Friday, March 30, 2012

Wartime Riots: Detroit, 1943

A flaming car sets fire to a streetcar station on Woodward in the early hours of the riot. The mob can be seen behind the streetcars.

"The 1943 Detroit race riots," by Vivian M. Baulch and Patricia Zacharias of the Detroit News on February 11, 1999:  Recruiters toured the South convincing whites and blacks to head north with promises of high wages in the new war factories. They arrived in such numbers that it was impossible to house them all.

Blacks who believed they were heading to a promised land found a northern bigotry every bit as pervasive and virulent as what they thought they had left behind in the deep south. And southern whites brought their own traditional prejudices with them as both races migrated northward.

The influx of newcomers strained not only housing, but transportation, education and recreational facilities as well. Wartime residents of Detroit endured long lines everywhere, at bus stops, grocery stores, and even at newsstands where they hoped for the chance to be first answering classified ads offering rooms for rent. Even though the city enjoyed full employment, it suffered the many discomforts of wartime rationing. Child-care programs were nonexistent, with grandma the only hope -- provided she wasn't already working at a defense plant.

An injured driver from Busy Bee Moving Company is detained by police after he attempted to drive through a picket line of angry white neighbors near the Sojourner Housing Project.

The prevailing 48-hour work week put lots of money into defense workers pockets, but there were few places to spend it and little to spend it on. Food and housing were either rationed or unavailable. Detroit's nickname was the "Arsenal of Democracy" but stressed-out residents often referred to it as the "arsehole" of democracy. Workers disgruntled by the long commute out to the Willow Run plane factory dubbed that operation "Will it Run."

Police try to disburse a crowd of blacks at Sojourner Truth Housing Project Feb. 28, 1942.

Times were tough for all, but for the Negro community, times were even tougher.

Blacks were excluded from all public housing except the Brewster projects. Many lived in homes without indoor plumbing, yet they paid rent two to three times higher than families in white districts. Blacks were also confronted with a segregated military, discrimination in public accommodations, and unfair treatment by police.

The summer of 1941 saw an epidemic of street corner fights involving blacks and Polish youths who were terrorizing black neighborhoods in Detroit and Hamtramck.

Early in June 1943, 25,000 Packard plant workers, who produced engines for bombers and PT boats, stopped work in protest of the promotion of three blacks. A handful of agitators whipped up animosity against the promotions. During the strike a voice outside the plant reportedly shouted, "I'd rather see Hitler and Hirohito win than work beside a nigger on the assembly line."

Whites resentful over working next to blacks caused many stoppages and slowdowns. Harold Zeck, a former Packard defense worker, recalls the time when a group of women engine workers tried to get the men on the assembly line to walk off the job to protest black female workers using the white restrooms. "They think their fannies are as good as ours," screamed one woman. The protest fizzled when the men refused to walk out.

An armed black homeowner protects his property and family from roving crowds near the Sojourner neighborhood.

Unions did their best to keep production figures up and to keep the lid on confrontations, even though the Ku Klux Klan and the feared Black Legion were highly organized and visible in the plants.

Overcrowded housing combined with government rent control further aggravated racial problems in the city. Once spacious flats were divided and then subdivided into tiny rooms to rent. Many living under these oppressive conditions relied on hopes for the future to get them through the long tiring days.

Even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the federal government was concerned about providing housing for the workers who were beginning to pour into the area. On June 4, 1941, the Detroit Housing Commission approved two sites for defense housing projects--one for whites, one for blacks. The site originally selected by the commission for black workers was in a predominantly black area. But the federal government chose a site at Nevada and Fenelon streets, a white neighborhood.

The Rev. Horace White, the only black member of the Housing Commission, stated, "As much as I disagree with the site selection, the housing shortage in Detroit is so acute, particularly among Negroes, that I feel we should cooperate."

Detroit police arrest a group of blacks when one was found to be carrying a knife during the Febuary 1942 disturbances.

On Sept. 29, the project was named Sojourner Truth, in memory of the female Negro leader and poet of Civil War days. Despite being completed on Dec. 15, no tenants moved into the homes because of mounting opposition from the white neighborhood.

On Jan. 20, 1942, Washington informed the Housing Commission that the Sojourner Truth project would be for whites and another site would be selected for black workers. But when a suitable site for blacks could not be found, Washington housing authorities agreed to allow blacks into the finished homes.

On Feb. 27, with a cross burning in a field near the homes, 150 angry whites picketed the project vowing to keep out any black homeowners. By dawn the following day, the crowd had grown to 1,200, many of whom were armed.

The first black tenants, rent paid and leases signed, arrived at 9 a.m. but left the area fearing trouble. It wasn't long in coming. Fighting began when two blacks in a car attempted to run through the picket line. Clashes between white and black groups continued into the afternoon when 16 mounted police attempted to break up the fighting. Tear gas and shotgun shell were flying through the air. Officials announced an indefinite postponement of the move.

Detroit newspapers, union leaders, and many other whites campaigned for the government to allow the black workers to move into the homes. The families, having given up whatever shelter they had in anticipation of their new homes, were left with no place to go and were temporarily housed with other families in the Brewster Homes and other sites.

Finally, despite the simmering resentment, black families moved into the project at the end of April. Detroit Mayor Edward Jeffries ordered Detroit police and state troops to keep the peace during the move.

Walter Jackson, a 35-year-old defense worker, his wife and five children were the first to move in. "We are here now and let the bad luck happen," said Jackson. "I have only got one time to die and I'd just as soon die here."

Jackson, a short, wiry 130-pound former UAW-CIO shop steward, had taken an active part in the auto sit-down strikes of 1937.

Detroit Mayor Edward Jeffries

White neighbors on the project's eastern boundary quizzed each passing white: "Which side are you on?" A score of white women, some pushing baby carriages, waved American flags and paraded briefly along Conley Avenue north of the project. They booed when the Rev. White appeared to show support for the new neighbors.

Although the Sojourner Truth riots resulted in no fatalities, the trouble was a warning of what was to come.

By 1943 the number of blacks in Detroit had doubled since 1933 to 200,000 and racial tensions in the city grew accordingly. To protest unfair conditions, some blacks began a "bumping campaign" -- walking into whites on the streets and bumping them off the sidewalks, or nudging them in elevators.

Local and national media anticipated trouble. Life Magazine called the situation dynamite. On June 20, blacks and whites clashed in minor skirmishes on Belle Isle. Two young blacks, angered that they had been ejected from Eastwood Park some five days previously, had gone to Belle Isle to try to even the score. Police began to search cars of blacks crossing to Belle Isle but they did not search cars driven by whites. Fighting on the island began around 10 p.m. and police declared it under control by midnight. More than 200 blacks and whites had participated in the free-for-all.

Rumors began to fly.

Leo Tipton and Charles (Little Willie) Lyons told a black crowd at the Forest Social Club, 700 Forest, that whites had thrown a black woman and her baby off the Belle Isle Bridge. More than 500 angry and fearful patrons swarmed onto the street. The angry crowd moved to Woodward, near Paradise Valley, breaking windows and looting stores.

Nearby, just west of Woodward in an area inhabited by southern whites, another rumor swept the neighborhood--blacks had raped and murdered a white woman on the Belle Isle Bridge.

An angry mob of whites spilled onto Woodward near the Roxy Theater around 4 a.m., beating blacks as they were getting off street cars.

At least six Detroit policemen were shot in the melees, and another 75 were injured.

Woodward was the dividing line between the roving black and white gangs. Whites took over Woodward up to Vernor and overturned and burned 20 cars belonging to blacks, looting stores as they went. The virtual guerrilla warfare overwhelmed the 2,000 city police officers and 150 state police troopers. A crowd of 100,000 spectators gathered near Grand Circus Park looking for something to watch.
A white mob moves up Woodward looking for trouble in the early hours of the 1943 riot. At least two overturned cars can be seen in the background.

The first death was a white pedestrian killed by a taxicab. Later four white youths shot and killed Moses Kiska, 58, a black man who was waiting for a bus at Mack and Chene.

The white Detroit police officers who patrolled Paradise Valley considered all blacks on Hastings Street looters. They reportedly told bystanders to "run and not look back." Some were shot in the back running from police.

Disregarding police warnings, a white doctor, Joseph De Horatiis, entered a black neighborhood on a house call. Within moments he was hit with a rock, pulled from his car and beaten to death by rioters. A monument to the Italian physician was dedicated in 1946 at East Grand and Gratiot.

A black man coming off a bus on Woodward was beaten by a white mob in front of four policemen who made no effort to protect the victim or arrest the whites.

Mayor Edward Jeffries Jr. and Governor Harry Kelly asked President Roosevelt for help in restoring order. Federal troops in armored cars and jeeps with automatic weapons moved down Woodward. The sight of the troops with their overwhelming firepower cooled the fervor of the rioters and the mobs began to melt away.

The toll was appalling. The 36 hours of rioting claimed 34 lives, 25 of them black. More than 1,800 were arrested for looting and other incidents, the vast majority black. Thirteen murders remained unsolved.

A white mob overturns a car belonging to a black man on Woodward. The whites running at right are chasing the driver.

Five black men received 80-day jail terms for disturbing the peace. Two were acquitted. Twenty-eight were charged and convicted on various charges including concealed weapons, destruction of property, assault, larceny. There was little arson, due to gasoline rationing, but more than a few cars were overturned and torched.

Tipton and Little, the two blacks linked to the original rumor, were sentenced to two-to-five years for inciting a riot.

The city's white police force was criticized for its "restraint" in dealing with the black rioters, despite the fact that only blacks -- 17 of them -- were killed by police.

Police Commissioner John H. Witherspoon defended his force and his refusal to issue shoot-to-kill orders, saying hundreds could have been killed. "All of those killed would not have been hoodlums or murderers--many would have been victims of mob psychology or innocent bystanders. If a shoot-to-kill policy was right, my judgment was wrong."

Mayor Jeffries praised the police and said he was "rapidly losing my patience with those Negro leaders who insist that their people do not and will not trust policemen." The mayor asked the Rev. White to search for 200 qualified Negroes to join the police force.

Thurgood Marshall, then with the NAACP, assailed the city's handling of the riot. He charged that police unfairly targeted blacks while turning their backs on white atrocities. He said 85 percent of those arrested were black while whites overturned and burned cars in front of the Roxy Theater with impunity while police watched.

"This weak-kneed policy of the police commissioner coupled with the anti-Negro attitude of many members of the force helped to make a riot inevitable," Marshall said.

Despite Detroit's history of problems, the Seal of the City of Detroit offers hopeful and timeless mottoes: "Speramus meliora" (We hope for better things) and "Resurget Cineribus" (It will rise from the ashes.)  [source:  Detroit News, 1999]

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Detroit's Deferred Dream

Hudson's Department Store

"A Dream Still Deferred," by Thomas J. Sugrue

AT first glance, the numbers released by the Census Bureau last week showing a precipitous drop in Detroit’s population — 25 percent over the last decade — seem to bear a silver lining: most of those leaving the city are blacks headed to the suburbs, once the refuge of mid-century white flight.

But a closer analysis of the data suggests that the story of housing discrimination that has dominated American urban life since the early 20th century is far from over. In the Detroit metropolitan area, blacks are moving into so-called secondhand suburbs: established communities with deteriorating housing stock that are falling out of favor with younger white homebuyers. If historical trends hold, these suburbs will likely shift from white to black — and soon look much like Detroit itself, with resegregated schools, dwindling tax bases and decaying public services.

National Bank of Detroit

Detroit is not the only American city to face persistent residential segregation, but it is among the worst: it has ranked among the 10 most segregated metropolitan areas in the United States since the mid-20th century (though the rate of black-white segregation there has fallen markedly in the last decade, as blacks have moved into once-exclusive white neighborhoods).

As Detroit’s black population skyrocketed during the Great Migration from the South, the city’s whites fought what they called the “Negro invasion” with every tool at their disposal. From 1945 to 1965 whites attacked at least 250 black families — usually the first or second to move into all-white neighborhoods — breaking windows, burning crosses and vandalizing homes.

Hudson's Department Store

When white Detroiters could not win by fighting, they fled to the suburbs. Indeed, for a half-century beginning in the 1950s, Detroit lost nearly half of its population, almost all whites.

Those who left the city cited various reasons: desire for a little green space, new housing, better schools, freedom from crime. Few of them acknowledged the racial motive behind white flight, that words like “freedom from crime” were code for moving away from blacks.

Thanksgiving Parade, Downtown Detroit

In fact, many believed that Detroit’s pattern of racial segregation was simply a matter of market forces. Or they attributed the whiteness of the suburbs to black racial inferiority: blacks, they said, did not have the discipline to own homes. Still others assumed that blacks didn’t move to the suburbs because they couldn’t afford it.

But those explanations were just convenient myths. Blacks and whites alike wanted to own their own homes and gardens, find better schools for their children and live on safe streets. But unlike whites, blacks did not have the freedom to move where they pleased. Detroit had many all-white suburbs with affordable housing, but qualified black homeowners could not get mortgages to move there.

Hudson's Department Store, 1976

Whites, meanwhile, benefited from enormous homeownership subsidies through the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration; blacks did not, at least until the late 1960s, when local, state and federal laws that forbade housing discrimination were passed.

The private sector played its part, too: loans and mortgages to minorities or for houses in racially mixed or black neighborhoods were deemed “actuarially unsound,” too risky an investment for lenders and builders. Even after the antidiscrimination laws of the late 1960s, real estate brokers surreptitiously maintained the color line in housing through “steering,” in which they directed whites to “white neighborhoods” and blacks to minority communities or places undergoing racial transition.

Santa waves to the children of Detroit from a platform in front of Hudson's

Nevertheless, by the 1970s the suburban dream had become a reality for a lucky few middle-class blacks from Detroit. In the post-civil rights era, their new white neighbors might greet them with cold shoulders rather than violence or vandalism. Still, when blacks moved in, whites soon moved out. Racially mixed towns stopped attracting white newcomers, especially those with school-aged children. Much to their chagrin, many new black suburbanites found that integration was just a phase between when the first blacks moved in and the last whites took their children out of the public schools.

Children's Barber Shop, Hudson's Department Store

What, then, accounts for blacks’ move to the suburbs in the last decade? Like whites, blacks have long looked for alternatives to Detroit, with its high crime, poor services and scarce job opportunities. But it was not until the economy of the entire metropolitan area slumped, thanks to the faltering auto industry and the foreclosure crisis, that black buyers finally found whites willing — desperate, in fact — to sell their suburban houses, especially in the working-class and lower-middle-class towns bordering the city.

So far, Detroit’s black suburbanization has followed a well-trodden path. Those blacks heading outward from Detroit aren’t moving to all suburbs equally. Rather, they move into places with older houses, rundown shopping districts and declining tax revenues. Such towns also typically have poorer services and fewer job opportunities than wealthier suburbs — where, despite strong antidiscrimination laws, it is still harder for blacks to find housing.

J.L. Hudson's Department Store, 1998

It’s not clear that this new migration is a positive step, even if it allows blacks to escape the city and its troubles. For whites, suburbs have often been a big step up — but as long as most blacks find themselves in secondhand suburbia, the American dream of security, prosperity and opportunity will remain harder to achieve. (

Thomas J. Sugrue, a professor of history and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, is the author of “The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit.”

Slavery In Sacramento

Slavery In Sacramento: The Archy Lee Fugitive Slave Case
By William Burg

Most people do not think of Sacramento when discussing the history of slavery, but during the Gold Rush, enslaved human beings worked for their owners here in California. In 1857, Sacramento became the site of a court battle between an escaped slave, Archy Lee, and his former owner. The resulting struggle became an early victory in American civil rights, and a rallying point for Sacramento’s early African American community.

Archy Lee was an African American slave from Mississippi, brought to Sacramento by his owner, Charles Stovall. Stovall came to Sacramento on October 2, 1857, bringing Lee with him. Once in California, Stovall established a school and hired out Archy, keeping a portion of his wages. At the time, slave owners were permitted to keep their slaves only if they were visiting California for short periods. Permanent residents could not own slaves.

During his stay in Sacramento, Lee came into contact with the established African American community in Sacramento, centered around the Hackett House hotel on Third Street. This community was small, but politically very well organized. In a state where most whites were split between those who wanted to exclude African Americans entirely and those who wanted California to become a slave state, their need for organization was obvious. By 1857, they had established two churches (Shiloh Baptist Church and St. Andrew’s African Methodist Episcopal), a school, several local businesses, and hosted statewide “Colored Convention” events to organize the call for civil rights.

In January of 1858, Stovall decided to return Archy Lee to Mississippi. Lee resisted by taking refuge in the Hackett House hotel. Stovall sought assistance from the Sacramento County sheriff and had Lee arrested. The first decision in the Archy Lee case, made by Judge Robert Robinson on January 26, 1858, was that Archy was a free man, because Stovall was a permanent resident of California and thus could not own slaves.

However, Stovall had arranged for a second arrest warrant by appealing to the State Supreme Court, and Lee found himself before another judge, Peter Burnett.

Judge Peter Burnett, formerly California’s first elected governor, was a virulent racist. While a member of the Oregon legislature, he authored a bill banning African Americans from the state, punishing those who chose to remain with flogging every six months. While governor of California, he attempted to pass a bill banning them from California entirely, whether slave or free. On February 11, 1858, Judge Burnett handed down a very unusual decision. While California law prohibited slave ownership for state residents, Burnett decided that Stovall’s inexperience and poor health was sufficient reason to grant what he viewed as leniency in the case. Thus, Lee was Stovall’s property and had to leave California with him.

Most Californians, especially in the African American community, were outraged by the absurdity of this decision, and even Stovall realized that he had to leave California quickly. On March 5, Stovall tried to sneak Lee out of California on the ship Orizaba, but was stopped by representatives of the Colored Convention. This time, both Lee and Stovall were taken into custody; Lee for “safe-keeping,” and Stovall for holding a slave illegally.

By March, the case had come to the attention of both the African American community and white abolitionists throughout California. Both solicited funds for Lee’s defense, and organized a legal team led by Edwin T. Baker to argue on Lee’s behalf. Baker claimed that the previous decision, based on Stovall’s ignorance of California law, was insufficient grounds to set aside the Constitution. Judge Thomas W. Freelon of the San Francisco district court agreed, and overturned Burnett’s decision.

As a final strategy, Stovall’s team appealed to United States Commissioner William Penn Johnston, a Southerner, arguing that Lee was in violation of the 1850 National Fugitive Slave Law. They hoped that Johnston’s status as a federal official would trump California state law. Baker argued that since Lee attempted to escape Stovall’s bondage while in California, no state lines were crossed and thus no federal case could be established. Johnston agreed, and on April 14, 1858, Archy Lee was declared a free man.

After his release, Lee joined an expedition of African Americans resettling in Victoria, British Columbia. While living in Victoria, he worked as a drayman, owned property, and even applied for Canadian citizenship, but later returned to the United States. Little is known of Lee’s later life. The Pacific Appeal newspaper reported in 1862 that he was working as a barber in Washoe, Nevada. In 1873, several newspapers in San Francisco and Sacramento reported that Lee was found ill near the bank of the American River, and was taken to the county hospital, where he died.

In addition to the basic desire to escape slavery, other factors may have motivated Archy Lee’s attempts to avoid a return to the South. Prior to leaving Mississippi, Lee had wounded a white man in a fight. While in California he was safe from retribution, but a return to Mississippi would certainly have meant imprisonment or lynching.

Archy Lee’s struggle for freedom energized California’s African American community and California abolitionists. The resolution of this legal battle was a victory for foes of slavery, African Americans in California, and certainly for Archy Lee. It also made Sacramento the site of an extraordinary early battle in the struggle for civil rights.  (soource:

George Washington's Advertisement for Runaway Slaves

President George Washington

Fairfax County (Virginia) August 11, 1761:  Ran away from a Plantation of the Subscriber's, on Dogue Run in Fairfax, on Sunday the 9th Instant, the following Negroes, [1] viz.

Peros, 35 or 40 Years of Age, a well-set Fellow, of about 5 Feet 8 Inches high, yellowish Complexion, with a very full round Face, and full black Beard, his Speech is something slow and broken, but not in so great a Degree as to render him remarkable. He had on when he went away, a dark colour'd Cloth Coat, a white Linen Waistcoat, white Breeches and white Stockings. [2]

Jack, 30 Years (or thereabouts) old, a slim, black, well made Fellow, of near 6 Feet high, a small Face, with Cuts down each Cheek, being his Country Marks, his Feet are large (or long) for he requires a great Shoe: The Cloathing he went off in cannot be well ascertained, but it is thought in his common working Dress, such as Cotton Waistcoat (of which he had a new One) and Breeches, and Osnabrig Shirt.

Neptune, aged 25 or 30, well set, and of about 5 Feet 8 or 9 Inches high, thin jaw'd, his Teeth stragling and fil'd sharp, his Back, if rightly remember'd, has many small Marks or Dots running from both Shoulders down to his Waistband, and his Head was close shaved: Had on a Cotton Waistcoat, black or dark colour'd Breeches, and an Osnabrig Shirt. [4]

Cupid, 23 or 25 Years old, a black well made Fellow, 5 Feet 8 or 9 Inches high, round and full faced, with broad Teeth before, the Skin of his Face is coarse, and inclined to be pimpley, he has no other distinguishable Mark that can be recollected; he carried with him his common working Cloaths, and an old Osnabrigs Coat made Frockwise.

The two last of these Negroes were bought from an African Ship in August 1759, [6] and talk very broken and unintelligible English; the second one, Jack, is Countryman to those, and speaks pretty good English, having been several Years in the Country. The other, Peros, speaks much better than either, indeed has little of his Country Dialect left, and is esteemed a sensible judicious Negro.

As they went off without the least Suspicion, Provocation, or Difference with any Body, or the least angry Word or Abuse from their Overseers, [7] 'tis supposed they will hardly lurk about in the Neighbourhood, but steer some direct Course (which cannot even be guessed at) in Hopes of an Escape: Or, perhaps, as the Negro Peros has lived many Years about Williamsburg, and King William County, and Jack in Middlesex, they may possibly bend their Course to one of those Places.

Whoever apprehends the said Negroes, so that the Subscriber may readily get them, shall have, if taken up in this County, Forty Shillings Reward, beside what the Law allows; and if at any greater Distance, or out of the Colony, a proportionable Recompence paid them, by

--George Washington.

N.B. If they should be taken separately, the Reward will be proportioned.


1. Dogue Run farm, or quarter, was one of the farms at Mount Vernon. The names of three of the four slaves whom GW lists here as runaways--Jack and Cupid on Dogue Run and Neptune on Williamson's farm, also at Mount Vernon--appear in GW's list of tithables in 1760. The names of all four appear in his list in 1761 two or three months before their attempted escape: Parros, Jack, and Cupid at Dogue Run and Neptune at Mount Vernon's River farm. Finally, three of the four are named in the list of slaves at Mount Vernon made in 1762 nearly a year after their running away: Jack at Home House farm, Parros at Dogue Run, and Cupid at Creek farm. See Memorandum: List of Tithables, c.May 1760, c.4 June 1761, and c. 9 June 1762, and notes 2, 3, 4, and 5.

George Washington Gristmill (1771) with breat wheel on Dogue Run Creek in Fairfax County in Mount Vernon, Virginia. [Reconstructed in 1932 as museum]

2. See note 1. Parros (Paros, Peros) was a dower slave at Claiborne's in King William County. GW seems not to have brought him up to Mount Vernon before 1760; he is listed as being at Claiborne's in 1760-61 and does not appear on GW's list of tithables in Fairfax County in 1760. See Appendix F, in Settlement of the Daniel Parke Custis Estate, 20 April 1759-9 Nov. 1761. Parros's name continues to appear through 1764 on GW's list of tithables as a slave at Dogue Run, indicating that in 1764 or 1765 either he died or GW sold him or sent him to a plantation outside Fairfax County.

3. See note 1. There were four slaves named Jack on the Mount Vernon farms, in both 1760 and 1761: one of these was a house servant, two were at the Home House farm, and one Jack, the runaway, was on Dogue Run farm. The house servant was a dower slave called Mulatto Jack whom GW often used as a messenger. One of the two slaves on the Home House farm was called Cook Jack; he was a chief plowman and jack of all trades. In 1762, in the summer after the attempted escape, GW again lists four Jacks, one a house slave and the other three on Home House farm. Only three Jacks--Mulatto Jack, Cook Jack, and one other--appear on GW's list of tithables after 1763, and Mulatto Jack disappears from GW's list of tithables after 1765.

"Greenhouse Slave Quarters" - the sleeping area. In an 1838 interview, a former Mount Vernon slave is quoted as saying, "The sun never caught [George Washington] in bed, and he was unwilling it should find any of his people sleeping ...."

4. See note 1. Neptune's name does not appear among GW's tithables at Mount Vernon in 1762, but in GW's account with Joseph Davenport (Devenport), overseer at his Bullskin plantation in May 1765, GW notes having paid Davenport £3.7.3 for cash "pd Prison Fees in Maryld Neptune" (Ledger A, 210), and GW begins in 1766 again to list a Neptune in Fairfax County. Neptune's name appears on the 1774 list of tithables, the last that GW made before the Revolution, but it does not appear on his list of "all my Negroes . . . at Mount Vernon and the plantations around it" which he made in February 1786 (Diaries, 4:277-83).

5. See note 1. On 28 Jan. 1760 GW wrote in his diary, "Found the new Negroe Cupid ill of pleurisy at Dogue Run Quarter & had him brot. home in a Cart for better care of him." Two days later he noted, "Cupid was extreame Ill all this day and at Night when I went to Bed I thought him within a few hours of breathing his last," but on 31 Jan. he noted that Cupid "was somewhat better" (ibid., 1:230). Cupid is among the tithables at Mount Vernon through 1766, and the name appears again from 1771 through 1774. There was a dower slave at Bridge Quarter in York County at the time of the settlement of the Daniel Parke Custis estate, and it may have been he who had been brought up to Mount Vernon in the 1770s. The slave named Cupid that GW refers to in his diaries in 1786 was a dower slave, not the runaway of 1761 (see ibid., 4:281).

6. No reference to the purchase of these slaves appears in GW's cash accounts. GW must have kept a record of the purchase and sale of slaves in an account book that has been lost or destroyed.

7. The overseer for Dogue Run farm was John Foster and for River farm, Samuel Johnston, Junior.

The Trader, the Owner, the Slave, by James Walvin

David Dabydeen writes in Highbeam, "Bound in the chains of cash," a book review of The Trader, the Owner, the Slave, by James Walvin  -- Stated simply, between c.1550 and 1860 slavery was integral to the way the Western world lived, functioned and prospered." If James Walvin is right (and a host of eminent scholars would agree), why have we in Britain today mostly forgotten this significant debt to Africans? Guilt? Shame? The fear of reparations? Or is it, as Salman Rushdie wrote, that the British don't know their history because most took place overseas?

Walvin, emeritus professor of history at the University of York, has done more to remind us of the links between slavery and British social and economic development than any other historian. An early pioneer of the study of the Black presence in Britain, he has published numerous articles and books on the central role that Britain played in the shipping of millions of Africans, and the benefits it received from the trade in sugar, tobacco, cotton, and other slave-produced commodities.

John Newton (1725-1807)

The Trader, the Owner, the Slave, published to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade, strives to give pulse and heartbeat to the vast data on slavery by telling the lives of three individuals, each enmeshed in the transatlantic trade. First is John Newton (1725-1807), the celebrated cleric, famous to this day for writing the hymn "Amazing Grace". As a boy, Newton was deeply pained when death removed his doting mother from him. To the end of his days he remembered his acute suffering because of separation from her love. Yet as a young man he set off on voyages, as a first mate and then as captain, trawling the coast of Africa for slaves, separating children from parents, husbands from wives.

It was a squalid business, as he was to reveal in 1788 when he was persuaded to join the Abolitionist cause. He published an essay denouncing the "unhappy and disgraceful branch of commerce". Disease, death, the flogging and execution of rebellious slaves, the raping of women aboard ship, fraud among the merchants: he had first-hand involvement in its impieties .

When he looked back, he confessed that "I never had a scruple at the time", and that he only gave up slaving because of ill-health. Why, then, did this great evangelical preacher, this civilised being (an avid collector of books who read the classics on his slaving voyages) engage in what he later deemed to be a crime against humanity? It was for the money, stupid. He was besotted with one Mary Catlett, but had to prove himself to her family as a man of means. He slaved for love, and got to marry her. African suffering paid for his wedding, his matrimonial home and his domestic bliss.

Secondly, there is Thomas Thistlewood (1721-1786), a cultured Lincolnshire man with limited prospects (the family of the woman he wanted to marry rejected him because he had insufficient money) who made his fortune by emigrating to Jamaica in 1750. He worked his way up the plantation system, eventually owning land and his own herd of slaves. Thistlewood kept a diary in which he recorded his thirst for reading (he maintained a library of more than 1,000 volumes) and for black flesh. In his 36 years in Jamaica he logged in his diary (in schoolboy Latin, "Pro. Temp. A Nocte. Sup Lect. Cum Marina") sexual intercourse with 138 African women and children.

He was liberal in his punishment of slaves. Fed a meagre diet, the slaves would eat the sugarcane, but when they were caught Thistlewood had them flogged, then had their wounded bodies rubbed in salt pickle, lime juice and bird pepper. He routinely ordered his slaves to urinate and defecate in each other's mouths.

One slave, however, Phibbah, caught his fancy and he showered her with gifts, falling in love with her. It was a relationship that lasted 30 years. Phibbah bore him a son and was, in all but name, his wife. She cared for him in his bouts of sickness and at his deathbed. In his will he released her from slavery and left her money to buy land. Thistlewood, like Newton, was steeped in human cruelty and romance.

Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797)

Finally comes Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797), a slave who rose to international prominence when he published his autobiography in Britain in 1789. His book became an 18th-century bestseller: there were nine editions between 1789 and 1794, and it was translated into Dutch, German and Russian. Equiano was kidnapped as a boy by slave traders in Africa, removed from his family (the longing for his mother gives his narrative an exquisite poignancy), taken to England and then the West Indies and America, as a slave on ships engaged in the New World trade.

He learnt English, realizing that mastering the language could lead to liberation. Like Newton and Thistlewood he had a devotion to books, reading Homer, the Bible, Shakespeare, Milton, as well as newspapers, sermons, novels, travelogues and economic tracts. In 1767, after years of earning tiny sums by petty trading, he managed to accumulate £40 with which to buy his freedom. As a free man, he worked on ships trading in the Mediterranean and the Americas. In 1773, together with the 14-year-old Horatio Nelson, he was a sailor on the Phipps expedition to the North Pole.

Settling in England in 1777, he quickly made friends with writers, intellectuals, politicians and clergymen sympathetic to the plight of the African. He became a leading Abolitionist in Britain, traversing the land and reading to huge audiences.

After a life of deprivation and humiliation he found love, in 1792 marrying an Englishwoman from Soham, Susannah Cullen. He had family again, Susannah giving birth to two daughters. It was a short-lived happiness; Susannah died less than four years after their marriage, and one of the daughters the following year.

Walvin has told a remarkable and gripping story, asking profound questions about what makes beasts of men, and what can redeem them from their ghastly behaviour. Equiano's book, Walvin suggests, and the slave's abiding belief in the capacity for human decency, provide partial answers to such questions.  (aouexw: Highbeam)

Zanzibar's Anglican Church And The Slave Pits

Anglican Church in Zanzibar

The long history of Zanzibar has its darker side. During the 18th and 19th centuries it was the main base for the trade in African slaves brought from the interior by Arab traders, who often purchased their captives from warring tribes. The slaves were sold to European and American merchants, and shipped in appalling conditions to the Americas and the Caribbean. It is still possible to visit the old slave pens, but an Anglican cathedral has been built on the site of the slave market.

The altar is on the very spot where the whipping post once stood, and the cross beside it is made from the tree under which Livingstone died. During his time as a missionary Livingstone became a tireless crusader for the abolition of slavery, but the trade continued illegally for some years after it was banned. The heart of Zanzibar town, built of stone, is a tangle of narrow winding streets that seem to lead everywhere and nowhere. Look out for the ornate, carved wooden doors, many of which date from the time of the sultans. They were designed both to display and protect the wealth of the house-owners.

From the UK Guardian:  In Zanzibar, Tanzania, there is another striking interplay between material structures and the realm of ideas.

The Stone Town was host to one of the world's last open slave markets, presided over by Arab traders until it was shut down by the British in 1873. The slaves were shipped here in dhows from the mainland, crammed so tightly that many fell ill and died or were thrown overboard.

Below St Monica's guesthouse, dozens of slaves, and women and children, were imprisoned for days in crowded cellars with little air and no food or toilets. Even after two minutes down there, under the low roof, the atmosphere seemed poisonously oppressive.

The guide said the slaves were led outside and lined up in order of size. They were tied to a tree and whipped with a stinging branch to test their mettle. Those who did not cry or faint fetched a higher price at market. Africa has its share of cruelty and suffering, but such stories bite our conscience as if for the first time.

What now stands on the site? The Anglican Cathedral Church of Christ. The former whipping tree is marked at the altar by a white marble circle surrounded by red to symbolise the blood of the slaves.

Legend has it that former slaves in need of work were employed in the cathedral's construction, and made one mistake. The supervisor, Bishop Edward Steere, was called away on business and returned to find 12 pillars had been erected upside down. He decided to leave them, and so they remain.

Steere, a popular figure who in 1885 wrote A Handbook of the Swahili Language: As Spoken at Zanzibar, eventually died of a heart attack in a nearby building. He is buried behind the altar.

There is also a tribute to Dr David Livingstone, who stayed in Zanzibar before his final expedition. Some wood from the tree in Zambia under which his heart was buried has been fashioned into a cross that hangs in the cathedral. Again, history has imbued a place – a tree – with quasi-religious significance.
Slaves were chained to these pillars awaiting their sale in the market

Outside, sunken in the ground, is an artwork: lifesize statues of slaves that could have been made by Antony Gormley, bearing original chains.

The Stone Town is a labyrinth of alleyways, spice markets and unruly traffic, all sufficiently exotic for a chase sequence in a Bond or Bourne movie. There is a mix of Arab, Indian and African influences, notably elaborately carved wooden doors with brass studs, a style that originated as a defence against charging elephants. No one could accuse this place of being soulless. (source: UK Gaurdian )

Slave Sculpture - Stone Town, Zanzibar

This sculpture was next to the Cathedral - and a building used to imprison slaves prior to shipping them out. Zanzibar had a 'thriving' slave trade.


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