Thursday, April 23, 2009

Notorious slave site excavated in Virginia

David Zucchino of the Los Angeles Times reports on Thursday, December 18, 2008:The place called Lumpkin's Slave Jail was indeed a jail, but it was much more than that. It was a holding pen for human chattel.

In Richmond's Shockoe Bottom river district, the notorious slave trader Robert Lumpkin ran the city's largest slave-holding facility in the 1840s and 1850s. Tens of thousands of blacks were held in the cramped brick building while they waited to be bought and sold.

Those who resisted were publicly whipped.

"The individual would be laid down, his hands and feet stretched out and fastened in the rings, and a great big man would stand over him and flog him," a clergyman wrote after witnessing the punishment.

On Wednesday, black and white Richmond residents walked together across the rain-slicked cobblestones, excavated this month, that mark the outlines of the old slave jail. This former Confederate capital's announcement that Lumpkin's Jail had been found was the latest acknowledgment of its painful slave history.

Since Richmond's City Council formed the Slave Trail Commission in 1998, the city gradually has been unearthing and commemorating both the enslavement of blacks and their contributions to the city.

"This is a part of our history that was covered up for too long," said Charles Vaughan, a retired bus operator and commission member.

Richmond, which is 57 percent black, long has honored its Confederate past with monuments to Gen. Robert E. Lee, President Jefferson Davis and thousands of rebel soldiers. But only with its decadelong examination of the slave trail - which includes the jail, an adjoining Negro Burial Ground, and the slave marketplace and docks - has it shone a light on its dark legacy of slavery.

"It was hushed for so long," said Ana Edwards of the Sacred Ground Project, which erected an historical marker for the cemetery buried under a parking lot. "Slavery was not something anybody wanted to address."

Blacks called Lumpkin's Slave Jail "Devil's Half Acre." Some died there from abuse or disease. Thousands more were fed and groomed for sale at nearby slave markets, then sent by boat or rail to toil on farms and plantations throughout the Confederacy.

"They were literally sold down the river," said Philip Schwarz, a professor emeritus of history at Virginia Commonwealth University, standing a few feet from the jail site and gesturing toward the nearby James River.

From 1808, when the United States outlawed the international slave trade, to the end of the Civil War, an estimated 300,000 slaves were bought and sold in Richmond. Lumpkin, known as a "bully trader" for his harsh treatment of slaves, sold the men, women and children who became slaves in Southern states, where slavery remained legal.

Archaeologists discovered that Lumpkin's jail was actually a complex of brick buildings. In addition to the 20-by-41-foot, two-story jail, there was a kitchen, Lumpkin's residence and a boarding house where antebellum slave owners stayed while their slaves were readied for sale.

Digging through 15 feet of muck and fill dirt beneath a city-owned parking lot, archaeologists unearthed cobblestones and brick drains that formed the jail's perimeter. The jail was torn down in the 1870s.

"We're standing on a time capsule of Richmond's history," Matthew Laird, an archaeologist on the dig, said as he led commission members across the waterlogged site. "It's exciting to find such an intact and well-preserved site."

The discovery of the jail site continues the city's "public acknowledgment of Richmond's enslaved African-Americans," said Delores McQuinn, City Council vice president and chair of the Slave Trail Commission.

Because of the Slave Trail and the commemoration of "this infamous jail," McQuinn said, "generations to come won't have to do as much work to find out who they are and where they came from."

Kathleen Kilpatrick, director of the state Department of Historic Resources, said the jail has national significance. She called it "ground zero" for understanding the slave trade.

When Robert Lumpkin died, he left his jail to his widow - Mary Lumpkin, a black woman and former slave. In 1867, she gave the property to a minister who established a school for freed slaves.

Over the years, the school evolved into what is now Virginia Union University, a historically black college. (source LA Times)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

We the Slave Owners

From the Hoover Institution author Dinesh D'Souza writes "In Jefferson's America, were some men not created equal?":Although slavery ended in the United States more than a century ago, its legacy continues to be disputed among scholars and to underlie contemporary debates about public policy. The reason for this is that slavery is considered the classic expression of American racism, and its effects are still viewed as central to the problems faced by blacks in the United States. Slavery seems to be the wound that never healed—the moral core of the oppression story so fundamental to black identity today. No wonder that bitterness generated by recollections of slavery has turned a generation of black scholars and activists against the nation's Founding -- against identification with America itself.

"Jefferson didn't mean it when he wrote that all men are created equal," writes historian John Hope Franklin. "We've never meant it. The truth is that we're a bigoted people and always have been. We think every other country is trying to copy us now, and if they are, God help the world." He argues that, by betraying the ideals of freedom, "the Founding Fathers set the stage for every succeeding generation of Americans to apologize, compromise, and temporize on those principles."

Thomas Jefferson's freed slaves.

In Black Odyssey, Nathan Huggins condemns the American Framers for establishing, not freedom, but "a model totalitarian society." Huggins condemns the Framers for refusing to mention the words "slave" or "slavery" in the Constitution in an effort to "sanitize their new creation" and avoid "the deforming mirror of truth." The Founding, he concludes, was simply "a bad way to start."

Speaking on the 200th anniversary of the Constitution, former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall refused to "find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. The government they devised was defective from the start." Marshall urged that instead of jingoistic celebration, Americans should seek an "understanding of the Constitution's defects," its immoral project to "trade moral principles for self-interest."

Is it true that the American Founding was corrupted by a base and unwarranted compromise with slavery, and that the Framers of the Constitution, many of whom were slaveowners, revealed themselves as racist hypocrites? Must we agree with the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who charged that the American Founding was a "covenant with death," an "agreement with hell," and a "refuge of lies," an appraisal endorsed by the great black leader Frederick Douglass? If these charges are true, then America is indeed ill-founded, blacks are right to think of themselves as alienated "Africans in America," and the hope for racial amity constructed upon the liberal democratic vision of the Founding becomes a chimera.

On the other hand, if the Framers are exonerated of the charges of racist hypocrisy, then their blueprint for America might provide a viable foundation for helping blacks and whites to transcend the pathology of race. Indeed, it is the vision of Thomas Jefferson and the Framers that provides the only secure basis for a multiracial society, in which citizens are united not by blood or lineage, but by virtue of their equality.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Gouverneur Morris, The Constitution and Slavery

Gouverneur Morris, The Constitution and Slavery

We have Gouverneur Morris to thank for the Preamble to our constitution.
He chose those famed words "We the People".

Consider Morris' thoughts on slavery.

1787. James Madison Report on Gouverneur Morris’ Address to the Federal Constitutional Convention

He never would concur in upholding domestic slavery. It was a nefarious institution. It was the curse of heaven in the States where it prevailed.

Compare the free regions of the Middle States, where a rich & noble cultivation marks the prosperity & happiness of the people, with the misery & poverty which overspread the barren wastes of Va. Maryd & the other States having slaves. Travel thro' the whole Continent & you behold the prospect continually varying with the appearance and disappearance of slavery. The moment you leave the E. Sts. & enter N. York, the effects of the institution become visible, passing thro' the Jerseys & entering Pa. every criterion of superior improvement witnesses the change. Proceed southwdly & every step you take thro' the great region of slaves presents a desert increasing, with the increasing proportion of these wretched beings.

Upon what principle is it that the slaves shall be computed in the representation? Are they men? Then make them citizens, and let them vote. Are they property? Why, then, is no other property included? The houses in this city (Philadelphia) are worth more than all the wretched slaves who cover the rice swamps of South Carolina.

The admission of slaves into the Representation when fairly explained comes to this: that the inhabitant of Georgia and S.C. who goes to the Coast of Africa, and in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity tears away his fellow creatures from their dearest connections & damns them to the most cruel bondages, shall have more votes in a Govt. instituted for the protection of the rights of mankind, than the Citizen of Pa. and N. Jersey who views with a laudable horror, so nefarious a practice. ...

He would sooner submit himself to a tax for paying for all such negroes in the U. States, than saddle posterity with such a Constitution.

"This country must be united. If persuasion does not unite it, the sword will." Gouverneur Morris (1752–1816)

Monday, April 13, 2009



ON a hot summer's day, perhaps sixty years ago, a group of merry little darkies were rolling and tumbling in the sand in front of the large house of a Southern planter. Their shining skins gleamed in the sun, as they rolled over each other in their play, and their voices, as they chattered together, or shouted in glee, reached even to the cabins of the negro quarter, where the old people groaned in spirit, as they thought of the future of those unconscious young revelers; and their cry went up, "O, Lord, how long!"

Apart from the rest of the children, on the top rail of a fence, holding tight on to the tall gate post, sat a little girl of perhaps thirteen years of age; darker than any of the others, and with a more decided woolliness in the hair; a pure unmitigated
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African. She was not so entirely in a state of nature as the rollers in the dust beneath her; but her only garment was a short woolen skirt, which was tied around her waist, and reached about to her knees. She seemed a dazed and stupid child, and as her head hung upon her breast, she looked up with dull blood-shot eyes towards her young brothers and sisters, without seeming to see them. Bye and bye the eyes closed, and still clinging to the post, she slept. The other children looked up and said to each other, "Look at Hatt, she's done gone off agin!" Tired of their present play ground they trooped off in another direction, but the girl slept on heavily, never losing her hold on the post, or her seat on her perch. Behold here, in the stupid little negro girl, the future deliverer of hundreds of her people; the spy, and scout of the Union armies; the devoted hospital nurse; the protector of hunted fugitives; the eloquent speaker in public meetings; the cunning eluder of pursuing man-hunters; the heaven guided pioneer through dangers seen and unseen; in short, as she has well been called, "The Moses of her People."

Here in her thirteenth year she is just recovering
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from the first terrible effects of an injury inflicted by her master, who in an ungovernable fit of rage threw a heavy weight at the unoffending child, breaking in her skull, and causing a pressure upon her brain, from which in her old age she is suffering still. This pressure it was which caused the fits of somnolency so frequently to come upon her, and which gave her the appearance of being stupid and half-witted in those early years. But that brain which seemed so dull was full of busy thoughts, and her life problem was already trying to work itself out there.

She had heard the shrieks and cries of women who were being flogged in the negro quarter; she had listened to the groaned out prayer, "Oh, Lord, have mercy!" She had already seen two older sisters taken away as part of a chain gang, and they had gone no one knew whither; she had seen the agonized expression on their faces as they turned to take a last look at their "Old Cabin Home;" and had watched them from the top of the fence, as they went off weeping and lamenting, till they were hidden from her sight forever. She saw the hopeless grief of the poor old mother and
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the silent despair of the aged father, and already she began to revolve in her mind the question, "Why should such things be?" "Is there no deliverance for my people?"
The sun shone on, and Harriet still slept seated on the fence rail. They, those others, had no anxious dreams of the future, and even the occasional sufferings of the present time caused them but a temporary grief. Plenty to eat, and warm sunshine to bask in, were enough to constitute their happiness; Harriet, however, was not one of these. God had a great work for her to do in the world, and the discipline and hardship through which she passed in her early years, were only preparing her for her after life of adventure and trial; and through these to come out as the Savior and Deliverer of her people, when she came to years of womanhood.

As yet she had seen no "visions," and heard no "voices;" no foreshadowing of her life of toil and privation, of flight before human blood-hounds, of watchings, and hidings, of perils by land, and perils by sea, yea, and of perils by false brethren, or of miraculous deliverance had yet come to her. No
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hint of the great mission of her life, to guide her people from the land of bondage to the land of freedom. But, "Why should such things be?" and "Is there no help?" These were the questions of her waking hours.

The dilapidated state of things about the "Great House" told truly the story of waning fortunes, and poverty was pressing upon the master. One by one the able-bodied slaves disappeared; some were sold, others hired to other masters. No questions were asked; no information given; they simply disappeared. A "lady," for so she was designated, came driving up to the great house one day, to see if she could find there a young girl to take care of a baby. The lady wished to pay low wages, and so the most stupid and the most incapable of the children on the plantation was chosen to go with her. Harriet, who could command less wages than any other child of her age on the plantation, was therefore put into the wagon without a word of explanation, and driven off to the lady's house. It was not a very fine house, but Harriet had never before been in any dwelling better than the cabins of the negro quarter.
She was engaged as child's nurse, but she soon found that she was expected to be maid of all work by day, as well as child's nurse by night. The first task that was set her was that of sweeping and dusting a parlor. No information was vouchsafed as to the manner of going about this work, but she had often swept out the cabin, and this part of her task was successfully accomplished. Then at once she took the dusting cloth, and wiped off tables, chairs and mantel-piece. The dust, as dust will do, when it has nowhere else to go, at once settled again, and chairs and tables were soon covered with a white coating, telling a terrible tale against Harriet, when her Mistress came in to see how the work progressed. Reproaches, and savage words, fell upon the ears of the frightened child, and she was commanded to do the work all over again. It was done in precisely the same way, as before, with the same result. Then the whip was brought into requisition, and it was laid on with no light hand. Five times before breakfast this process was repeated, when a new actor appeared upon the scene. Miss Emily, a sister of the Mistress, had been roused from her morning slumber by the
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sound of the whip, and the screams of the child; and being of a less imperious nature than her sister, she had come in to try to set matters right.

"Why do you whip the child, Susan, for not doing what she has never been taught to do? Leave her to me a few minutes, and you will see that she will soon learn how to sweep and dust a room." Then Miss Emily instructed the child to open the windows, and sweep, then to leave the room, and set the table, while the dust settled; and after that to return and wipe it off. There was no more trouble of that kind. A few words might have set the matter right before; but in those days many a poor slave suffered for the stupidity and obstinacy of a master or mistress, more stupid than themselves.

When the labors, unremitted for a moment, of the long day were over (for this mistress was an economical woman, and intended to get the worth of her money to the uttermost farthing), there was still no rest for the weary child, for there was a cross baby to be rocked continuously, lest it should wake and disturb the mother's rest. The black child sat beside the cradle of the white child, so
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near the bed, that the lash of the whip would reach her if she ventured for a moment to forget her fatigues and sufferings in sleep. The Mistress reposed upon her bed with the whip on a little shelf over her head. People of color are, unfortunately, so constituted that even if the pressure of a broken skull does not cause a sleep like the sleep of the dead, the need of rest, and the refreshment of slumber after a day of toil, were often felt by them. No doubt, this was a great wrong to their masters, and a cheating them of time which belonged to them, but their slaves did not always look upon it in that light, and tired nature would demand her rights; and so nature and the Mistress had a fight for it.

continue reading Harriet: The Moses of Her People by Sarah H. Bradford here.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Go Down Moses

Go down, Moses,
Way down in Egyptaland;
Tell old Pharaoh
To let my people go.
When Israel was in Egypt's Land,
Let my people go.
Oppressed so hard they could not stand,
"Let my people go."
"Thus saith the Lord," bold Moses said,
"Let my people go:
If not I'll mite you first born dead,
Let my people go."
"No more shall they in bondage toil,
Let my people go;
Let them come out with Egypt's spoil,
Let my people go."
The Lord to Moses what to do,
Let my people go;
To lead the children of Israel through,
Let my people go.
Go down, Moses,
Way down in Egyptland;
Tell old Pharaoh,
"Let my people go."


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