Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Kelvin Doe: A Teenage Electronic Genius From Sierra Leone

From the NY Daily News, "West African teen Kelvin Doe awes scientists with his knack for building tech from scrap: Doe, the Sierra Leone teen also known as DJ Focus, built a radio station from discarded parts and constructed a battery to help manage blackouts in his village – and now plans to build a windmill to produce electricity," by Michael Walsh, on 5 December 2012  -- A West African science prodigy inspired scientists from top tier U.S. universities by transforming trash into technological solutions to empower his community – and he is only 16.

Kelvin Doe, also known as DJ Focus, is a self-taught inventor from Freetown, Sierra Leone.

“He literally goes into trash cans, finds broken electronic parts from the garbage and makes stuff on his own,” said David Sengeh, the PhD student at MIT who organized Doe’s trip to the U.S. for his university’s "Visiting Practitioner's Program.”

Doe – the program’s youngest participant ever – was invited on the strength of a local FM radio station he created to address important local issues, reported ABC News.

Doe works with his MIT Media Lab mentor David Sengeh while visiting the U.S.

“If we have a radio station in my community, the people can be able to debate about issues affecting our community and Sierra Leone as a whole,” Doe explained.

Sengeh, also from Sierra Leone, is dedicated to fostering innovation among young people.

“Sierra Leone and many other African countries receive aid,” Sengeh said in a video for YouTube channel THNKR. “But it does not necessarily get us anywhere. We are not looking into the future. We are not designing our own future.”

Still a teen, Doe has been inventing electrical solutions for his community.

“The lights will come on once in a week, and the rest of the month, dark,” Doe said. “So, I made my own battery to power lights in people’s houses.”

Doe also plans to design a windmill to generate more electricity, he explained.

Clever and resourceful, Doe created a transistor radio, homemade batteries and studio generator with broken equipment he found in the trash.

During his time in the U.S., Doe had access to MIT’s resources and mentors. He even met with Harvard’s president.

“For Kelvin, his biggest challenge is going to be the scarcity of the materials and the information once he goes back,” Sengeh said.

Undeterred, Doe intends to share his knowledge and continue inventing for his community, according to THNKR.

“Whatever things I’ve learned here, I will share it with my friends, colleagues and loved ones,” Doe said.

The fundraiser Innovate Salone, which is run by a nonprofit Sengeh co founded, aims to raise $100,000 by the end of the year to sponsor Doe and other young innovators.

(source: NY Daily News)

William Kamkwamba The Malawi Windmill Boy

From the BBC News, "Malawi windmill boy with big fans," by Jude Sheerin, on 1 October 2009 -- The extraordinary true story of a Malawian teenager who transformed his village by building electric windmills out of junk is the subject of a new book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

Self-taught William Kamkwamba has been feted by climate change campaigners like Al Gore and business leaders the world over.

His against-all-odds achievements are all the more remarkable considering he was forced to quit school aged 14 because his family could no longer afford the $80-a-year (£50) fees.

When he returned to his parents' small plot of farmland in the central Malawian village of Masitala, his future seemed limited.

But this was not another tale of African potential thwarted by poverty.

Defence against hunger

The teenager had a dream of bringing electricity and running water to his village.

And he was not prepared to wait for politicians or aid groups to do it for him.

The need for action was even greater in 2002 following one of Malawi's worst droughts, which killed thousands of people and left his family on the brink of starvation.

Unable to attend school, he kept up his education by using a local library.

Fascinated by science, his life changed one day when he picked up a tattered textbook and saw a picture of a windmill.

Mr Kamkwamba told the BBC News website: "I was very interested when I saw the windmill could make electricity and pump water.

"I thought: 'That could be a defence against hunger. Maybe I should build one for myself'."

When not helping his family farm maize, he plugged away at his prototype, working by the light of a paraffin lamp in the evenings.

But his ingenious project met blank looks in his community of about 200 people.

"Many, including my mother, thought I was going crazy," he recalls. "They had never seen a windmill before."

Shocks  --  Neighbours were further perplexed at the youngster spending so much time scouring rubbish tips.

"People thought I was smoking marijuana," he said. "So I told them I was only making something for juju [magic].' Then they said: 'Ah, I see.'"

Mr Kamkwamba, who is now 22 years old, knocked together a turbine from spare bicycle parts, a tractor fan blade and an old shock absorber, and fashioned blades from plastic pipes, flattened by being held over a fire.

"I got a few electric shocks climbing that [windmill]," says Mr Kamkwamba, ruefully recalling his months of painstaking work.

The finished product - a 5-m (16-ft) tall blue-gum-tree wood tower, swaying in the breeze over Masitala - seemed little more than a quixotic tinkerer's folly.

But his neighbours' mirth turned to amazement when Mr Kamkwamba scrambled up the windmill and hooked a car light bulb to the turbine.

As the blades began to spin in the breeze, the bulb flickered to life and a crowd of astonished onlookers went wild.

Soon the whiz kid's 12-watt wonder was pumping power into his family's mud brick compound.
'Electric wind'

Out went the paraffin lanterns and in came light bulbs and a circuit breaker, made from nails and magnets off an old stereo speaker, and a light switch cobbled together from bicycle spokes and flip-flop rubber.

Before long, locals were queuing up to charge their mobile phones.

Mr Kamkwamba's story was sent hurtling through the blogosphere when a reporter from the Daily Times newspaper in Blantyre wrote an article about him in November 2006.

Meanwhile, he installed a solar-powered mechanical pump, donated by well-wishers, above a borehole, adding water storage tanks and bringing the first potable water source to the entire region around his village.

He upgraded his original windmill to 48-volts and anchored it in concrete after its wooden base was chewed away by termites.

Then he built a new windmill, dubbed the Green Machine, which turned a water pump to irrigate his family's field.

Before long, visitors were traipsing from miles around to gawp at the boy prodigy's magetsi a mphepo - "electric wind".

As the fame of his renewable energy projects grew, he was invited in mid-2007 to the prestigious Technology Entertainment Design conference in Arusha, Tanzania.

Cheetah generation

He recalls his excitement using a computer for the first time at the event.

"I had never seen the internet, it was amazing," he says. "I Googled about windmills and found so much information."

Onstage, the native Chichewa speaker recounted his story in halting English, moving hard-bitten venture capitalists and receiving a standing ovation.

A glowing front-page portrait of him followed in the Wall Street Journal.

He is now on a scholarship at the elite African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Mr Kamkwamba - who has been flown to conferences around the globe to recount his life-story - has the world at his feet, but is determined to return home after his studies.

The home-grown hero aims to finish bringing power, not just to the rest of his village, but to all Malawians, only 2% of whom have electricity.

"I want to help my country and apply the knowledge I've learned," he says. "I feel there's lots of work to be done."

Former Associated Press news agency reporter Bryan Mealer had been reporting on conflict across Africa for five years when he heard Mr Kamkwamba's story.

The incredible tale was the kind of positive story Mealer, from New York, had long hoped to cover.
The author spent a year with Mr Kamkwamba writing The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, which has just been published in the US.

Mealer says Mr Kamkwamba represents Africa's new "cheetah generation", young people, energetic and technology-hungry, who are taking control of their own destiny.

"Spending a year with William writing this book reminded me why I fell in love with Africa in the first place," says Mr Mealer, 34.

"It's the kind of tale that resonates with every human being and reminds us of our own potential."
Can it be long before the film rights to the triumph-over-adversity story are snapped up, and William Kamkwamba, the boy who dared to dream, finds himself on the big screen? (source: BBC News)

Juffureh, Gambia; Kunta Kinte's Villagers Bash Alex Haley

As reported in the Seattle Times, "Bitter `Roots': Kunta Kinte's Village Bashes Alex Haley: Descendants, Townspeople `Expected To Get Rich,'" by Tina Susman, on 2 April 1995  --  AP JUFFURE, Gambia - When writer Alex Haley came to Juffure to trace his roots, he found a community of fishermen and farmers rarely seen by outsiders.

Today, when tourists visit the village portrayed in Haley's blockbuster "Roots," they find a different Juffure: a place of bitterness and poverty, where begging and Haley-bashing are a way of life.

Lots of tourists come, but that hasn't produced the boom Juffure's people had expected from "Roots." They aim their anger at Haley, the American descendant of slaves whose book sparked Gambian tourism and inspired people the world over to trace their ancestors.

"Roots" was published in 1976, and Haley died three years ago, but Juffure's people still demand what they consider their just rewards.

"We expected to get rich - yes, of course, we did! Because whatever Alex Haley got was from this compound right here," said Foday Fofana, a descendant of Kunta Kinte, the central character of "Roots."

The attitude prevails in Juffure and the neighboring village of Albreda, where young Gambians like Kunta Kinte were abducted and shipped across the Atlantic by slave traders. From Albreda's concrete dock, a visitor can see Fort James Island, once a notorious slave prison and now a ruin inhabited by lizards that scurry about the bricks.

It is due largely to "Roots" and the ensuing television miniseries that Gambia developed a lucrative tourist trade, now its No. 2 industry after agriculture.

That, says Haley's family, has been ignored by Kunta Kinte's descendants and by the tour guides who deride Haley as they lead people through Juffure and Albreda and across the river to Fort James.

"One of the things they don't think about is that they get 200,000 visitors a year, and there's no other village that gets that many people. And each visitor leaves something, so the village actually has a commerce based upon the Haleys," said William Haley, son of the late writer and head of the Haley Foundation in St. Louis.

William Haley last visited Juffure in July 1994 and gave money to both the Kinte kin and the village. The district chief, Dogou Sonko, says the amount totaled $1,500. Haley says he plans to return but has been prevented from doing so by political instability resulting from a military coup in Gambia last fall.

The coup has reduced tourism, making Juffure's souvenir sellers and beggars even more desperate.

Haley also said his father had given the village $15,000 at one time to build a mosque, which never materialized.

Tourist boats cruise up the placid, dolphin-filled river, unloading visitors into a gantlet of men selling wood carvings, women selling gourdlike calabashes and children demanding pens, paper, candy, money, even jewelry off the wrists and necks of the visitors.

On a recent tour, guide Muhammed Jatta sat down in the relative cool of the shade to tell visitors the story of Juffure. Instead of relating the village's historical significance, he devoted much of the time to an angry tirade against the Haleys, who he said had done "absolutely nothing" for Juffure.

The visitors were then led to the Kunta Kinte compound, a collection of mud and stucco dwellings with corrugated tin roofs, surrounded by a corrugated tin fence. Fofana said 76 of Kunta Kinte's descendants live in the compound, including 75-year-old Binta Kinte, who was named after Kunta Kinte's mother and whose husband narrated the "Roots" story to Alex Haley.

Nowadays, the toothless old woman sits on a wooden bench in the compound's dirt courtyard and waits for visitors to drop money into a basket being passed around.

The chief, Sonko, says the money usually goes into the tour guides' pockets.

William Haley blames the deterioration in the village atmosphere largely on foreign visitors.

"There was a time not long ago that when I met children, they'd say, `Can I have your name and address, because I want a pencil, or a pen, or a notebook,' " Haley said.

"Now they ask for money, because tourists have given them money and increased their expectations," he said in an interview.

The tour guides, the Kunta Kinte clan and tourism officials blame the Haley family for Juffure's problems, saying the people have a right to higher expectations, given the success of "Roots."

For many tourists, the encounter is an unpleasant one.

"I understand the anger, but we are tourists," said Clive Thrasher of England. "This constant bitterness doesn't appeal to people's generosity."  [source: Seattle TimesCopyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.]

Malcolm X Killer Paroled 45 Years After Murder

From the BBC, On This Day, February 21  --  1965: Black nationalist leader shot dead Controversial black leader Malcolm X, who once called for a "blacks-only" state in the US, has been assassinated. He was shot several times as he began a speech to 400 of his followers at the Audubon Ballroom just outside the district of Harlem in New York.

Malcolm X, who was 39, was taken to a nearby hospital but was pronounced dead shortly afterwards.

Two men believed to have carried out the shooting were cornered outside the ballroom by a crowd and badly beaten.

Malcolm knew he would be killed

Percy Sutton, Malcolm X's lawyer

It took 10 police officers several minutes to rescue them.

One of the arrested men, Thomas Hagan, 22, had a bullet wound to his leg and was taken to hospital.

It is believed the men are members of the black Muslim group, the Nation of Islam (NoI).

Malcolm X had long been tipped to take over from the NoI's ageing leader, Elijah Muhammad.

He gave up his "slave" family name of Little when he joined the black Muslim group while serving a jail term.

But he broke away from the NoI acrimoniously two years ago to set up his own organisation which he said was for "Negro intellectuals who favoured racial separation but could not accept the Muslim religion".

However, after a recent trip to Mecca he appeared to be taking a more conciliatory approach to white people.


Sanford Garelick, assistant chief of New York police said Malcolm X's death could most probably be put down to rivalry between the two groups.

"This is the result, it would seem, of a long-standing feud," he said.

Only last week Malcolm X and his family survived the firebombing of their home in the Queen's district of New York.
Malcolm X's lawyer, Percy Sutton, said he was aware his life was in danger.

"Malcolm knew he would be killed," Mr Sutton said.

Police said they were investigating reports that some of Malcolm X's followers were planning a revenge attack.

Malcolm X's home was firebombed last week

In Context  -- In March 1966 three men, two of whom admitted being members of the Nation of Islam, were found guilty of Malcolm X's murder.

They were sentenced to life imprisonment.

In May 2000 Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan appeared on television with one of Malcolm X's daughters.

He had long been blamed by Malcolm X's family and supporters for inciting his murder.

Mr Farrakhan expressed regret that "any word that I have said caused the loss of life of a human being".

However, he denied he had had any role in the actual killing.  (source: BBC News)

Thomas Hagan, who admitted to taking part in the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X, was paroled Tuesday by New York State Tuesday.

Hagan was one of three men who according to investigators took part in the shooting of one of the most controversial and larger-than-life heroes of the civil rights and black nationalist movements of the 1950s and 1960s.

At a February 1965 speech at Harlem's Audubon Ballroom in New York, with his wife and young children watching in the audience, Malcolm X was shot down after two of the men in the plot caused a disturbance in the audience. Investigators determined the disturbance was a diversion to distract those who provided Malcolm X with security. Hagan was wounded in the aftermath of the shooting.

About Hagan, the Associated Press reports: He had spent two days a week at a Manhattan prison under a work-release program.  The 69-year-old Hagan was the last man still serving time in the 1965 killing. He and two others were convicted of murder.  Hagan says he was one of three gunmen who shot Malcolm X at Harlem's Audubon Ballroom. But he says the two men who were convicted with him were not involved. They maintained their innocence and were paroled in the 1980s.

Hagan has repeatedly expressed regret.

Mortality of Slave Children

From Digital History  --  Slaves suffered extremely high mortality. Half of all slave infants died during their first year of life, twice the rate of white babies. And while the death rate declined for those who survived their first year, it remained twice the white rate through age 14. As a result of this high infant and childhood death rate, the average life expectancy of a slave at birth was just 21 or 22 years, compared to 40 to 43 years for antebellum whites. Compared to whites, relatively few slaves lived into old age.

A major contributor to the high infant and child death rate was chronic undernourishment. Slaveowners showed surprisingly little concern for slave mothers' health or diet during pregnancy, providing pregnant women with no extra rations and employing them in intensive field work even in the last week before they gave birth. Not surprisingly, slave mothers suffered high rates of spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, and deaths shortly after birth. Half of all slave infants weighed less than 5.5 pounds at birth, or what we would today consider to be severely underweight.

Infants and children were badly malnourished. Most infants were weaned early, within three or four months of birth, and then fed gruel or porridge made of cornmeal. Around the age of three, they began to eat vegetables, soups, potatoes, molasses, grits, hominy, and cornbread. This diet lacked protein, thiamine, niacin, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D, and as a result, slave children often suffered from night blindness, abdominal swellings, swollen muscles, bowed legs, skin lesions, and convulsions. (source: Copyright 2012 Digital History)

Charles and Louis Manigault—Father and Son

From the South Carolina Information Highway, "Charles Manigault's Gowrie: A Starting Point
Or, Discrepancies in the Lives of a Master and His Slaves"  --  One South Carolina planter referred to his rice plantations on the Savannah River as "gold mines." And with profit rates as high as 26%, they were. But only for the planters. For the African-American slaves who worked on them, they were places of dread, where death was the most common of all companions.

Gowrie was one such plantation. It was bought by Charles Manigault in 1833. Manigault has been described as a "gentleman capitalist" and "cosmopolitan." He spoke French and prided himself on his wealth and social status. He invested $49,500 in Gowrie at its purchase; by 1861 the plantation was worth $266,000 – proving that it was, in fact, a gold mine.

Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity was founded at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, on December 6, 1845 by three students: Louis Manigault of Charleston, South Carolina, Stephen Ormsby Rhea and Horace Spangler Weiser. Alpha Sigma Phi was originally founded as a sophomore class society for Yale students.

Manigault's records have been well preserved, and through them we are able to get a good idea of what life was like for not only for him, but for his slaves. As you will see, the difference between these was so great, it was often that of life and death.

For example, in 1841 Manigault bought two carriage horses and had them shipped from New York to South Carolina at a cost of $540. His order to his agent was, "Damn the expense." This is the same amount of money it would have cost him to build five two-room frame houses for 40 of his 90 or so Gowrie slaves, with each house costing about $108. In comparison, Marshlands – the house where Manigault spent his winters in the 1850s – had cost $10,000 to build in 1810.
Louis Manigault, Planter. He owned Gowrie Plantation in the postbellum era. He was the son of Charles I. Manigault, a wealthy South Carolinian rice planter who traced his ancestory to a Huguenot refugee who fled from Louis XIV's persecution and came to America in 1691.

Likewise, in 1859 Manigault paid $160 for a gold watch and chain. This was more than he paid to provide his Gowrie slaves with tobacco and molasses – their equivalent luxuries.

But Gowrie had a horrific child mortality rate. Ninety percent of the children died before they reached age 16. And this estimate doesn't take into account stillbirths or miscarriages. Between 1846 and 1854, there were 52 slave births at Gowrie and 144 slave deaths, for a net loss of 92 African Americans. In spite of this loss in "capital" (the dead slaves were worth at least $44,000), Gowrie still managed to yield a 4% return on investment between 1848 and 1854. And this was not unusual.

Why did so many slaves die? The answers are simple – poor health, poor shelter, poor food, and brutal work.  (source: sciway)

Gowrie Plantation, SC

Gowrie plantation was bought by Charles Manigault in 1833. Manigault has been described as a "gentleman capitalist" and "cosmopolitan." He spoke French and prided himself on his wealth and social status. He invested $49,500 in Gowrie at its purchase; by 1861 the plantation was worth $266,000 – proving that it was, in fact, a gold mine.

But Gowrie had a horrific child mortality rate Ninety percent of the children died before they reached age 16. And this estimate doesn’t take into account stillbirths or miscarriages. Between 1846 and 1854, there were 52 slave births at Gowrie and 144 slave deaths, for a net loss of 92 African Americans. In spite of this loss in "capital" (the dead slaves were worth at least $44,000), Gowrie still managed to yield a 4% return on investment between 1848 and 1854. And this was not unusual.

There were epidemics of measles, dysentery, and cholera at Gowrie in 1848, 1850, 1852, 1853, and 1854. In addition, there were the chronic killers – malaria and pleurisy. One white overseer at Gowrie complained to Manigault that because water was "oozeing" out of the ground around the slaves' houses, "I can't begin to get the ground dry under the houses."

Because of these conditions, mortality on Gowrie approached 50 percent. On the day after Christmas in 1854, Louis Manigault wrote to his father:
As Lord Raglan would say to the Duke of Newcastle, so Can I to You, viz.: that "it is now my painful duty to return You a list of the dead," and here they are in the order in which they died. – Hester, Flora, Cain, George, Sam, Eve, Cuffy, Will, Amos, Ellen, Rebecca, – Eleven from Cholera, and two Children viz.: Francis and Jane not from Cholera. – In all Thirteen names no longer on the Plantation Books."

It is telling to note Louis' attitude toward the newly dead. He does not mourn the loss of the slaves' lives, but rather the reduction in the plantation's labor force – and thus its value.

*Cholera is caused by the organism Cholera vibrio, which was carried to Europe and North America from Asia in the early nineteenth century. It was most often spread by contaminated water, but it could also be spread through food or simply by touching one's hand to one's mouth. It was common in
crowded, unsanitary conditions – just like the ones in which most slaves were forced to live.

Its symptoms came in a sudden, overwhelming attack. The first symptom was dehydration, marked by vomiting and profuse diarrhea. This dramatic loss of body fluid collapsed the tissue. Coagulated blood ceased to flow, skin turned blue, and the heart and kidneys failed – often within just a few hours. People who were perfectly healthy in the morning would die by nightfall. In the time between, they suffered unspeakable agony.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dividing a Nation: The Origins of the Secession Crisis and the Civil War

From the Washington Post, "Five myths about why the South seceded," by James W. Loewen, on 26 February 2011  --  One hundred fifty years after the Civil War began, we’re still fighting it — or at least fighting over its history. I’ve polled thousands of high school history teachers and spoken about the war to audiences across the country, and there is little agreement even about why the South seceded. Was it over slavery? States’ rights? Tariffs and taxes?

As the nation begins to commemorate the anniversaries of the war’s various battles — from Fort Sumter to Appomattox — let’s first dispense with some of the more prevalent myths about why it all began.

1. The South seceded over states’ rights.

Confederate states did claim the right to secede, but no state claimed to be seceding for that right. In fact, Confederates opposed states’ rights — that is, the right of Northern states not to support slavery.

On Dec. 24, 1860, delegates at South Carolina’s secession convention adopted a “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.” It noted “an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery” and protested that Northern states had failed to “fulfill their constitutional obligations” by interfering with the return of fugitive slaves to bondage. Slavery, not states’ rights, birthed the Civil War.

South Carolina was further upset that New York no longer allowed “slavery transit.” In the past, if Charleston gentry wanted to spend August in the Hamptons, they could bring their cook along. No longer — and South Carolina’s delegates were outraged. In addition, they objected that New England states let black men vote and tolerated abolitionist societies. According to South Carolina, states should not have the right to let their citizens assemble and speak freely when what they said threatened slavery.

Other seceding states echoed South Carolina. “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world,” proclaimed Mississippi in its own secession declaration, passed Jan. 9, 1861. “Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of the commerce of the earth. . . . A blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.”

The South’s opposition to states’ rights is not surprising. Until the Civil War, Southern presidents and lawmakers had dominated the federal government. The people in power in Washington always oppose states’ rights. Doing so preserves their own.

2. Secession was about tariffs and taxes.

During the nadir of post-civil-war race relations — the terrible years after 1890 when town after town across the North became all-white “sundown towns” and state after state across the South prevented African Americans from voting — “anything but slavery” explanations of the Civil War gained traction. To this day Confederate sympathizers successfully float this false claim, along with their preferred name for the conflict: the War Between the States. At the infamous Secession Ball in South Carolina, hosted in December by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, “the main reasons for secession were portrayed as high tariffs and Northern states using Southern tax money to build their own infrastructure,” The Washington Post reported.

These explanations are flatly wrong. High tariffs had prompted the Nullification Controversy in 1831-33, when, after South Carolina demanded the right to nullify federal laws or secede in protest, President Andrew Jackson threatened force. No state joined the movement, and South Carolina backed down. Tariffs were not an issue in 1860, and Southern states said nothing about them. Why would they? Southerners had written the tariff of 1857, under which the nation was functioning. Its rates were lower than at any point since 1816.

3. Most white Southerners didn’t own slaves, so they wouldn’t secede for slavery.

Indeed, most white Southern families had no slaves. Less than half of white Mississippi households owned one or more slaves, for example, and that proportion was smaller still in whiter states such as Virginia and Tennessee. It is also true that, in areas with few slaves, most white Southerners did not support secession. West Virginia seceded from Virginia to stay with the Union, and Confederate troops had to occupy parts of eastern Tennessee and northern Alabama to hold them in line.

However, two ideological factors caused most Southern whites, including those who were not slave-owners, to defend slavery. First, Americans are wondrous optimists, looking to the upper class and expecting to join it someday. In 1860, many subsistence farmers aspired to become large slave-owners. So poor white Southerners supported slavery then, just as many low-income people support the extension of George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy now.

Second and more important, belief in white supremacy provided a rationale for slavery. As the French political theorist Montesquieu observed wryly in 1748: “It is impossible for us to suppose these creatures [enslaved Africans] to be men; because allowing them to be men, a suspicion would follow that we ourselves are not Christians.” Given this belief, most white Southerners — and many Northerners, too — could not envision life in black-majority states such as South Carolina and Mississippi unless blacks were in chains. Georgia Supreme Court Justice Henry Benning, trying to persuade the Virginia Legislature to leave the Union, predicted race war if slavery was not protected. “The consequence will be that our men will be all exterminated or expelled to wander as vagabonds over a hostile earth, and as for our women, their fate will be too horrible to contemplate even in fancy.” Thus, secession would maintain not only slavery but the prevailing ideology of white supremacy as well.

4. Abraham Lincoln went to war to end slavery.

Since the Civil War did end slavery, many Americans think abolition was the Union’s goal. But the North initially went to war to hold the nation together. Abolition came later.

On Aug. 22, 1862, President Lincoln wrote a letter to the New York Tribune that included the following passage: “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”

However, Lincoln’s own anti-slavery sentiment was widely known at the time. In the same letter, he went on: “I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free.” A month later, Lincoln combined official duty and private wish in his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

White Northerners’ fear of freed slaves moving north then caused Republicans to lose the Midwest in the congressional elections of November 1862.

Gradually, as Union soldiers found help from black civilians in the South and black recruits impressed white units with their bravery, many soldiers — and those they wrote home to — became abolitionists. By 1864, when Maryland voted to end slavery, soldiers’ and sailors’ votes made the difference.

5. The South couldn’t have made it long as a slave society.

Slavery was hardly on its last legs in 1860. That year, the South produced almost 75 percent of all U.S. exports. Slaves were worth more than all the manufacturing companies and railroads in the nation. No elite class in history has ever given up such an immense interest voluntarily. Moreover, Confederates eyed territorial expansion into Mexico and Cuba. Short of war, who would have stopped them — or forced them to abandon slavery?

To claim that slavery would have ended of its own accord by the mid-20th century is impossible to disprove but difficult to accept. In 1860, slavery was growing more entrenched in the South. Unpaid labor makes for big profits, and the Southern elite was growing ever richer. Freeing slaves was becoming more and more difficult for their owners, as was the position of free blacks in the United States, North as well as South. For the foreseeable future, slavery looked secure. Perhaps a civil war was required to end it.

As we commemorate the sesquicentennial of that war, let us take pride this time — as we did not during the centennial — that secession on slavery’s behalf failed.  [source: Washington PostSociologist James W. Loewen is the author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me” and co-editor, with Edward Sebesta, of “The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader.”]

Dividing a Nation: The Origins of the Secession Crisis and the Civil War


Click here to return to the US Slave Home Page