Saturday, September 22, 2012

Great Britain and the American Civil War


From the UK Telegraph, "A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided by Amanda Foreman: review; A World on Fire by Amanda Foreman shows how the American Civil War was not just a vicious struggle between the Unionist North and Confederate South but neutral Britain too," by Raymond Seitz, on 31 October 2010

On November 8 1861, Captain Charles Wilkes, in command of the US Navy steamer San Jacinto, intercepted and boarded the British packet Trent on the high seas off the Bahamas. Wilkes then forcibly removed James Mason and John Slidell, two former US senators who were now on their way to Europe as 'commissioners’, or envoys, for the fledgling government of the Confederate States of America. Mason was bound for London and Slidell for Paris.


Britain had already declared its neutrality in the conflict between the American North and South, but neutrality hardly meant idling on the sidelines. As the war grew bloodier and the stakes grew higher, it seemed almost inevitable that Lord Palmerston’s Liberal government, in one fashion or another, would find itself drawn into the conflict. The fact that Britain, over four long years of tribulation, successfully if not always skilfully walked the tightrope between North and South is the subject of Amanda Foreman’s tour de force.

Northern politicians and editors were jubilant about Wilkes’s caper. Not only had the daring captain captured two prominent Confederate 'traitors’, but he had also given those arrogant Brits their comeuppance to boot. Twisting the imperial lion’s tail was an elemental part of American public debate and no one twisted it harder than Lincoln’s voluble, blustering Secretary of State, William Seward. The fact that Wilkes, in illegally boarding a neutral vessel, had also violated a fundamental principle of American foreign policy seemed not to matter, at least not initially. For the North, the Trent affair was too good to be true.


The British were outraged by this American act of piracy. Palmerston saw war around the corner. Eleven-thousand troops were dispatched to Canada. The Foreign Secretary, Lord John Russell, floundered over London’s response to America’s insult. The issue hinged on whether Wilkes had been acting under instructions or on his own hook (the latter, as it turned out). Curiously, it was Prince Albert, just before his death, who rewrote Russell’s draft protest and provided the wording that ultimately allowed both countries to wiggle out of the fraught confrontation. Mason and Slidell were released from their Baltimore imprisonment two months later and sent on their way.

A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided, by Amanda Foreman

And so it went, one potentially explosive issue after another. The Confederate States desperately wanted British recognition and at the outset were confident they could win it. After all, the South provided 80 per cent of Britain’s cotton imports for the mills of Lancashire and five million Englishmen depended on the spinning. Moreover, the South was more purely 'Anglo’, more cavalier, than the North, which teemed with German and especially Irish Catholic immigrants. As the war went on, and as Robert E Lee’s outnumbered Army of Virginia defeated the Union forces in one horrific battle after another, the courage and nobility of the Southern struggle appealed to British popular sentiment.

But the Union had plenty of cards, too. British exports and investment were directed more toward the industrialised North than the plantation South, and despite the punitive customs duties imposed by the Morrill Act, British banks knew which side their bread was buttered on. British recognition of the Confederacy would have immediately caused the North to declare war, and Canada was the North’s great hostage. Even Britain’s formal recognition of the South’s belligerent status had pushed Washington to the edge.


Most importantly, however, a Northern victory would secure the abolition of the South’s 'peculiar institution’ of slavery, although this was an ambiguous war aim (some slave states remained within the Union and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 applied only to the states in rebellion). Britain was solidly abolitionist, though many British leaders (Gladstone, for example) convinced themselves that an independent South would abolish slavery anyway. The argument was hopeful but hollow.

Overseeing the tense bilateral relationship were two notable diplomats, the unprepossessing but perceptive Lord Richard Lyons in Washington and the frustrated, self-absorbed son and grandson of two former Presidents, Charles Francis Adams, in London. They patrolled the brink. The construction of Confederate warships in 'neutral’ Britain was a constant source of diplomatic tumult for Adams (the South’s flag famously flew over the Liverpool-built Alabama, which was eventually sunk by the USS Kearsage in the English Channel). Lyons was almost overwhelmed by the practice of forcibly 'crimping’ – coercing – British subjects into the Union or Rebel armies.


During the American Civil War it seems you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a Brit. British blockade-runners, operating out of the Caribbean, turned huge profits during the conflict. An American general’s staff on either side appeared incomplete without an English officer. With 2.5 million expats in the divided country, the respective military ranks were filled with English, Scots and Welsh: Private Philip Baybutt won a Congressional Medal of Honour at Front Royal; Henry Morton Stanley fought for both sides; Sir Percy Wyndham commanded the 1st New Jersey Cavalry; David Livingstone’s son Robert died in a Confederate prison camp. Most remarkable of all, perhaps, was Frank Vizetelly, the prolific, indefatigable artist for the Illustrated London News who seems never to have missed a crucial battle. Foreman’s book is enlivened by many of his sketches.

The Anglo-American relationship during this cataclysmic conflict is an immense topic long neglected. Fresh from her 1999 Whitbread Prize for Georgiana, Amanda Foreman has dedicated 12 years of impeccable research to mastering the subject. The result is 800 fluent pages that meld great events with colourful characters, and some of her footnotes merit chapters of their own. In transatlantic relations, things always look different and more interesting when viewed from mid-ocean, and it is from this perspective that Foreman has presented her fine work. (source: UK Telegraph)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Down In Brazil: A Cemetery of African Slaves Are Honored


By Juliana Barbassa, Associated Press, "Brazil: Cemetery of African Slaves Honored," Rio De Janeiro, on 14 September 2012 (AP) -- RIO DE JANEIRO — Wearing full-skirted white dresses and turbans, the religious leaders chanted blessings and sprinkled water on the concrete floor of a modest house near this city’s port. Beneath their feet were the remains of tens of thousands of African slaves who had died shortly after arriving from their horrific sea voyage.

The bodies had been dumped into a fetid, open-air cemetery, often chopped up and mixed with trash. With the 15-minute ceremony this week, the Afro-Brazilian priests were finally giving the slaves at least the semblance of a proper burial centuries later.


“I thank God for this opportunity,” said Edelzuita Lourdes de Santos Oliveira, or Mother Edelzuita, a well-known leader of a house practicing the candomble religion. “We honored our ancestors today with songs left by them.”

It’s been a long journey not just for the slaves but also for the owners of the house and others seeking to recognize the tragic history in a multiracial country that has often avoided its legacy of slavery and racism.


In this case, the remains were discovered by accident, when a couple bought the property in 1996 and started refurbishing it. In the following years, the bones had stayed in pits opened first by construction workers, then researchers. Now, visitors inside the house can look through glass pyramids onto exposed ground and the remains of some of the approximately 20,000 men, women and children interred there.

Most of the newcomers were Bantu, part of a broad grouping of ethnicities in south-central Africa. They had one common characteristic: They all believed that without a burial, they would not be able to reunite with their ancestors, according to researcher Julio Cesar Medeiros Pereira, author of a book about the cemetery.


“What I’m feeling now is that these ancestors who for long years were buried here are finally living again,” said Mother Edelzuita.

The cemetery was part of what was once the busiest slave-trading complex in the Americas. Up to a million men and women first stepped onto the New World here and were then held in some 50 warehouses nearby until their sale.

Many of the slaves died before being sold, weakened by the cross-Atlantic trip, and their bodies were buried in what was known as the “cemetery of new blacks,” which operated in Rio between 1769 and 1830, though it was closer to a dump than a cemetery. Bodies of such “new blacks,” called that because they had just arrived, were thrown into mass graves, burned, and their bones chopped up to make room for more. From some of the warehouses, the open-air cemetery could be seen and smelled, researchers said.



The owners of the house, Ana de la Merced Guimaraes and her husband Petrucio, have been instrumental in promoting research about the find and bringing attention to the remains. Over the years, they’ve relied largely on their own funds and the help of others to continue the project. Merced Guimaraes has also opened her home to visitors and held yearly gatherings on occasions such as May 13, commemorating the day slavery was abolished in Brazil.

Red tape and paltry resources slowed the process, but by 2005, Merced Guimaraes had established a research and educational organization, the Institute of New Blacks. A state grant allowed her to offer classes by a variety of experts on Brazil’s African heritage. Last year, she said, 930 people attended seminars. Only now, with city resources, were they able to cover the gaping holes with glass — a recommendation of the religious leaders — and prepare the place for exhibit.


In this 1996 photo released by Ana de la Merced Guimaraes, she and others dig to recover the bones of African slaves in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 1996, Merced Guimaraes and her husband Petrucio bought a fixer-upper in the historic port-side neighborhood of Gamboa. Once they started digging into the foundation, they made a startling discovery: the building sat atop the "cemetery of new blacks," - the burial place of newly arrived Africans who died soon after their arrival in Brazil between 1769 and 1830. Photo: Ana De La Merced Guimaraes / AP [source: Stamford Advocate]

In spite of the hardship, Guimaraes pressed on, feeling a responsibility to those whose bodies lay under her house.

“Nobody cared for them,” she said. “They died alone in a place where they didn’t know anyone. I thought, who is going to fight for them?”

Researchers analyzing the bones at the cemetery confirmed some details already on the historical record: The bodies were mostly male and young, and they came from inland areas as well as the African coast.

Much work remains to learn about the thousands buried there, said Reinaldo Tavares, an archaeologist connected to the institute.

“Behind every Afro-Brazilian is a ‘new black,’” said Tavares. “These are the ones who died. The ones who lived gave rise to descendants who are now all over Brazil. We are making every effort to preserve this history and bring it to light.”

In this 1996 photo released by Ana de la Merced Guimaraes, bones from African slaves sit in boxes after being recovered by Guimaraes in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 1996, Merced Guimaraes and her husband Petrucio bought a fixer-upper in the historic port-side neighborhood of Gamboa. Once they started digging into the foundation, they made a startling discovery: the building sat atop the "cemetery of new blacks," - the burial place of newly arrived Africans who died soon after their arrival in Brazil between 1769 and 1830. (AP Photo/Ana de la Merced Guimaraes) [source: Windsor Star]

Also inaugurated this week was the adjoining New Blacks art gallery, with an exhibit called New Archaeology. The contemporary pieces from 17 artists use sound, video, photography, graffiti, stencil and photography to reflect the history of the neighborhood, the cemetery and the house.

The works include a flexible plastic sculpture filled with blue and white beads, reminiscent of both the ocean the slaves crossed to reach Brazil and the beads they brought with them, and a giant clay pot that emitted a collage of sounds, including children playing and the music of Afro-Brazilian religious ceremonies.

“The idea was to have the old and the new coexisting in harmony, optimizing what each has to offer,” said artist and co-curator Gabriela Maciel.

In this Sept. 11, 2012 photo, Ana de la Merced Guimaraes points to remains of African slaves covered with a glass pyramid at her home in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 1996, Merced Guimaraes and her husband Petrucio bought a fixer-upper in the historic port-side neighborhood of Gamboa. Once they started digging into the foundation, they made a startling discovery: the building sat atop the "cemetery of new blacks," - the burial place of newly arrived Africans who died soon after their arrival in Brazil between 1769 and 1830. Photo: Silvia Izquierdo / AP

In the middle of the art gallery is another pit covered in glass, through which visitors can see remnants of a 17th century Tupinamba indigenous encampment that includes fragments of Portuguese pottery. It was discovered by researchers excavating the area to find the perimeter of the cemetery.

“Here we have the indigenous, the black, the Portuguese - it’s us, it’s Brazil,” said institute curator Marco Antonio Teobaldo.

But the idea was to not only look at the country’s past but to think about where the country was headed, Merced Guimaraes said.

“We wanted to guide the eye toward the future,” she said. “We didn’t want to make this about people who are gone. This is also about people and a culture that are living.” (source: Associated Press, Juneau Empire)

110S10-Lecture 11: Slavery & Empire in Brazil from Steven Volk on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Triangle Slave Trade Era


From the Royal Gazette Online, "A triangular trade in heritage," on 19 February 2011 -- “A cargo of slaves is in the hold, one of the many contributions of the Danish-Norwegian dual monarchy to the history of the slave trade. For the second time the frigate from Copenhagen is about to set sail on the middle passage with its cargo of misery. In the West Indies, on the other side of ‘The Great Salt’, they are waiting for the new manpower.” Leif Svalesen, The Slave Ship Fredensborg, 2000.

IN September 1974, a Norwegian by the name of Leif Svalesen discovered a shipwreck off the coast of Arendal, Norway, that ultimately proved to be the best documented example of a European ship engaged in the ‘Triangular Trade’ that epitomised the commerce in slaves from Africa, south of the Sahara, into the Americas, including Brazil and other countries in the southern continent, and to nearly all the countries of Central and North America, and the islands of the Caribbean and Bermuda.

In the end, Svalesen and colleagues from the Norwegian Maritime Museum created a new form of triangular trade, one of heritage and in reverse to the original, as the excavation of the wreck of the Danish slaver, Fredensborg, led the researchers back to the plantations of St Croix, once part of the Danish West Indies. Ultimately, they went west to east across ‘The Great Salt’ to the Gold, Ivory and Slave Coast of Ghana, reaching back into the hinterland from whence the slaves came, and leaving for posterity a permanent exhibition at the National Museum at Accra.

That project was a tremendous one for showing the value of archaeology, when combined with extremely good documentary archives, and ultimately leavened with interaction with the descendant population of those to whom the archaeological discoveries pertained.

Khyber Pass Bermuda. At the foot of a hill, there is Warwick Post Office, and just outside that is the landmark rubber tree. There is a memorial here for the slaves who were denied the basic human rights during the slavery period in Bermuda. There was a time when this place used be the site for the slave market, where slaves were sold.

It is unlikely that such a comprehensive project could take place in Bermuda, though researchers may be able to suggest that the nature of the records in local archives is capable of coupling such documents with archaeological data, to provide the means for linking back to the peoples whose ancestors made the forced transatlantic journey to end up on our shores.


However, a little while ago, Professors Linda Heywood and John Thornton of Boston University gave a lecture arising from their studies of the African slave trade, published in 2007 in their book ‘Central Africans, Atlantic Creoles and the Foundation of the Americas, 1585-1660’.

The talk illustrated their thesis that the first group of Africans to arrive in Bermuda came not from West Africa of the Gold Coast areas, but further south and east from Angola.

Bermudian historian, and now Assistant Professor at Millersville University, Dr. Clarence Maxwell, kindly provided a note on the matter.


“Daniel Elfrith, captain of the Treasurer and accompanied by a Dutch vessel, White Lion, captained by a John Jope, were trawling for vessels in the Caribbean. The privateers intercepted a Portuguese ship, São João Bautista, which had lately left Angola with a cargo of slaves bound for Veracruz. They successfully attacked the ship and transferred its cargo to the Treasurer and the White Lion, sailing for British North America.

“The Jamestown authorities allowed Captain Jope to disembark his cargo of slaves, who became the first people of African descent to arrive in Virginia. Captain Elfrith had to take his cargo to Bermuda, where he landed 29 Angolans, who were seized by Governor Nathaniel Butler; some were sold and others kept to work on lands of the Bermuda Company. Thornton and Heywood were the first to link the first group of enslaved Africans arriving in Virginia and Bermuda to the Portuguese vessel attacked by Elfrith, and ultimately to their place of origin in Angola, thought to be either the Kingdom of Ndongo or the Kingdom of Kongo.”

Stonehole Bay

While we do not have the cold waters of the Norwegian coast to preserve Bermuda’s shipwreck heritage in the manner of the slave ship Fredensborg, it seems that at least one ship that found its grave on our reefs was a slaver, or carried a number of items associated with the slave trade and with Africa itself. Such a site could be linked with Bermuda’s ‘African Diaspora Heritage Trail’, as well as with UNESCO’s ‘Slave Route Project’, if re-examined from a slave heritage point of view.

By their work on the Fredensborg, the archaeologists at the Norwegian Maritime Museum created new heritage from what in earlier decades would have been treated as souvenirs or a cash crop for the antiques market.


Having good records from Denmark, they were able to identify some of the Africans brought to the slave plantations of the Danish West Indies, people whose identity, and all material evidence of their culture, had been stripped from them on the shores of the Slave Coast. The return of that research and heritage to Ghana by way of a permanent exhibition paid respect to those who were forcibly transported across the sea to a New World, bereft of nearly all material evidence of their past cultures and identities.

In these times, there is a greater appreciation of the connection between identity, civil citizenship and the preservation and enhancement of heritage. As the only species capable of enquiring into its past, people increasing want to know where they came from and in the case of Bermuda not only within the island, but without, for we are all but recent immigrants to this place in the long timescale of human history.


More scientific, that is to say archaeological, work needs to be done on those sites on land, as well as under the sea, that pertain to the identity of Bermudians of African descent. The land sites need protection under the law, for the marine ones are now covered by legislation promulgated by the Progressive Labour Party Government at the beginning of this millennium. As demonstrated by the Fredensborg project, archaeology holds many of the keys to unlock new vistas of the past and Bermuda is no exception to that rule.

The Scramble For Africa


From the website WYSINGER --  The following material is from the book Geography: Realms, Regions and Concepts, by H. J. de Blij, Peter O. Muller, pp. 304-305 (2003)

1884-1885 - Berlin West African Conference carves Africa into spheres of control

In the second half of the nineteenth century, after more than four centuries of contact, the European powers finally laid claim to virtually all of Africa. Parts of the continent had been "explored," but now representatives of European governments and rulers arrived to create or expand African spheres of influence for their patrons. Competition was intense. Spheres of influence began to crowd each other. It was time for negotiation, and in late 1884 a conference was convened in Berlin to sort things out. This conference laid the groundwork for the now familiar politico-geographical map of Africa.


In November 1884, the imperial chancellor and architect of the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck, convened a conference of 14 states (including the United States) to settle the political partitioning of Africa. Bismarck wanted not only to expand German spheres of influence in Africa but also to play off Germany's colonial rivals against one another to the Germans' advantage. Of these fourteen nations, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Portugal were the major players in the conference, controlling most of colonial Africa at the time.

The Berlin Conference was Africa's undoing in more ways than one. The colonial powers superimposed their domains on the African Continent. By the time Africa regained its independence after the late 1950s, the realm had acquired a legacy of political fragmentation that could neither be eliminated nor made to operate satisfactorily. The African politico-geographical map is thus a permanent liability that resulted from the three months of ignorant, greedy acquisitiveness during a period when Europe's search for minerals and markets had become insatiable.

The French dominated most of West Africa, and the British East and Southern Africa. The Belgians acquired the vast territory that became The Congo. The Germans held four colonies, one in each of the realm's regions. The Portuguese held a small colony in West Africa and two large ones in Southern Africa.

After colonial rule was firmly established in Africa, the only change in possessions came after World War I. Germany's four colonies were placed under the League of Nations, which established a mandate system for other colonizers to administer the territories.


The Congo Free State, conceived as a "neutral" zone to be run by an international association in the interest of bringing science, civilization, and Christianity to the indigenes, received the Berlin Conference's blessings. Belgium's King Leopold II (far left) soon took control, reaping fabulous personal profits through the sale of land and development rights. Scandalously little was reinvested in schools like the one shown here.
(source: http://wysinger.homestead.com/berlinconference.html)


Bury the Chains by Adam Hochschild


Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves, by Adam Hochschild

From the UK Guardian, "Abolishing evil: Adam Hochschild gives the heroes - and one heroine - of the anti-slavery movement their due in Bury the Chains, says Robin White," by Robin White on 11 February 2005 -- Adam Hochschild's acclaimed account of the Belgian Congo, King Leopold's Ghost, told the tale of one of most terrible abuses of human rights: the theft of a vast country and the killing of between five and eight million of its inhabitants. Now, in Bury the Chains, he brings us the story of the most successful episodes of human rights activism, relating how, in just a few years at the end of the 18th century, a small group of men (and one woman) took on the vested interests of state, church and big business - and won.


Two hundred years ago, three-quarters of the world's population were in bondage of one kind or another. Eighty thousand slaves were trafficked every year from Africa to the New World. Ship owners, slave traders, sugar exporters, chocolate makers and plantation owners were earning fortunes. Only one MP, William Wilberforce, was active in the abolitionists' cause. Yet with organisation, enthusiasm and imaginative campaigning, the abolitionists eventually forced parliament to hear the cries of the suffering slaves and bend to the will of the British people. "It was the first time in history," writes Hochschild, "that a large number of people became outraged, and stayed outraged for many years over someone else's rights."

The problem facing the abolitionists can be summed up in one word: sugar. Sugar was like today's oil. Our British ancestors, unaware of its dangers to health, consumed huge quantities of the stuff and the economy would have ground to a halt without it. At the height of the slave trade, for instance, British imports from the tiny, sugar-producing West Indian island of Grenada, were eight times those from Canada.


The life of the slaves who cut and harvested the sugar was hellish and short: they died being captured, they died crossing the Atlantic, they died from beatings and they died from sheer hard work on the sugar plantations. During the period of the slave trade, more than two million were shipped to the Caribbean. At its close, there were fewer than 670,000. By contrast, the 400,000 shipped to the Americas (where sugar cane was not the only crop) had grown to four million.

Cutting sugar was back-breaking and dangerous. Slaves would often fall asleep and let their hands slip into the crushing mills. A machete was kept nearby to cut off an entire arm in order to save them. In contrast, the life of the plantation owners who exploited the slaves was sweet and extravagant. Here are the observations of the planters' eating and drinking habits from the diary of Lady Nugent, wife of the governor of Jamaica: "Such eating and drinking I have never seen before - a dish of tea, another of coffee, a bumper of claret, then Madeira; hot and cold meat, stews and fries and cold fish pickled, peppers, ginger, sweetmeats, acid fruits and sweet jellies." And that was just for breakfast.


Bury the Chains tells of the struggle to end slavery through the eyes of the few who plotted its downfall. Among them was John Newton, who worked on slave ships between West Africa and the Caribbean, where profits on a slave could be as much as 147%. He was a ruthless businessman and a dispassionate observer of the Africans he bought and sold: "I was brought a woman to buy, but being long breasted and ill made, I refused her."

Slave revolts on board ship were frequent and every captain had to be on the lookout. Newton mounted guns on deck and trained muskets on the captives' quarters to intimidate them. But still there were uprisings and Newton regularly had to lash them and "put them slightly in the thumbscrews" to keep them quiet. Newton turned to God, wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace" and, late in life, joined the anti-slavery cause.

Granville Sharpr rescuing Jonathan Strong

There was Granville Sharp, a royal musician who rescued a slave, Jonathan Strong, who had been brought to London by his master and so badly beaten up that he nearly died. Sharp went to court and had the slave freed. There was James Steven, a philanderer whose law studies had been financed by an uncle who bought sick slaves, cheaply, and oiled and fattened them up for resale. There was Olaudah Equiano, an eloquent, freed Igbo slave, who gatecrashed London society and wrote bestselling books about his own experiences.

But above all there was the abolitionist's most tireless worker, Thomas Clarkson. He was a giant of a man, more than 6ft tall, with striking red hair. Clarkson sprang into prominence when he entered, and won, England's top Latin essay competition. His chosen subject was the slave trade and his tract became famous. For the rest of his life he rode and walked the length of Britain (and quite a lot of France, too) addressing meetings, writing pamphlets, collecting signatures on petitions, and compiling a wealth of evidence on the horrors of the slave trade.

Thomas Clarkson

With the help of the Quakers (the only religious group to campaign wholeheartedly against the trade) Clarkson founded the all-white anti-slavery committee in 1787 at 18 Old Jewry, in the heart of the City of London. Initially they had spectacular successes. Slavery became the cause of the day. Newspapers took it up. It was the most discussed subject in London's popular debating societies. Just about every town and city in the country organised petitions on scrolls. One hundred and three were sent to parliament with 60,000 signatures. One scroll stretched the entire length of the debating chamber.

But when it came to votes in parliament, even the tiny but eloquent Wilberforce couldn't win the day. The 18th century may have been the age of enlightenment but there was a limited franchise and MPs did not need to respond to the wishes of the masses. Those who benefited from the slave trade fought back, employing lobby groups, bribing politicians and journalists. Wilberforce lost the debate by 163 votes to 88. It was a humbling experience, because it was not even a vote to abolish slavery as a whole, just the trade in slaves. (The argument was that if the human traffic could be stopped, then slavery itself would eventually wither and die.)


Clarkson and his friends were not discouraged. There was a nationwide sugar boycott - sugar sales dropped by a third. William Pitt, the prime minister, was enlisted on their side, and he spoke on the abolitionists' behalf in the second parliamentary debate a year later. But vested interests and those who argued that if Britain banned the trade then France would cash in again triumphed.

Then followed the wilderness years. British minds turned to other matters: the madness of George III, revolution in France, the war against Napoleon. The conditions of slaves got worse rather than better - it is estimated that more than two million whiplashes were administered each year.


It was to take another two decades before slavery's coffin was finally nailed. By that time electoral reform was in the air, and women's voices were beginning to be heard. The loudest was that of Elizabeth Heyrick, a former teacher and convert to the Quakers. In 1824 she published a pamphlet entitled "Immediate Not Gradual Abolition". Not for her the banning of the slave trade - she wanted all slavery ended for ever. Meanwhile, British soldiers, sent to the Caribbean to suppress slave revolts, returned home with a true picture of the evils of slavery. Their voices added to the clamour. The tide was finally turned and the emancipation bill was passed in 1833. But the victory was a tarnished one: as part of the deal, parliament agreed to pay £20m in compensation, not to slaves but to the slave owners.


Hochschild concludes with a debate on who did most to end the sordid trade in human beings. Was it Wilberforce or Clarkson? He is in no doubt that it was Clarkson, the ginger-haired giant. He is scathing of the attempts by Wilberforce's family to write Clarkson out of history, and this major piece of research is an attempt to put the record straight. Clarkson lived to the grand age of 86, still writing, still campaigning for the downtrodden. His last pamphlet was about the appalling conditions of British seamen.

This is a wonderful book, full of richness and colour - a celebration of many people's achievements. It's a testimony to both evil and goodness: a story in which, for once, goodness wins. [source: UK Guardian, Robin White is former editor of the BBC World Service programmes for Africa]



Adam Hochschild :: Bury the Chains from The Justice Conference on Vimeo.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Priscilla’s Story: Journey to Bunce Island


From NBC News Rock Center, aired on 16 February 2012, "Priscilla’s Story: Family traces roots to slave island" --  NBC News Correspondent Ron Allen journeys to Bunce Island off the coast of Sierra Leone. Bunce Island was once a slave trading fortress, which served as the beginning of a tragic journey for tens of thousands of Africans transported across the Atlantic into slavery in the United States. One African-American family, the Martins, was able to trace its roots two and a half centuries back to the island and to a little girl named Priscilla who was sold into slavery when she was 10 years old.


BRIAN WILLIAMS: called America's original sin. While we're all Americans now, back then Africans were brought here to work against their will. After emancipation, that's when the roots of so many African-American families got fuzzy and jumbled up and lost, except for this story you're about to hear. The one case anyone knows where a family's roots can be traced from right now, present day America, all the way back. It's thanks really to a little girl who paid a terrible price, and tonight Ron Allen tells us Priscilla's story.

RON ALLEN: Two and a half centuries ago, thousands of miles across the Atlantic, a young girl was kidnapped and held captive in Sierra Leone, West Africa, on an island so remote, so forgotten, few people ever travel there.

Mr. JOE OPALA: It is literally a ghost town. The impact emotionally on people who see it is just extraordinary.

ALLEN: Our guide is historian Joe Opala. Oh, I see this.

Mr. OPALA: 1796.

ALLEN: He spent much of his life trying to learn what happened to that little girl, and so many prisoners just like her.

Mr. OPALA: Negotiations for the purchase of slaves would have begun right here.

ALLEN: He took us to a place called Bunce Island, and the ruins of one of the most notorious slave trading fortresses the world has ever known. This is the doorway into the slave quarters?

Mr. OPALA: Yeah, into both slave quarters, men...

ALLEN: Men.

Mr. OPALA: ...and men on this side, and women and children on the this side. So we're going into the men's yard here. In the place where we're standing here, it could hold between two and 300 men, and that the men were chained together in circles of 10 people each to prevent them from climbing over the walls. They would go through this door first.

ALLEN: Tens of thousands of slaves were shipped from Bunce Island directly to South Carolina and Georgia, including that little girl. On a ship called the Hare, her name in the slave trader's log was Priscilla. She was 10 years old.

Mr. OPALA: We know who sold Priscilla. We know who bought her. We know how much was paid for her.

ALLEN: Opala had an astonishing trail to follow. Tracing Priscilla's voyage to Charleston, and what's left of an old rice plantation called Comingtee. Edward Ball, writer and teacher, is a descendant of the family that owned this plantation and some 20 others. He discovered an extraordinary record.


Mr. EDWARD BALL: "June 30th, 1756."

ALLEN: One that very few African-Americans have.

Mr. BALL: "I bought four boys and two girls."

ALLEN: A paper trail to their past. Ball's family kept probably the most extensive slave owner's property records still in existence, 10,000 pages. ...  (source: NBC News Rock Center)



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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Joseph H. Rainey, “Speech Made in Reply to An Attack Upon the Colored State Legislators of South Carolina by Representative Cox on New York,” 1871




Joseph H. Rainey, “Speech Made in Reply to An Attack Upon the Colored State Legislators of South Carolina by Representative Cox on New York,” 1871

Joseph Hayne Rainey, born in Georgetown, South Carolina to enslaved parents in 1832, became on December 12, 1870, the first African American to serve in the United States House of Representatives and only the second person to serve Congress, after U.S. Senator Hiram Revels of Mississippi. He was elected to Congress four times as a Republican, serving until March 3, 1879 which made him the longest serving black Congressman during the Reconstruction era. In a speech given on the floor of Congress in 1871, Rainey challenges a New York Democratic representative who made disparaging remarks about the black members of the South Carolina state legislature. That speech appears below.

The remarks made by the gentleman from New York in relation to the colored people of South Carolina escaped my hearing, as I was in the rear of the Hall when they were made, and I did not know that any utterance of that kind had emanated from him. I have always entertained a high regard for the gentleman from New York, because I believed him to be a useful member of the House. He is a gentleman of talent and of fine education, and I have thought heretofore that he would certainly be charitable toward a race of people who have never enjoyed the same advantages that he has. If the colored people of South Carolina had been accorded the same advantages—if they had had the same wealth and surroundings which the gentleman from New York has had, they would have shown to this nation that their color was no obstacle to their holding positions of trust, political or otherwise. Not having had these advantages, we cannot at the present time compete with the favored race of this country; but perhaps if our lives are spared, and if the gentleman from New York and other gentlemen on that side of the House will only accord to us right and justice, we shall show to them that we can be useful, intelligent citizens of this country. But if they will continue to proscribe us, if they will continue to cultivate prejudice against us; if they will continue to decry the Negro and crush him under foot, then you cannot expect the Negro to rise while the Democrats are trampling upon him and his rights. We ask you, sir, to do by the Negro as you ought to do by him in justice.
If the Democrats are such staunch friends of the Negro, why is it that when propositions are offered here and elsewhere looking to the elevation of the colored race, and the extension of right and justice to them, do the Democrats array themselves in unbroken phalanx, and vote against every such measure? You, gentlemen of that side of the House, have voted against all the recent amendments of the Constitution, and the laws enforcing the same. Why did you do it? I answer, because those measures had a tendency to give to the poor Negro his just rights, and because they proposed to knock off his shackles and give him freedom of speech, freedom of action, and the opportunity of education, that he might elevate himself to the dignity of manhood.


Now you come to us and say that you are our best friends. We would that we could look upon you as such. We would that your votes as recorded in the Globe from day to day could only demonstrate it. But your votes, your actions, and the constant cultivation of your cherished prejudices prove to the Negroes of the entire country that the Democrats are in opposition to them, and if they [the Democrats] could have sway our race would have no foothold here.

Now, sir, I have not time to vindicate fully the course of action of the colored people of South Carolina. We are certainly in the majority there; I admit that we are as two to one. Sir, I ask this House, I ask the country, I ask white men, I ask Democrats, I ask Republicans whether the Negroes have presumed to take improper advantage of the majority they hold in that State by disregarding the interest of the minority? They have not. Our convention which met in 1868, and in which the Negroes were in a large majority, did not pass any proscriptive or disfranchising acts, but adopted a liberal constitution, securing alike equal rights to all citizens, white and black, male and female, as far as possible. Mark you, we did not discriminate, although we had a majority. Our constitution towers up in its majesty with provisions for equal protection of all classes and citizens. Notwithstanding our majority there, we have never attempted to deprive any man in that State of the rights and immunities to which he is entitled under the Constitution of this Government. You cannot point me to a single act passed by our Legislature, at any time, which had a tendency to reflect upon or oppress any white citizen of South Carolina. You cannot show me one enactment by which the majority in our State have undertaken to crush the white men because the latter are in a minority.


I say to you, gentlemen of the Democratic party, that I want you to deal justly with the people composing my race. I am here representing a Republican constituency made up of white and colored men. I say to you deal with us justly; be charitable toward us. An opportunity will soon present itself when we can test whether you on that side of the House are the best friends of the oppressed and ill-treated Negro race. When the civil rights bill comes before you, when that bill comes up upon its merits asking you to give civil rights of the Negro, I will then see who are our best friends on that side of the House.


I will say to the gentleman from New York that I am sorry I am constrained to make these remarks. I wish to say to him that I do not mind what he may have said against the Negroes of South Carolina. Neither his friendship nor his enmity will change the sentiment of the loyal men of that State. We are determined to stand by this Government. We are determined to use judiciously and wisely the prerogative conferred upon us by the Republican party. The democratic party may woo us, they may court us and try to get us to worship at their shrine, but I will tell the gentleman that we are republicans by instinct, and we will be Republicans so long as God will allow our proper senses to hold sway over us.  [Source:  Black Past, Congressional Globe, 42nd Congress, Second Session (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1872), pp. 1442, 1443.]

Jim Crow and the Exclusion of African Americans from Congress, 1887–1929

The Negroes’ Temporary Farewell
Jim Crow and the Exclusion of African Americans from Congress, 1887–1929
A Generation Lost

For a long generation, lacking a single black Representative or Senator and absent direction from a line of ambivalent or hostile Presidents, the parties in Congress deferred—sometimes scuttled—meaningful civil rights protections and the consideration of equal educational and economic opportunity. Southern politicians routinely and loudly invoked the threat of federal intervention in southern race relations to stir the electorate, but the specter amounted to little more than a harmless bogeyman. In sharp contrast to the Reconstruction Era, Congress adopted a hands-off approach to the issue of race in the South during the early decades of the 20th century, with few exceptions. A handful of dogged reformers such as Edgar Crumpacker, Leonidas Carstarphen Dyer of Missouri, and George Holden Tinkham of Massachusetts brought significant measures before the House. But congressional action consisted more of punitive threats and partisan maneuvering than of positive reaffirmations of the federal government’s commitment to the 14th or 15th Amendment.

An 11-term Representative, Leonidas Dyer of Missouri crusaded against lynching. In 1918, he introduced H.R. 11279, “a bill to protect citizens of the United States against lynching in default of protection by the States.”

Also at work were pervasive social theories that assumed the racial superiority of whites and the inferiority of blacks.96 These ideas were subscribed to not only by unreconstructed southern spokesmen of white supremacy but also by many of the most progressive minds of the era—including those in Congress who theoretically supported voting rights for southern blacks. “No one questions the superiority of the white race, but that superiority is grounded in the rugged virtues of justice and humanity,” Representative Crumpacker told colleagues. In a sense, his plan to punish states disfranchising black voters was as much about teaching recalcitrant southern whites a lesson in noblesse oblige as it was about elevating the status of southern blacks, whom he described as being “in the childhood of civilization . . . [in] want of manly virtues.” He continued, “It is surely no credit to American manhood to bind and shackle a helpless race to avoid the temporary embarrassments that would attend its proper development.”97


Hiram Revels of Mississippi became the first African American senator in 1870.

Congressional ambivalence toward racial legislation derived from the general disinterest of the American public and many prevalent stereotypes. By the late 19th century, popular opinion turned apathetic toward black civil rights and supportive of returning unencumbered self-governance to southerners. For many disaffected northerners, segregation and disfranchisement seemed viable—even rational—alternatives to mounting racial violence in the South. Federal inaction mirrored public complacency. In this social context, congressional inertia and a series of devastating Supreme Court rulings were “broadly reflective” of an American public that was not receptive to the concept of a multiracial society.98 As one historian concludes, the passivity of the federal government on the issue of disfranchisement enabled and encouraged other southern states to follow the example of Louisiana, Mississippi, and the Carolinas.99


Joseph Hayne Rainey was the first African American to serve in the United States House of Representatives

By the early 20th century, the Supreme Court had essentially eroded the legal basis for black equality and bolstered states’ efforts to stringently separate the races.100 Among the high court’s most devastating rulings were Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), Williams v. Mississippi (1898), and Giles v. Harris (1903).101 In upholding the constitutionality of an 1890 Louisiana law that required rail companies to provide “equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races,” Plessy sanctioned the system of segregation then crystallizing in the South.102 In Williams, a black man convicted of murder by an all-white jury appealed the decision based on the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court unanimously upeld the jury’s decision, endorsing the disfranchising laws that prevented black men from serving on juries.103 Several years later, Giles upheld the grandfather clause, one of the chief disfranchising methods used at southern constitutional conventions at the turn of the 20th century.


Texan, Barbara Jordan was the first Black woman to serve in the U.S. Congress from the South.

The decline of African-American civil rights coincided with one of the nation’s most fervent bursts of social reform. Spanning the 1890s through World War I, the Progressive Era was a period when a broad and diverse group of social reformers moving from local to national arenas pushed for the modernization and democratization of American society.104 Progressives sought to advance public safety and welfare through professionalization and standardization across the spectrum of American life. Their efforts included regulating food content and production, establishing laws for child labor and guidelines for industrial safety, and implementing conservation, temperance, and even experimental welfare programs. Progressives also ushered in political reforms, including direct primary elections, the popular election of U.S. Senators, and women’s suffrage.


Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the first African-American elected to Congress from New York

Though Progressivism would seem a democratizing force positioned against segregationists, in fact, the movement often complemented Jim Crow. The Progressives’ focus on the necessity for expertise provided an important rationale for limiting the franchise to voters who were deemed to be qualified.105 Order, organization, and rational decision-making within a rapidly industrializing, sometimes chaotic, society lay at the heart of the Progressive impulse and often trumped democratic reform. “Whenever general anxieties rose across the nation, followers of the bureaucratic way had to turn for help to one of the several traditional techniques for achieving tighter cohesion,” observes historian Robert Weibe. “One of the time-honored devices was exclusion: draw a line around good society and dismiss the remainder.”106 Moreover, Progressives’ obsession with scientific method spread ‘social Darwinism’ (sometimes referred to as ‘scientific racism’ or eugenics), which postulated that Anglo-Saxon social success was rooted in superior biological and evolutionary traits. The resulting rationalization of white supremacist thinking via a national political, social, and scientific movement only emboldened proponents of segregation.107

 Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman to serve in the United States Congress, 1968.

African Americans participated as fully as possible in a society that had marginalized them. As George White once noted in a characteristically upbeat floor speech, “We are ramifying and stretching out as best we can in all departments of life, with a view to making ourselves good citizens.”108 These efforts were marked by significant milestones: the founding of advocacy groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909, African-American contributions to World War I, and the black intellectual and artistic flowering of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. Faced with a repressive system of segregation in the South, African Americans sought new opportunities outside the region, as an ever–stronger current of southern blacks moved into northern cities. This demographic shift and the nascent political activism of northern urban blacks portended change for the future. (source: Black Americans In Congress)

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