SPRING, 2002

Barbara Cazeau
ENG 24
Spring, 2002


Several ethnic groups have been through inhuman circumstances brought upon by others. Examples of such cases are the Jews during the Holocaust, the Japanese during World War II, and Africans during slavery. One factor that separates Africans from the other two ethnic groups is reparation. Reparation is making amends for wrong doings by compensating for damage done unto a nation. African slaves, whose labor built the foundation of America, had no wealth to leave behind for future generations. Instead, they left behind decades of struggles, poverty, racism, and social handicap.

Although slavery in America ended in 1865, its impacts are still hindering African Americanís full potential of social and economical development. Years after slavery, factors such as segregation, education, and Jim Crow laws inhibited freed-men from exercising real freedom. These historical conditions have been a social and economical setback in the black community. Current conditions in the black community reflect generations of oppression.

It is now the 21st century, yet America and existing companies of this land who capitalized on slave labor have not taken responsibility. Furthermore, America and these companies are responsible for compensating victims of slavery. The issue at hand is that slavery in North America lasted centuries, and during that time period African slaves lived and worked in horrifying circumstances. Moreover, emancipation of the slaves did not eliminate hardship, but introduced new ways to inhibit the progress of the black community. Hundreds of years after slavery, the wounds of the black community have not healed. It is time for profiteers of slave labor to make amends of the immoral capitalism of slavery.

Slavery in North America

During the early colonist years Native American slaves and indentured servants were the primary labor-force in North America. A gradual shift to African slaves elevated as time showed that black slaves had a higher sevival rate than white indentured servants and native Americans. This resulted in the development of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The Transatlantic slave trade was one of the largest forced migrations in history. According to Peter Kolchin, in the time span of the 16th century until the mid 19th century about 11 million Africans were taken from their homes, packed onto ships like cattle, and traded on strange land (2).

The statuses of African slaves in America were not like Native- American slaves and indentured servants, who served for a period of time and were later freed (Kolchin 2). In contrast, black slaves and their children were required to serve for life. Slavesí lives were not theirs but their masterís. Laws were made to reinforce slave master control on their purchase. Masters were required to provide food, shelter, and clothing for their slaves. On the other hand slaves were require to serve under any given circumstance.

As generations of slavery continued, Kolchin asserts that second generation masters began to regard slaves as inferior extended family memberís (2). Racism began to influence the treatment of slaves. Racism was not the motive for slavery, but instead was a result of slavery. Because African slaves were not Christians, slave owners were justified to force them to work for life. Although religious beliefs of Africans gradually changed, their skin color did not. (Africans in America 1)

Institute in a Box, states that the "concept of race and nation became irretrievably fused to the domination, conquest, and exploitation of not just inferior people, but inferior peoples of color." While African slavery spread as the dominant labor force in the Americas, so did the concept of race (2). Relatively all social, religious, political, and legal institution was developed to protect the system of slavery (Institute in a Box 3).

The slave populations was predominantly in the south, however northern states had less than 5 percent slaves working in industrial areas. Northern states quickly abolished slavery in the early nineteenth century. In the southern states like the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia, and Maryland slaves mostly did agricultural work. Salves performed tasked ranging from house servants, craftsmen, nurses, railroad work and forestry. Most slaves worked in gangs that were watched by slave drivers and overseers. In coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia, slaves worked under a task system. Slaves who worked in the tasked system were given a specific amount labor to do each day. They received less supervision than gang workers did (Kolchin 6).

Life of Slaves

There were many variations to where slaves lived. During the 1860ís slaves lived in towns. Some slaves lived in large estates, while others lived on small farms. However, most slaves lived with their resident masters. Since most slave owners engaged in fieldwork, business of southern farmers and plantation owners relied on the growth of tobacco, rice, corn, cotton, wheat, hemp, and sugar (Kolchin 7).

Slave owners made sure they had an active role in managing their slaves. Kolchin asserts that slave owners wanted to " rule their people firmly but fairly, and looked after their needs." These slave-owners believed in punishing their slaves when necessary, and also providing enough "fuel" for work, clothing housing, and medical attention (7). Bulliet argues that skilled slaves received rewards of, clothing, even time off for good work. Slaves worked hard not for the reward but instead to avoid punishment (577).

Production "quotas" were high, therefore slaves were required to work from sun up to sun down, except for meal breaks. Those who became wick and fell behind on their work were whipped. Rebellious slave who disobeyed, refused to work or tried to escape received harsh punishment of flagging, confinement in irons or even mutilation. In addition to these form of punishment slave owners used other ways to intimidate slave into obedience. An example of was the use of metal facemask that prevented the wearer from eating or drinking (Bulliet et al. 577).

According to Kolchin, masters intervened in the lives of their slaves. This ranged from directing labor to disapproving marriages. Written rules were also made along with the mastersí constant meddling, threatening and punishing to ensure their way. Many masters even used their powers to exploit female slaves sexually. " What slaves hated most was not the hard work to which they were subject, but the lack of control over their lives"(8).

Although slaves were allowed to have a separate life from their master, they lacked completed freedom. Slaves were allowed to sing, dance, tell stories, pray, and have family and friends. Bulliet asserts that singing in the field was a simply way to distract themselves from their fatigue and harsh conditions. Religion and family were also forms of refuge that gave meaning to the life of slaves. Viktor Frankl argues that although inherited disposition and environment influence oneís existence, an area of freedom is always present (4). Slaves found meaning through love, creative values, and spirituality. These aspects in slave life allowed them to find meaning through their suffering. Kolchin claims that although family was the strength of many slaves, the security and stability was uncertain. They faced challenges that included no state law recognized slave marriages, masters had legal authority over salve children, and separation though sale. However, family continued to be a source of refugee and form of private life that owners could not fully dictate (8).

Capitalism of Slave Labor

Not only did slave owners seek to oppress slave lives; they also aimed to profit on their trade and labor. During the slave trade of the 17-century Europe increased itís economy on the bases of African exploitation. Moreover, North American developed its economy on the production of cotton, sugar, and tobacco, which were from African labor. James Rawely states that " black slavery was essential to the carrying on of commerce, which in turn was fundamental to the making of the modern world" (Francis 1).

According to the Historical Statistic of the United States, in 1849 about 59.3% of the main sector of U.S. economy came from agriculture. The remaining was 1.4 % in mining, 7.9% in construction, and 32.1% was in manufacturing (Henretta A-14). Consider this data almost all the economy of that time was built upon the expense of African labor. It was evident that from the building of railroads, growing of crops to caring for the young of white mastersí, slavery was at the front line of building Americaís foundation.

Conflict And the end of Slavery

As the slave economy grew, so did the separation between the north and the south. Since southern economic growth relied on the expansion of rural areas for agriculture production, those states looked to gain new territory. In contrast, the North experienced a boom in the industrial revolution (Kolchin 7). Northern states intended to keep new territory free of slavery.

Tensions grew, not because of economical differences, but for "free soil". Kolchin claims that the idea of new western territories should be reserved for free white settlers did not set well with southern politicians. Southern spokesmen believed that putting a limit to slavery was unconstitutional (12). Southern states were fearful that the North would dominate economically and politically. This conflict optimally led to the civil war, where northern abolitionist pursued the opportunity to also end slavery. Through the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Abraham Lincoln aimed to free slaves in states in rebellion. Eventual the north won the civil war and slavery was abolished through the 13th amendment.

New Struggles After Slavery

The end of slavery did bring new freedom however; new challenges arose that kept black Americans from equality. African Americans now faced struggles of discrimination and black codes that inhibited progress in the Black community. Black codes were used by southern legislative to control the status of African Americans. The codes were also used to control labor efforts during the reconstruction era. Black codes forced free slaves to become sharecroppers. It became a crime for sharecroppers to quit under contract, which lead a cycle of debt, forced labor and imprisonment (Craig et al. 1018). Along with black codes discrimination prevented blacks from finding good paying jobs.

The African American struggle continued into aspects of education, and segregation. Segregation laws prevented blacks from using the same public facilities as whites. Struggles to gain equal access to all institutions were demonstrated through many sit-in and protest. Victories such as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka were a public demonstration that segregation of blacks and whites was unconstitutional (Craig et al. 1018). Education for African Americans still did not measure up to education for whites.

The justice system also used harsh sentences to punish black men. When Blacks were accused of crimes it seems as though they were convicted before they were trailed. Jim Crow laws were used to help to keep Blacks from voting. In order for African Americans to vote they had to be children of voters. An unfair justice system and Jim Crow laws slowed down the process toward change and equality.


Through the civil rights movement many battles were won that allowed African American to experience some social and economical development. An old battle of reparation is the current topic that is stirring up debates. Bishop Henry Turner was the first to call for reparation during the reconstruction era. Imari Obadele and Malcolm X. followed in demands of $4oo billion in "slavery damages" (Smith 1). Current calls for reparation were expressed in an interview with Jomo Thomas who wants a humanitarian fund for the black community. Thomas claims that although many companies have publicly apologized for slavery, they continued not to take action (Evers). USA Today has also made the same claims. USA today has reported that Norfolk southern, CSX, and Union Pacific are all railroad lines that were built on save labor. All of these companies have come forward to confirm these claims but refuse to comment on reparation (USA Today 1).

Oppose of reparation like Kimberley Lindsay Wilson argue that blacks of today are free- born educated people who did not experience the same struggles their ancestors did. She believes that calling for reparation is simply "making a buck off her ancestors too." However, she does propose reparation for blacks that are alive that lived though segregation (Wilson 2). Juan Williams, another opposer of reparation claims that it would lead to hurting many companies that have distant ties with slavery. He also believes that reparation would damage race relations in America. In addition the immoral impact of slavery will be forgotten when the debts are all paid (Williams 2).


Many black American born in the Unites States do not receive the full blessing of being American. Black Americans continue to hold the titles of "African American". The African American title symbolizes the infinite links blacks will have with their ancestor salves. Indefinitely African Americans of today did not receive the extreme harshness of racism, brutality, and oppression of slaves. However, they continue to carry the trait of blackness. Being black in America comes along with the racial prejudice and profiling, education limitations, and social and economical handicap. It is evident the many efforts have been made close the gap between Black and White America, but those efforts are not enough.

There is a growing strength of Black Americans who are well educated, and experiencing record high social and economical statues. However, the struggle has taken over two centuries for blacks to get there. Reparation is an attempt to stimulate the progress and make amends for the impact of slavery. Reparation is not a new battle; it is an old battle that Black Americansí are well prepared to fight. Reparation is an effort to help black Americans reach their full God given potential and to make their dreams become a reality.

Works Cited

Africans in America, "Arrival of first Africans to Virginia Colony, 1619." 25 May 2002. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/1p263.html>

Bulliet, Richard W., Pamela Kyle Crossley, Daniel Headrick, Steven Hirsch, Lyman Johnson, and David Northup. The Earth And Its Peoples: A Global History, Volume II: Since 1500. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.

Craig, Albert M., William Graham, Donald Kagan, Steven Ozment, and Frank Turner. The Heritage of the World Civilizations, Volume II: Since 1500. 4th ed. New Jersey: Prentice ĖHall, 1997.

Evers, Lisa. "Street Soldiers, with Jomo Thomason and Robert Clans." natl. Radio Station WQHT. New York. 7 April 2002.

Francis, Ankia. "The Economics Of the African Slave Trade", 25 May 2002. <http://www.dse.de/za/lis/ci/slavetrad.htm >

Henretta, James A., David Brody, Susan Ware, and Marilynn Johnson. Americaís History, Volume I: To 1877: 4th ed. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martins, 2000.

Institute in a Box, "The African Slave Trade, Capitalism, and the Ideology of Race", 25 May 2002. <http://www.scienceofsociety.org/inbox/res7.html>

Kolchin, Peter. "Slavery in the United States", 11 May 2002. < http://www.africana.com/Articles/.htm >

Logotherapy Article, "Meaning", May 2002. < http://www.meaning.ca/articles/logotherapy.html >

Smith, Robert C. "Imari Obadele: The Father of the Modern Reparation Movement", 11 May 2002. <http://www.africana.com/DailyArticles.html >

USA Today, "Rail Network on lines built with slave labor", 25 May 2002. <http://www.usatoday.com/money/general/2002/02/21/slave-railroads.htm>

Williams, Juan. "Slavery Isnít the Issue", 24 April 2002 <http://www.wsj.com/public/article.html>

Wilson, Kimberley L., "Reparations on my Mind", 11 May 2002. < http://www.africana.com/columm/bl- views-50.htm >

Posted to the Web on June 14, 2002