By Lara Trace (as an independent scholar-journalist)
Years ago when I first moved here to western Massachusetts, I attended a five-college consortium on Slavery in New England. My head was spinning since I had never encountered this much in-depth history as editor of the Pequot Times in Connecticut. (I had published a paper in the Pequot Times about the Genocide and Enslavement of the Pequot by Dr. Kevin McBride and had done my own research.)
Yet, the ghosts of slavery were still hidden, buried, obscure.
The truth in stories probably existed in expensive books that I had not read. I had also done my own research FIRST CONTACT into American Indian slavery and presented my research at a few conferences (2001-2002). Yes, Indian Slavery. For additional help, I posted inquiries on AmerInd H-Net. A few scholars had done bits of research, scattered here and there.
I am happy to report that it took time but there IS more written on American Indian slaves – finally, yes. Read on…
Until quite recently, few modern Americans, even historians, knew that many thousands, if not millions, of Native North Americans once lived and died in slavery. The publication in 2002 of James Brooks’s Captives and Cousins and Alan Gallay’s The Indian Slave Trade brought the bare fact and some of the dynamics of Indian slavery to the attention of scholars for the first time. In the decade since then, studies of indigenous enslavement in North America have multiplied, as many innovative ethnohistorians turned their attention to a once-unknown institution. Knowledge of Indian slavery has even begun to spread into the mainstream; Slate Magazine recently ran a cover story on the Indian slave trade and on Indians’ enslavement of African-Americans.
One of the bright young scholars researching Indian slavery, Kristalyn Shefveland, spoke last week at my university on the interrelationship between indigenous slavery and gender politics during Bacon’s Rebellion.* Prof. Shefveland’s larger research project examines the relationship between Native peoples and the colonial government of Virginia during the “tributary period,” when Anglo-Virginians converted thousands of Indians either into tribute-paying subordinates or chattel slaves. Among her other observations, Kristalyn noted that many of Virginia’s wealthy colonial families built their fortunes on the trade in Indian men, women, and children, whom they employed as laborers or sold to the West Indies.
Shefveland will be posting some of her findings here on the Turtle Island Examiner this summer, and her book on Indian tributaries and slaves in colonial Virginia comes out this fall. For now, though, let me note just one of many fascinating anecdotes she shared: one of the wealthy colonial families that profited from Indian slavery was that of John Custis, whose 1708 will identified 30 slaves (mostly but not necessarily all African) and six Indians as part of his property. Custis’s descendents capitalized on his investment in human beings, putting the family’s wealth into more slaves, land, and tobacco, so that by mid-century his grandson Daniel Parke Custis had become well-to-do. Daniel died in 1757, but not before passing his fortune on to his wife Martha Dandridge Custis and their children. Martha became a propertied and eligible widow, and, like most women of her class and time, joined her fortunes to those of another gentlemen. Her second husband, a well-connected young surveyor and militia officer named George Washington, had inherited his own legacy of interracial violence from Virginia’s past. As in contemporary Europe, fame and fortune in early America came not from innovation or toil, but from family connections and sheer violence.
* The rebellion’s name probably belongs in quotation marks. As J.D. Rice recently pointed out, most of the fighting in 1675-76 occurred not between white colonists, but between white Virginians and Native Americans.
BIG NEWS: What To Do About The Undeniable Connection Between Elite Universities (HARVARD) And Slavery
WBUR Boston | March 16, 2016 | On Monday, Harvard Law School decided to officially change its seal — the slave-owning Royall family coat of arms will be scrubbed from the school logo by next year. But what does this latest cleansing of university history mean in the larger context of elite education and its racist past? According to Craig Steven Wilder, professor of history at MIT, “The American academy never stood apart from American slavery—it stood beside church and state as the third pillar of a civilization built on bondage.”
TOP IMAGE: Vermont State Constitution, circa 1777.
Long before Vermont became our 14th state, its people were known for their independence. They were not excited about joining the new United States; nor did they want to remain a part of the British crown. They liked being independent and made that clear to the other colonies on more than one occasion. Such an opportunity came on July 2, 1777. In response to abolitionists’ calls across the colonies to end slavery, Vermont became the first colony to ban it outright. Not only did Vermont’s legislature agree to abolish slavery entirely, it also moved to provide full voting rights for African American males. On November 25, 1858, Vermont would again underscore this commitment by ratifying a stronger anti-slavery law into its constitution. The harshest treatment for free blacks in New England was found in Connecticut. Through a series of different legislative acts created before and after the Revolutionary War, it became nearly impossible for free African Americans to live in the state. For example, free blacks could not walk into a business without the proprietor’s consent, nor could free blacks own property.
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Slavery, Hollywood, and Public Discourse
Slavery: perhaps the last, great unmentionable in public discourse. It is certainly a topic that even today makes people very uncomfortable, regardless of their race.
American society has often expressed its internal problems through its art. Perhaps the most powerful medium for important discussions since the turn of the last century has been the motion picture.
For decades Hollywood has attempted to address the issue of slavery. For the most part, films have represented the period of enslavement in a manner that reflected society’s comfort level with the issue at the time. Director D. W. Griffith’s 1915 silent drama, Birth of a Nation, for instance, depicted African Americans (white actors in black face) better off as slaves. Griffith’s movie showed the institution of slavery “civilizing” blacks. Birth even made it seem like slaves enjoyed their lives and were happy in servitude.
That wasn’t the case, of course, but it was what white society wanted to believe at the time.
More than two decades after Birth of a Nation, the portrayal of African Americans in films had changed only a little. 1939 saw the release of one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed movies, Gone with the Wind. Producer David O. Selznick believed he was serving the black community with respect — he made sure the novel’s positive portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan was eliminated from the film, for example. But Gone with the Wind nevertheless treated the enslaved as relatively happy, loyal servants, a depiction that continued to reflect America’s segregated society. History was made, however, when Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Academy Award for her role as “Mammy.” Still, her part, and the parts of the other black actors drew harsh criticism from major African American newspapers and civil rights groups.
Nearly forty years later, one of Hollywood’s most meaningful attempts to portray the period of enslavement came in 1977 with the television blockbuster mini-series, Roots. Based on Alex Haley’s 1976 best-selling book, Roots: The Saga of an American Family, the mini-series was groundbreaking on many levels. It was a dramatic series with a predominantly African American ensemble that captured a record 37 Emmy nominations — television’s highest artistic award.
And Roots marked the first time America witnessed slavery portrayed in detail. Along with the scenes of transporting, selling, and trading men and women, were scenes showing the brutality African Americans often suffered at the hands of slave owners. The depictions of abuse and cruelty were limited, of course, by the medium and by what American society would accept at the time. In keeping with the series’ marketing campaign, the show focused heavily on the family’s ultimate triumphs. For all of Roots’ firsts, and there were many, it was ultimately a story of resiliency.
Fast forward three-plus decades — American society is undeniably changed. African Americans are regularly featured in movies and television shows. The nation elected, then re-elected, an African American president, Barack Obama.
Drawing critical acclaim today is the movie 12 Years a Slave. 12 Years is a watershed moment in filmmaking. Not only does it feature remarkable performances, excellent cinematography, and powerful direction; it also offers the first realistic depiction of enslavement.
Unlike prior motion pictures and television shows, 12 Years does not retreat from the brutality many blacks endured. The movie is not for the faint hearted, as the violence and cruelty it portrays is not the highly stylized violence found in films like Django Unchained. 12 Years is true to the reality that for years many Americans treated fellow human beings with ruthless brutality — and that reality is harder to face.
This, then, is an exciting time for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Among its many virtues, the Smithsonian is a great legitimizer with a long tradition of providing venues for Americans to examine their shared history. One of the over-arching goals of the National Museum of African American History and Culture is to create a place where issues like enslavement can be viewed through an unvarnished lens.
America today needs this discussion and I believe it is ready for it, a sentiment undergirded by a belief in the public’s ability to deal with and care about the issue. The great strength of history, and African American history, is its ability to draw inspiration from even the worst of times. No doubt people throughout the nation and around the world will find that inspiration when they visit the Museum and view our major exhibition on “Slavery and Freedom” when our doors open in late 2015.
Before I close, I want to recommend four insightful narratives written by African Americans during this period of American history. The first is Solomon Northup’s book, 12 Years a Slave. Next is Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs. One of the first books to describe the sexual abuse and torment that female slaves endured, Incidents became one of the most influential works of its time. Our Nig: Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, by Harriet Wilson, is believed to be the first novel published by an African American in North America. Though fictionalized, Wilson’s book is based on her life growing up in indentured servitude in New Hampshire. Finally, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, remains today one of the most important autobiographical works ever written by an American.
“This Museum will tell the American story through the lens of African American history and culture. This is America’s Story and this museum is for all Americans.” –Lonnie G. Bunch III, director
The Campaign to Build America’s Next Great Museum
We need a total of $500 million to build this museum. Given the importance of this Museum to our nation, Congress committed to provide half of this amount. We must raise the remaining $250 million from the private sector, including friends like you, corporations, foundations, and other organizations. Can we count on you to build this museum? We welcome gifts at all levels — from $35, $50, $100 to $10,000 or whatever you can afford.When you make a gift today, you can choose to become a Charter Member and receive a wide array of benefits.
Join us as we build America’s next great museum the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
And this is so good: Meet Misty:
Yellow Medicine Review : (Story) Mary. Find here: http://yellowmedicinereview.com/id13.html
“The essence of all slavery consists in taking the product of another’s labor by force. It is immaterial whether this force be founded upon ownership of the slave or ownership of the money that he must get to live” -Leo Tolstoy