner’s uprising solidified the idea that the way to deal with Blacks in America was to send them back to Africa. New England, the upper Midwest and upstate New York began to experience the Great Awakening, an evangelical Christian movement against the bondage of slavery. William Lloyd Garrison, an evangelical Christian and Boston newspaper printer launched The Liberator, America’s first abolitionist newspaper. It was a White abolitionist in Massachusetts that invited a young and recently escaped slave, named Fredrerick Douglass, to speak at their meeting. Frederick Douglass went on to become abolitionism’s greatest advocate. He sought to show slave-owners the error in their ways and he laid out the ground work for what would become the basis of the civil rights movement by calling for the abolition of slavery in Washington D.C., the ban of the interstate slave trade and, most importantly, the destruction of the constitutional 3/5th Compromise. Washington was inundated with so many petitions calling for new legislature, that in 1836 southern Congressmen and their northern counterparts passed the gag rule, which stipulated that all anti-slavery petitions were automatically denied and could not be discussed. The law remained in effect for a total of eight years. Pro-slavery legislation, such as the Missouri Compromise of 1820-21 and the Fugitive Slave law of 1850 added to the growing tensions between the north and the south that would ultimately lead to the Civil War. In 1856, over 700 pro-slavery men launched an attack on the free town of Lawrence and burned it to the ground. In retaliation, led by abolitionist Jon Brown, five pro-slavery settlers were killed in their homes at Pottawatomie Creek. Dred Scott, a slave suing for his freedom in 1857, stood before the Supreme Court. His master had taken him to server in the free states of Illinois and the free territory of Wisconsin. After Scott’s master passed away, Scott claimed his home on the free soil he had served as a slave. But the heirs of Scott’s former master cried foul saying that Scott belonged to them. In a controversial and shocking ruling, the Supreme Court ruled against Scott, denying him his freedom. Three years later, on December 20, 1860, a convention was held in Charleston. At this meeting, southern representatives, known as fire-eaters, claimed the original balance of the Constitutional Compromise had been broken by the election of President Lincoln (considered to be an anti-south president by southerners). Since Lincoln had received almost no votes south of the Mason-Dixon line, the secessionist fire-eaters felt they were not represented by the president-elect and wished to separate from the Union. Over the next two months, Alabama, Florida (purchased from Spain in 1819), Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas teamed up with South Carolina. On April 14, 1861, Confederate leaders launched an artillery attack on Fort Sumter and the federal call to arms enticed Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina to secede. The Civil War had begun. The main goal of the war for Lincoln, democrats and moderate republicans was to keep the Union together. But for Republicans, Radical Republicans, abolitionists and free-Blacks the war was also about the destruction of slavery. It was only after Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862 (which did not technically free many, if any, slaves), that the meaning of the war was cemented in the abolition of slavery and in the name of civil rights. Although the Civil War was about the abolition of slavery in the south, it was in the north that America experienced one of its most violent, anti-war efforts during the New York City Draft Riots. Many northerners believed the war would be over quickly, but as recruitments diminished and the war dragged on, people’s feelings on the war began to change. In 1863, to keep troop numbers high, Lincoln issued two edicts. The first being that Blacks would be admitted into the military as soldiers. The second was America’s first military draft known as the Enrollment Act of 1863. The act stipulated that any draftee who could pay 300$could buy themselves out of the war. Tensions, fear and anger arose among the working class towards Blacks and towards the business class who could afford to buy their ticket out of the war. In July, as the draftee names were announced, mobs attacked. The police was able to maintain and control the violence in the wealthier Republican neighborhoods, but they lost control in the rest of the city. Dozens of African Americans were lynched and the Colored Orphans Asylum was burned to the ground, leaving children terrified and homeless in the middle of the night. Throughout the course of the war African American soldiers were assigned to menial labor. Initially, they were not even given guns and ammunition to fight against the cruel and brutal White slave owners of the Confederacy. Despite the fact that the Northern army was fighting, in many people’s minds, for the abolition of slavery, deeply entrenched racist attitudes governed the ranks of the Union military. Black soldiers were segregated from their White counterparts and, until protests in 1864, they were paid just over half of the amount of a White soldiers commission. Furthermore, unlike White POWs, any Black POW captured by the South was executed or returned to slavery. As the circumstances of the war became increasingly dire and more Black recruits entered the military, opinions changed and African Americans were given more opportunity to fight for their freedom. The 54th Massachusetts Regiment, Major Martin Robinson Delany, Robert Smalls and Sergeant William Carney stand as some the African American heroes of the Civil War. Here is a list of African American recruits by state: Kentucky…………………………… 23 703
Missouri: …………………………... 8 766
Maryland:.…………………………. 8 718
Pennsylvania:………………………. 8 612
Ohio:……………………………….. 5 092
New York:…………………………. 4 125
District of Columbia:………………. 3 269
Massachusetts:……………………… 2 966
Rhode Island:……………………….. 1 837
Illinois:……………………………… 1 811
Confederacy & other northern states: 110 076
Total:……………………………….. 178 975
On April 19th, 1865, the four year long Civil War came to an end with the North victorious. What has since become known as the Reconstruction Era, began with the assassination of President Lincoln five days after the surrender of the South. Lincoln had chosen Andrew Johnson, a southern loyalist, as his Vice President in the hopes of enabling a stronger reconciliation with the post-war south. Despite President Johnson’s Tennessee heritage, Radical Republicans were expecting to implement anti-planter and pro-civil rights legislation. But President Johnson held little sympathy for the freed Blacks and sided with White planters of the South. During the telling times of the post-civil war Reconstruction Era, anti-slavery Republicans would fight tooth and nail against the southern, pro-slavery Democrats. Towards the end of the war, and immediately afterwards, many of the 4 million emancipated slaves continued to work the land they worked as former slaves. But as freed-persons, they gladly worked it for themselves. Women were pulled out of fieldwork and able to care for their family full-time. To the dismay of local Whites, they wore more fashionable clothing and walked wherever they pleased, dispelling the racist belief that Blacks were animals incapable of self-government and in constant need of supervision. Organizations like the Freedman’s Bureau and the American Missionary Association (AMA) were established to provide food and shelter for freed-persons as well schools, churches and literacy efforts. The Sea Islands and Louisiana were some of the first areas of the South to go through such transformations. Initially, President Johnson planned to offer Confederates a full pardon if they pledged allegiance to the United States and ratified the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, banning slavery and revoking their acts of secession. But, as Johnson’s racist and pro-plantation beliefs come to light with former Confederate leaders showing up in Congress, infuriated Republicans and abolitionists began to veto and subvert Johnson’s power in Congress. In April 1866, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, guaranteeing citizenship as well as full and equal benefits of all laws to African Americans. March, 1867, Congress passed the first Reconstruction Act, dividing the South into five districts governed under martial law. Under the Reconstruction Act, all ex-confederates were denied the right to vote and each state was required to write up a new Constitution. The new Constitution soon included the 14th Amendment, granting citizenship to all persons born in the United Sates and the 15th Amendment, passed in 1870, giving all Black males the right to vote. During this time a number of prominent African-Americans, such as Blanche Bruce, Robert DeLarge, Robert Brown Elliott, Jonathon Gibbs, Jefferson Franklin Long, P.B.S Pinchback, Joseph Rainey, Robert Smalls, Benjamin Turner, Josiah Walls came to hold office during Reconstruction. By the tail end of the Reconstruction era, Henry O. Flipper was the first African American to graduate from West Point Military Academy in 1877. So, why did it take an entire century for African Americans to gain entitlement to their long overdue civil rights and liberties?
Pro-slavery planters and northern businessmen looking to gain a taste of the profits they enjoyed while slavery was legal were determined to return the South to its former structure of White supremacy. The Southern Redemption Movement employed violence, intimidation and corruption to successfully undermine the pro-civil rights Amendments of the constitution. As early as May 1866, the Ku Klux Klan, founded by former Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest was established to purposely destroy Reconstruction efforts. Other racist organizations sprouted up all over the South. There was The Constitutional Guard of North Carolina, The Knights of the Rising Sun in Texas, The Knights of the White Camelia in Louisiana, The Knights of the White Carnation in Alabama, The Knights of the White Cross in Mississippi, The White Brotherhood in North Carolina and The Young Men’s Democratic Clubs in Tennessee. All of these violent and criminal groups worked together to target African Americans in the South and their various organizations, such as Union League Chapters and branches of the Republican Party. Any Black Union army veteran and any freed-persons who prospered economically and owned their own land, thus escaping the control of plantation owners, were singled out and marked by White supremacists. African American men and women, along with pro-Reconstruction Whites in the South, were constantly at risk of being beaten, tortured, raped and lynched. In 1871, under President Grant, The Ku Klux Klan Acts were passed, resulting in hundreds of Klansmen arrests. However, the action was too insignificant to stop the Klan from operating. Although there will never be an exact figure, an estimated 10 000 southerners, the majority of which were Black and the remaining were pro-Reconstruction Whites, were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan between the late 1860s and 1877. The South managed to implement a magnitude of racist laws, known as the "Black Codes". The black codes legalized segregation, imposed voting taxes, tolls and literacy tests and restricted a Black’s movements with vagrancy laws, denying African Americans in the South their civil rights and freedoms for another one hundred years. Growing northern Apathy, the economic depression of 1873, and the advent of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory of evolution all contributed to the demise of the post-Civil War Constitution. During the 1880s and 1890s a series of Supreme Court rulings nullified the 14th and 15th Amendments of the Constitution of the Reconstruction. The most famous of which was Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. The Court ruled that all governments could employ segregation as long as they provided “separate but equal” services to Blacks and Whites. The 1900s:
At the turn of the century, rampant discrimination and segregation set the stage for the following civil rights pioneers. Booker T. Washington, a former slave, promoted the best ways to combat prejudice and racial intolerance was through the improvement of education and the economic status of Black Americans. Marcus Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and established the Black Star Steamship Line. Women such as Mary Eliza Church Terrell and Ida Wells-Barnett formed the National Association of Colored Women. Ida Wells-Barnett also helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and she wrote A Red Record, a book offering detailed research and accounts of lynching in the South. W.E.B. Dubois, a vocal critic of Booker T. Washington, wrote the significant book The souls of Black Folks and later became the editor of the Boston Guardian. He was also a founder of the NAACP and was credited for his incredible academic accomplishments. African American inventors, after their emancipation from slavery were entitled to take credit for their inventions. More than three hundred patents were filed by African Americans between 1871 and 1900. Among them were Elijah McCoy, Jan Matzeliger, Garrett Morgan and Granville T. Woods.
Many events and factors led to the start of World War I in 1914. One such factor was the scramble for African colonies by Europeans. When America finally entered the war in 1917, it allowed Blacks to enter the military but restricted them to the lower ranks. In Houston, in retaliation to the abusive treatment Black soldiers received from Whites, riots broke out resulting in the death of 16 Whites and four Blacks. In the end, 19 Blacks were sentenced to death and many more were given long prison sentences for their involvement in the riots. The 369th regiment spent more time on the front lines than any other American military unit that participated in the First World War. In France the 369th Regiment was awarded 171 Croix de Guerre, France’s highest military honor, for their bravery and honor. No U.S. Medals of Honor were awarded to the 369th Regiment, except for one that was awarded posthumously in 1991. Disappointed by the unequal and prejudiced treatment, African American soldiers returned home to encounter more racial intolerance and violence, including lynching. Ninety percent of African Americans lived in the South in 1910, the majority of which worked in agriculture as sharecroppers. Many Black and White farmers were forced off the land when the price of cotton fell and insect infestations destroyed crops. At the same time, America was entering WWI, leaving many jobs positions unfilled due to all the young men heading off to fight. African Americans, in pursuit of work, moved north in what is known as the Great Migration. By the end of the war, large urban Black populations were flourishing without southern rural oppression. The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s was the hotbed for the great African American Jazz movement and the advancement of African American literature. African Americans were able to express themselves freely and create a legacy within an unrelenting racist nation. Great musicians such as, Duke Elington, Scott Joplin, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Cab Calloway performed regularly at the Cotton Club, a musical venue highlighting Black talent for White audiences only. In the realm of literature, the Crisis, the Opportunity, The New Negro and the National Urban League provided avenues for prominent African American writers like Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, Hurston, Zora Neale and Langston Hughes. It was also during this time that sculptor Augusta Savage prospered. In 1929, when the stock market crashed and the Great Depression hit America, racial animosity towards Blacks went on the rise again. Although the Great Depression is known as a terrible time in America during the 20th century, African American historians explain that most African Americans were not hit as hard by the crash as the majority of Whites because they didn’t have any wealth to lose. They were mostly affected by the loss of work, as Blacks were the first to be laid off. In 1931, the Scottsboro case would help bring Black political activism back to the forefront. With the election of President Roosevelt, a Democrat, and his promises for a “New Deal”, Blacks would slowly come to benefit from the new programs thanks to the beliefs of First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. African Americans were selected for key positions within the government to ensure that the efforts of the New Deal would apply to Blacks as well as Whites. Originally known as the Federal Council of Negro Affairs, it was commonly called the Black Cabinet. The Black Cabinet, unofficially led by the great Mary McLeod Bethune, co-founder of the Bethune-Cookman College. Eleanor Roosevelt regularly backed up her convictions by making examples out of her actions. In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution denied the famous African American opera singer Marian Anderson her right to perform for them because of her black colored skin. In protest, Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her membership from the organization and put together an independent event at the Lincoln Memorial where 75 000 people came to hear Marian Anderson sing. Despite improvements under the Roosevelt administration, racial tolerance remained widespread across America. With the advent of World War II, African American soldiers found themselves segregated from Whites and only permitted to perform support and supply duties. Even Messmen Dorie Miller, who shot down at least two Japanese planes in Pearl Harbor was slow to receive any honors and remained a messman throughout the course of the war. The Navy only appointed their first Black officers in 1944. African American soldiers encountered the greatest resistance in the new military air corps. It wasn’t until 1939 that they were granted permission to be trained as military pilots because the all White administration of the air corps feared Blacks lacked the ability to operate sophisticated machinery. But as the air corps grew, training programs were offered at select Black colleges, such as Tuskegee College. When African American pilots were finally allowed to partake in battle they were kept in segregated units. The all-Black 332nd bomber escort group completed the war with a perfect record, and their commander, Benjamin O. Davis went on to become America’s first Black three star general. More importantly, the extreme racist views of the German Nazis under the leadership of Adolf Hitler strengthened the importance of civil rights and equal opportunity for people of all color, race and heritage. America’s favorite pastime, Baseball, employed staunch segregation laws until 1947, when Jackie Robinson, the first Black ball player, joined the Major Leagues. Discovered after WWII by Branch Rickey, who was impressed by Robinson’s talent and upstanding character, Robinson went on to earn the title of Rookie of the Year in 1949. The walls of segregation began to fall as great artists, singers, athletes and civil rights leaders pushed ahead to claim their constitutional rights. But it would take a long time before the South would allow "Jim Crow" to fall. Listed below is a breakdown of how the Civil Rights movement, under the leadership of "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.", solidified the freedoms and rights of all African Americans. 1946: Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia, segregation on interstate buses is banned.
1948: Segregation is banned in armed forces.
1954: Brown v. Board of Education, Supreme Court declares segregation in Public schools unconstitutional.
1955: Rosa Parks refuses to give up her bus seat to a White man and initiates the Montgomery Bus Boycott. One year later segregation ends on the city’s bus system.
1956: Southern Manifesto is signed by 96 Southern Congressmen opposing desegregation in schools.
1957: Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Joseph Lowery and Fred Shuttlesworth create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
1957: President Eisenhower provides troops to supervise the integration of Little Rock High School.
1960: College student sit-ins
1960: Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNCC) is formed in Raleigh North Carolina
1961: The Freedom Rides.
1962: James Meredith is the first Black student to attend the University of Mississippi. His enrollment incites the most violent riots of the decade.
April 1963: Civil right protests in Birmingham, Alabama. King writes "Letter From Birmingham Jail".
June 1963: Medgar Evers a civil rights worker is murdered in Mississippi.
August 1963: The March on Washington where King delivers his speech “I Have a Dream”.
September 1963: Burning of a Black church in Birmingham kills four little girls
1964: The Freedom Summer begins in Mississippi. James Early Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Shwerne, workers in the civil rights movement are murdered.
1964: President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation is denied seating at the convention.
1965: SCLC plans voting march in Selma-Montgomery, Alabama. Workers of the civil rights Jimmy Lee Jackson, Viola Liuzzo, and Reverend James Reeb are murdered.
1965: President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act. Riots explode in Los Angeles
1966: The Black Panthers are founded.
1968: Dr. Martin Luther King is assassinated in Memphis. Following the Civil Rights movement, the struggle for equal rights continues today. We can serve to strengthen the dream of racial equality in America by learning more about the hidden history of African Americans.
The information in our historical summary is based on “The Atlas of African-American History” by James Ciment and “The Black West” by William Loren Katz. We hope that you will be inspired by the bravery of those who dared to fight for what was right.