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Monday, June 2, 2008

Brief History of American Slavery (1619-1865)

In this series of articles, I will attempt to relate the conditions which led to the racism that was so prevalent in the America South during the 1960s, which led to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s successful attempts to combat racial segregation by basing his program in Birmingham, Alabama. Although he was finally assassinated in Tennessee, Alabama was truly his base of operations for his program of marches and protests throughout the 1960s.

What really polarized America, creating the conditions that fostered the extreme, perverse, and as yet abiding racism of the Deep South? What forces made the divisive split between the North and the South happen, before, during and after the Civil War? What caused the conditions leading to extreme racial segregation in the Deep South, plus of course the ideology, life, career and eventual assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? And why was a deeply religious man so political and so close to the Presidency, when the separation of church and state would be very likely to keep him away from that prestigious office?

American Slavery - Beginnings in 1619

The Biblically ancient institution of slavery is sadly worldwide, going well beyond the United States. It is basically a social and economic system under which the people known as slaves are deprived of their freedom, and indefinitely condemned to performing free services for the people known as their masters, who own them as property. They are usually not allowed any personal liberties, being entirely subject to the whims of their masters, and are driven into oppression and hard-pressed circumstances.

It’s not a Sunday picnic, nor is it a lifestyle anyone would choose. Nathan Hale, one of our nation’s founding fathers, put it this way: “Give me liberty or give me death.” He really meant that, as he said it before he was hanged to death for opposing the colonial British. But his kind was also often slave owners. For example, both our first President George Washington and our third President and the Declaration of Independence’s author Thomas Jefferson owned plantations, keeping many black slaves. Jefferson even “used” a black mistress, fathering several children with her, whose descendants survive to present times.

Howsoever, American slavery actually began in 1619, a few years after the foundation of the first English colony in Virginia. It ended officially in 1865 with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It didn’t end with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln, as many people think, on New Year’s Day in 1863. Dr. King stated that Lincoln was averse to ending slavery at first, being unsure that he could manage to persuade the southern states into following abolition - which meant total abolishment of slavery practices.

These involved the keeping of black people as physical property, otherwise called “chattel slavery,” where they were to be eternally held against their will, and bred as servants, lackeys and field labor in plantations and farms owned mostly by white people. Lincoln was quite correct; the South remained adamantly opposed to the death of slavery, to the point where some stubborn white people are trying to reinstitute it nowadays.

For example, there was the white southern bus driver who tried recently to get black kids to ride in the backs of their school buses. Fortunately, that fell through, and she was fired. The Louisiana school district suspended her while it investigated the complaint that she ordered nine black children to sit in the back of the school bus she was driving. Two black mothers sparked the complaint, saying that this bus driver had let white students have their own seats - while black students were forced to stand or even sit in other student’s laps.

Read the next article in this series, “American Slavery – Continuing History” and the other articles in this long article series about why racism was and is so prevalent in the American South.

This article is from the "Background: Why Was the South Racist, Anyway?" section from P.L. Ryan's wonderful new forthcoming book, "The Boys of Birmingham," about the FBI investigation in Birmingham, Alabama of Dr. King's assassination. Ryan is the daughter of the lead agent in charge, who actually tracked down James Earl Ray, Dr. King's killer, securing his arrest and conviction. Look out for "The Boys of Birmingham" as it's set to be republished in April of 2011.

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Ghost Writer, Inc. - Book Ghostwriter Karen S Cole

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