African Americans In The South


As a social and economic institution, slavery originated in the times when humans began farming instead of hunting and gathering. Slave labor became commonplace in ancient Greece and Rome. Slaves were created through the capture of enemies, the birth of children to slave parents, and means of punishment. Enslaved Africans represented many different peoples, each with distinct cultures, religions, and languages. Most originated from the coast or the interior of West Africa, between present-day Senegal and Angola. Other enslaved peoples originally came from Madagascar and Tanzania in East Africa.
Slavery became of major economic importance after the sixteenth century with the European conquest of South and Central America. These slaves had a great impact on the sugar and tobacco industries. A triangular trade route was established with Europe for alcohol and firearms in exchange for slaves. The slaves were then traded with Americans for molasses and (later) cotton. In 1619 the first black slave arrived in Virginia. The demands of European consumers for New World crops and goods helped fuel the slave trade.
A strong family and community life helped sustain African Americans in slavery. People often chose their own partners, lived under the same roof, raised children together, and protected each other. Brutal treatment at the hands of slaveholders, however, threatened black family life. Enslaved women experienced sexual exploitation at the hands of slaveholders and overseers. Bondspeople lived with the constant fear of being sold away from their loved ones, with no chance of reunion. Historians estimate that most bondspeople were sold at least once in their lives. No event was more traumatic in the lives of enslaved individuals than that of forcible separation from their families. People sometimes fled when they heard of an impending sale. During the 17th and 18th century enslaved African Americans in the Upper South mostly raised tobacco. In coastal South Carolina and Georgia, they harvested indigo for dye and grew rice, using agricultural expertise brought with them from Africa. By the 1800s rice, sugar, and cotton became the South's leading cash crops. The patenting of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney in 1793 made it possible for workers to gin separate the seeds from the fiber some 600 to 700 pounds daily, or ten times more cotton than permitted by hand. The Industrial Revolution, centered in Great Britain, quadrupled the demand for cotton, which soon became America's leading export. Planters' acute need for more cotton workers helped expand southern slavery. By the Civil War, the South exported more than a million tons of cotton annually to Great Britain and the North. An area still called the ?Black Belt?, which stretched across Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, grew some 80 percent of the nation's crop. In parts of the ?Black Belt?, enslaved African Americans made up more than three-fourths of the total population. Even though slavery existed throughout the original thirteen colonies, nearly all the northern states, inspired by American independence, abolished slavery by 1804. As a matter of conscience some southern slaveholders also freed their slaves or permitted them to purchase their freedom. Until the early 1800s, many southern states allowed these emancipations to legally take place. Although the Federal Government outlawed the overseas slave trade in 1808, the southern enslaved African American population continued to grow. By 1860 some 4 million enslaved African Americans lived throughout the South. Only Southern states believed slavery to be a major, and essential, economic factor. Whether on a small farm or a large plantation, most enslaved people were agricultural laborers. They worked literally from sunrise to sunset in the fields or at other jobs. Some bondspeople held specialized jobs as artisans, skilled laborers, or factory workers. A smaller number worked as cooks, butlers, or maids.
Slavery became an issue in the economic struggles between Southern plantation owners and Northern industrialists in the first half of the 19th century, a struggle that culminated in the American Civil War. Despite the common perception to the contrary, the war was not fought primarily on the slavery issue. Abraham Lincoln, however, saw the political advantages of promising freedom for Southern slaves, and the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted in 1863. This was reinforced after the war by the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the US constitution (1865,