Did Black People Own Slaves?

“How Many Slaves Did Blacks Own?

So what do the actual numbers of black slave owners and their slaves tell us? In 1830, the year most carefully studied by Carter G. Woodson, about 13.7 percent (319,599) of the black population was free. Of these, 3,776 free Negroes owned 12,907 slaves, out of a total of 2,009,043 slaves owned in the entire United States, so the numbers of slaves owned by black people over all was quite small by comparison with the number owned by white people. In his essay, ” ‘The Known World’ of Free Black Slaveholders,” Thomas J. Pressly, using Woodson’s statistics, calculated that 54 (or about 1 percent) of these black slave owners in 1830 owned between 20 and 84 slaves; 172 (about 4 percent) owned between 10 to 19 slaves; and 3,550 (about 94 percent) each owned between 1 and 9 slaves. Crucially, 42 percent owned just one slave.

Pressly also shows that the percentage of free black slave owners as the total number of free black heads of families was quite high in several states, namely 43 percent in South Carolina, 40 percent in Louisiana, 26 percent in Mississippi, 25 percent in Alabama and 20 percent in Georgia. So why did these free black people own these slaves?”

Source: Did Black People Own Slaves?

Deconstructing Reconstruction l The Washington Monthly

January/ February 2013

From The Washington Monthly

Deconstructing Reconstruction

The tumultuous decade that followed the Civil War failed to enshrine black voting and civil rights, and instead paved the way for more than a century of entrenched racial injustice.

By Nicholas Lemann

 

Children in elementary school often come home with the idea that the purpose of the Civil War was to end slavery—but if that were true, then why did it take Abraham Lincoln so long to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, and why was it less than universally popular in the Union states? If you see the movieLincoln, you get a much fuller picture of the contingency of emancipation, and of the difficulty of passing the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery completely—but why didn’t Lincoln and the Congress think to address at the same time the obvious question of what status the freed slaves would have after that? After Lincoln’s assassination, Congress and the state governments settled that matter by passing the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which gave the former slaves full civil rights and voting rights—but why was it necessary for exactly the same rights to be reenacted, after enormous struggle, nearly a century later, during the civil rights era?

The answers to all these questions are essentially the same: for most of American history, white America has been highly ambivalent, or worse, about the idea of full legal equality for black Americans. Emancipation itself was a forced move, an obvious consequence of the war only in retrospect; it happened because in war zones in the Confederate states, slaves left their plantation homes and appeared at Union army encampments (they were known at the time as “contraband”), and somebody had to decide what to do about them; sending them back to their owners would be both morally suspect and a form of material aid to the enemy. There has always been a debate about what kind of Reconstruction regime Lincoln would have instituted after the war, had he lived; his racial impulses were generous, but he was not an abolitionist until he actually abolished slavery. Reconstruction—the tumultuous decade or so that followed the Civil War—was an enormous shaping force in American history, and not just in the area of race relations. It’s worth recounting in basic outline, because it’s a far less familiar story than that of the Civil War itself, but far more relevant today.

The word “Reconstruction” is somewhat misleading in the American case, because it implies that the main challenge was managing the tension between punishing the South for seceding and getting it back on its feet economically and politically. In this instance the more pressing question was what the lives of the millions of freed slaves in the South would be like. Would they be able to vote? To hold office? To own property? To sue white people? Would government undertake an active, expensive effort to educate them and put them on the way to economic self-sufficiency? Merely to say that former slaves were now free turned out to resolve remarkably little.

In the period just after the Civil War, Lincoln’s vice president and successor, Andrew Johnson, was impeached for moving too slowly on these matters, and for being too lenient with the South. Then the fiercely antislavery “radical Republicans” took power, rammed through the Fourteenth (civil rights) and Fifteenth (voting rights) Amendments, maintained the presence of federal troops in the South to enforce those laws, and ran a proto-War on Poverty through a new federal agency called the Freedmen’s Bureau, which was meant to help the freed slaves. Just as the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment were enormously controversial, in the North as well as the South, so too, only more so, were these “radical Reconstruction” measures.

The freed slaves never got “forty acres and a mule,” a land-reform idea that has resonated through the years but wasn’t enacted (see “Rumors of Land”), but they did get the basics of citizenship—most importantly, the right to vote. One of the most amazing achievements in the history of black America was the creation, in just a few years, of an elaborate political machinery—Republican, of course—that produced far higher (in fact, pretty close to 100 percent) voter turnout among freed slaves in the South than the United States as a whole has now. One result of this was that the South elected dozens of black officials to national office, and another was that state and local governments delivered, at least to some extent, what the freed slaves wanted, notably education at all levels.

None of this was especially popular in the North, and it was wildly unpopular in the white South. Most of the rest of America chose to understand black political empowerment in the South in terms that are still familiar in conservative discourse today: excessive taxation, corruption, and a power imbalance between federal and state government. These arguments were more presentable than simply saying that black people shouldn’t be allowed to vote, and they built sympathy for the white South among high-minded reformists in the North who were horrified by the big-city political machines that immigrants had created in their own backyard. Good-government reformers hated the idea of uneducated people taking over the democratic machinery and using it to distribute power and patronage, rather than in more high-minded ways. Liberal northeastern publications like the Nation, the Atlantic Monthly, and Harper’s Weekly were reliably hostile to Reconstruction, and their readers feasted on a steady diet of horror stories about swaggering corrupt black legislators, out-of-control black-on-white violence, and the bankruptcies of state and local government.

The Ku Klux Klan, which began in the immediate aftermath of the war and was suppressed by federal troops, soon morphed into an archipelago of secret organizations all over the South that were more explicitly devoted to political terror. These organizations—with names like White Line, Red Shirts, and White League—had shadowy ties to the more respectable Democratic Party. Their essential technique was to detect an incipient “Negro riot” and then take arms to repel it. There never actually were any Negro riots; they were either pure rumor and fantasy that grew from a rich soil of white fear of black violence (usually entailing the incipient despoliation of white womanhood) or another name for Republican Party political activity, at a time when politics was conducted out of doors and with high-spirited mass participation. The white militia always won the battle, if it was a battle, and nearly all the violence associated with these incidents was suffered by black people. In the aggregate, many more black Americans died from white terrorist activities during Reconstruction than from many decades of lynchings. Their effect was to nullify, through violence, the Fifteenth Amendment, by turning black political activity and voting into something that required taking one’s life into one’s hands.

Deconstructing Reconstruction

Nicholas Lemann , a Washington Monthly contributing editor, is dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and the author of “Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War.”

Escaping Slavery l Charles Blow l NYT

OP-ED COLUMNIST

Escaping Slavery

By CHARLES M. BLOW

America has slavery on the brain these days.

Published: January 4, 2013

Damon Winter/The New York Times

Charles M. Blow    Go to Columnist Page »

The New York Times

There were the recent releases of the movies “Lincoln” (which I found enlightening and enjoyable) and “Django Unchained” (which I found a profound love story with an orgy of excesses and muddled moralities). I guess my preferences reflect my penchant for subtlety. Sometimes a little bit of an unsettling thing goes a long way, and a lot goes too far. Aside from its gratuitous goriness, “Django Unchained” reportedly used the N-word more than 100 times. “Lincoln” used it only a handful. I don’t know exactly where my threshold is, but I think it’s well shy of the century mark.

And there was this week the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, one of the most important documents in this country’s archives.

All of this has caused me to think deeply about the long shadow of slavery, the legacy of that most grievous enterprise and the ways in which that poison tree continues to bear fruit.

To be sure, America has moved light-years forward from the days of slavery. But the idea that progress toward racial harmony would or should be steady and continuous is fraying. And the pillars of the institution — the fundamental devaluation of dark skin and strained justifications for the unconscionable — have proved surprisingly resilient.

For instance, in October, The Arkansas Times reported that Jon Hubbard, a Republican state representative, wrote in a 2009 self-published book that “the institution of slavery that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people may actually have been a blessing in disguise.” His misguided point was that for all the horrors of slavery, blacks were better off in America than in Africa.

This was a prevailing, wrongheaded, ethically empty justification for American slavery when it was legal.

Robert E. Lee wrote in 1856: “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things.”

And in a famous 1837 speech on the Senate floor, John C. Calhoun declared: “I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good — a positive good.”

Lee was later appointed commander in chief of the armies of the South, and Calhoun had been vice president and became secretary of state. But in November, Hubbard lost his seat; I guess that’s progress.

Still, the persistence of such a ridiculous argument does not sit well with me. And we should all be unsettled by the tendency of some people to romanticize and empathize with the Confederacy.

Pew Research Center poll released in April 2011 found that most Southern whites think it’s appropriate for modern-day politicians to praise Confederate leaders, the only demographic to believe that.

CNN poll also released that month found that nearly 4 in 10 white Southerners sympathize more with the Confederacy than with the Union.

What is perhaps more problematic is that negative attitudes about blacks are increasing. According to an October survey by The Associated Press: “In all, 51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election.”

Not progress.

In fact, it feels as though slavery as an analogy has become subversively chic. Herman Cain, running as a Republican presidential candidate, built an entire campaign around this not-so-coded language, saying that he had left “the Democrat plantation,” calling blacks “brainwashed” and arguing, “I don’t believe racism in this country today holds anybody back in a big way.”

As the best-selling author Michelle Alexander pointed out in her sensational 2010 book “The New Jim Crow,” various factors, including the methodical mass incarceration of black men, has led to the disintegration of the black family, the disenfranchisement of millions of people, and a new and very real era of American oppression.

As Alexander confirmed to me Friday: “Today there are more African-American adults under correctional control — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.”

Definitely not progress.

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