October 10, 2014

Slavery. Didn’t think that I would be spending so much time reading about and researching slavery. Sure I was “aware” of the slave trade in the colonies and “aware” of the enslavement of the indigenous peoples of Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America.

But being aware and being AWARE are two different things. Part of the structured history always points to the fact that slavery was not new to the post-Columbian order: slavery has been a way of life for thousands of years, from the Egyptians to the Greeks and Romans. But slavery in many areas of the world – Europe for example – had given way to a large degree to indentured servitude after Rome’s collapse.

I’m not suggesting that servitude was better, but slavery in post-Roman, pre-Columbian Europe (about a thousand years) was a small, segmented, and localized practice. There was no “slave trade” to speak of, spanning thousands of miles, a couple of continents, and millions – MILLIONS – of men, women, children, and babies. Not to mention, targeting a specific geographical area on a specific continent, and a specific set of cultures and peoples who were largely defenseless against the well-armed and vicious slave traders of the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

There are two arguments – that many Americans like to use: American colonists didn’t invent slavery, which is true. a huge tub of salve to sooth our conscience? The second argument is that the slave trade in Africa was helped by tribe vs. tribe, warring or conflicting tribes helping in the capture of enemy tribes.The cruel truth is that slavery was the backbone of all conquests and colonizations for 350 years after Columbus landed on the shores of San Salvador.

The beginnings of my research for AML was centered on a simple question: What were the First Homegrown, American-Made, Colonial Laws? I really, honestly, truly figured that the First Laws passed by Pilgrims and Puritans concerned things like churches, land, taxes, and oh, yeah, tea.

Little did I know this was not true. Many of The First American Laws concerned slaves.

Virginia, 1639
Act X. All persons except Negroes are to be provided with arms and ammunitions or be fined at the pleasure of the governor and council.

Maryland, 1664
That whatsoever free-born [English] woman shall intermarry with any slave. . . shall serve the master of such slave during the life of her husband; and that all the issue of such free-born women, so married shall be slaves as their fathers were.

Virginia, 1667
Act III. Whereas some doubts have arisen whether children that are slaves by birth. . . should by virtue of their baptism be made free, it is enacted that baptism does not alter the condition to the person as to his bondage or freedom; masters freed from this doubt may more carefully propagate Christianity by permitting slaves to be admitted to that sacrament.

Virginia, 1682
Act I. It is enacted that all servants. . . which [sic] shall be imported into this country either by sea or by land, whether Negroes, Moors [Muslim North Africans], mulattoes or Indians who and whose parentage and native countries are not Christian at the time of their first purchase by some Christian. . . and all Indians, which shall be sold by our neighboring Indians, or any other trafficking with us for slaves, are hereby adjudged, deemed and taken to be slaves to all intents and purposes any law, usage, or custom to the contrary notwithstanding.

What has changed in these past 400 years? That’s the question isn’t it. I don’t have answers and if I did they would be wrong, based on lies and an education that was less than adequate. One thing that has become clear to me: I really thought the Civil Rights movement and “successes” of the 1960s meant something, maybe even cured the problem. I was wrong, and if any of you thought the same, you were wrong too.

Consider. All of the pictures, the grainy TV coverage, showed black children escorted by white officers into schools and classrooms, all the while being yelled at, garbage thrown at them by white people. And who was in those classrooms, who was waiting to teach them? More white people. There were no black teachers, principals, nope, just more white people. We have read beautiful wonderful stories about a few white teachers stepping up. But there were hundreds who didn’t. Right there is a glaring failure. And 60 years later, that’s the glaring truth. We failed.