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					 United States History and Literature
        The American Experience
“American Slavery and
 Frederick Douglass”

        By Mr. Richard Geib

     Foothill Technology High School
               April 26, 2012
                       Despite the prominent role
                        of slavery in our history,
                          many myths about the
                        history of racism remain.

 It is a post- Civil          Free blacks found                       The North al so
War myth that the             themsel ves in an                    knew i ts shar e of
North was si mpl y               increasing ly                         prewar racial
fi g hting the g ood               precar ious                     violence, incl udi ng
   fi g ht. In fact,            posi tion in the                     the Phil adelphia
      r acism was                 nor th, bei ng                       r iot of 1844.
   common both                deni ed the rig ht to
sides, r esidential              vote in New
     seg r eg ation           Jer sey i n 1807, i n
                                Connecticut in          In s pi te of the presence of abol iti onis ts, the
  having actually
                                                      North was already under s iege by the s ci enti fi c
     beg un i n the                   1811.
                                                      rac is m of the day, bas ed on "dis ci plines" s uch
         North.                                         as phrenology whi ch purported to prove the
                                                                 innate inferiority of blac ks .
                 But, slavery is the South’s
                   “peculiar institution.”
                                                                                 Free blacks, as
Slaves typicall y                                                                well as sl aves,
worked from 12-                                                                were r egul ated by
 15 hour s a day                                                               the Blacks Codes
and lived in small                                                             acr oss the South.
      cabi ns.                                                                   Certai n ri g hts.

The total cost of        Slavery, simply put, was a
  their clothing ,
   housing , and
                       system of forced labor based
food, amounting                   on race.
 to r oug hly one-
 q uar ter of thei r                                                       M or e than one-
   labor value.                                                          thir d were sold i n
                                                                        the old southwest,
                                                                           wher e slaver y
                        Ther e were about four mill ion black sl aves       was its most
                        at the time of the civil war, three - fourths        oppr essive.
                           of them eng ag ed in ag ri cultur e labor.
                               Whites shoul d rul e
         Ther e were about
                               over blacks, and
                               thus the inter est
         slaveholder s, or a                                                      Plantati on
                                    of l arg e
             thir d of the                                                       ari stocr acy
                                 slaveholder s
          populati on, who                                                        wields the
          owned near ly 4                                                             vast
           mil li on slaves.                                                     majori ty of
                                                                                   power in
                                                                                 antebell um
1    The typical
    slav eholder                              Thoug h many Southern hil l
       had 4-5                            far mer s did not own slaves and
    slav es; only                            were far r emoved fr om the
       12% of                                                                                         It civili zes
                                               planter ar istocracy, they
    slav eholder                                                                                  "bar bar ic people."
                                              accepted the status q uo.
       had or
                                                                                    From the
                                                                                  ti me of the
                                                                                     until the
                                                                                      1830s,      Bible j ustifi es
                                                                                  slaver y was       slaver y.
                                                                                 defended as
                                                                                 a necessar y
                                                                                     evi l that
     Above all, the "peculiar                                                       woul d one
      institution" of slavery                                                       disappear
    defined the quality of life                                                      naturall y

         in the South and
                                                                                  After 1830,      Slave labor is
                                                                                    however ,       descri bed as
        contributed to its                                                         slaver y is    superi or to wage
        "exceptionalism."                                                         defended in           labor.
                                                                                 the South as
                                                                                    a posi tive
                                                                                       g ood.
                                                                          Dougl ass
                  The "Sambo                                         showed that the
                    Thesis"                                             journey fr om
                                                                          slaver y to
                                           But Fr eder ick
                                                                           fr eedom
                                          Dougl ass and the
                                                                     r eq uir ed a ki nds
                                          slave narr ative.
                                                                       of conversi on
                                                                     experi ence, the
                                                                      nar r ative being
                                                                           a way to
                                                                        descri be the
                                                                        folk wor ld of
                          Where once histo rians saw                   the slave to a
                           slavery as overwhelming                      middle- cl ass
                                                                          audi ence.
                           oppressive, now tend to
                          emph asizes acts of African
                            American solidarity and
                                  resistan ce.
    1960'S, THE                                                   Where some
 PARADIGM FOR                                                    histori ans had
                                                              seen the passi ve
  INTERPRETING                                                      "Sambo,"
   SLAVERY HAS                                                      Dougl ass
    RADICALLY                                                  r eveal ed a wor ld
                                                              of acti ve ag ency,
     CHANGED                                                    i.e. slaves and
                                                                     sing ing .
                   2    Slaves made                                                           5
                       fami ly ki nship
                        fundamental                                   4                              then, wer e
                           thr oug h                                      But no for m                  not the
                        extended ki n                                               of                 infanti le
                        networks and                                        r esistance              char g es of
                            taboos                                           was mor e
                        ag ai nst fi rst-                                     dramatic
                            cousin                                                than                masters.
                                                       But sl ave             r ebelli on.           But neither
                         marr iag es.
                                                    marr iag es wer e        The maj or               were they
                                                         fr ag ile,              slave
                                                    consideri ng the
                                                                           r ebelli ons i n
                                                      par ti es wer e       the South-              of per sonal
1    Slaves cr eated                                 susceptible to            Prosser               autonomy
        a syncreti c                               separ ation at the           ( 1800) ,           as we woul d
    r el ig ion, mel di ng                           whim of their              Vesey               under stand
    tog ether Afri can                                    owner .          ( 1822) , and
                                                                                                      it today.
      tr adi tions and
                                                                           ( 1831) -wer e
       the tenets of
                                                                             proof that
        evang el ical             3      Resistance to
                             Understanding slave culture means finding a middle
                                                                            slaves did
                                          ensl avement
     Protestanti sm. ground between the Sambo thesis, on the one hand, and  mot fit the
                           the notion that took many were masters of their ownefate, on
                                            slaves                            imag of
                                             for ms:        the other.            lazy         Dougl ass placed
                                         breaki ng tools,                     Sambos.         an act of personal
                                             stealing food,                                       r ebelli on at the
                                                 feig ning                                    center of hi s own
                                            il lness, running                                 li terar y narr ative.
The runaway slave came to my house and stopt outside,
I heard his motions crackling the twigs of the woodpile,
Through the swung half-door of the kitchen I saw him limpsy and
And went where he sat on a log and led him in and assured him,
And brought water and fill'd a tub for his sweated body and bruis'd
And gave him a room that enter'd from my own, and gave him some
  coarse clean clothes,
And remember perfectly well his revolving eyes and his
And remember putting piasters on the galls of his neck and ankles;
He staid with me a week before he was recuperated and pass'd
I had him sit next me at table, my fire-lock lean'd in the corner.
The disdain and calmness of martyrs,
The mother of old, condemn'd for a witch, burnt with dry wood, her
  children gazing on,
The hounded slave that flags in the race, leans by the fence,
  blowing, cover'd with sweat,
The twinges that sting like needles his legs and neck, the
  buckshot and the bullets,
All these I feel or am. I am the hounded slave, I wince at the bite of
the dogs,
Hell and despair are upon me, crack and again crack the marksmen,
I clutch the rails of the fence, my gore dribs, thinn'd with the
  ooze of my skin,
I fall on the weeds and stones,
The riders spur their unwilling horses, haul close,
Taunt my dizzy ears and beat me violently over the head with
The slaves selected to go to the Great House Farm, for the
monthly allowance for themselves and their fellow-slaves,
were peculiarly enthusiastic. While on their way, they
would make the dense old woods, for miles around,
reverberate with their wild songs, revealing at once the
highest joy and the deepest sadness. They would compose
and sing as they went along, consulting neither time nor
tune. The thought that came up, came out--if not in the
word, in the sound;--and as frequently in the one as in the
other. They would sometimes sing the most pathetic
sentiment in the most rapturous tone, and the most
rapturous sentiment in the most pathetic tone. Into all of
their songs they would manage to weave something of the
Great House Farm. Especially would they do this, when
leaving home. They would then sing most exultingly the
following words:--

       "I am going away to the Great House Farm!
       O, yea! O, yea! O!"
This they would sing, as a chorus, to words which to many would
seem unmeaning jargon, but which, nevertheless, were full of
meaning to themselves. I have sometimes thought that the mere
hearing of those songs would do more to impress some minds
with the horrible character of slavery, than the reading of whole
volumes of philosophy on the subject could do.

I did not, when a slave, understand the deep meaning of those
rude and apparently incoherent songs. I was myself within the
circle; so that I neither saw nor heard as those without might see
and hear. They told a tale of woe which was then altogether
beyond my feeble comprehension; they were tones loud, long,
and deep; they breathed the prayer and complaint of souls boiling
over with the bitterest anguish. Every tone was a testimony
against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains.
The hearing of those wild notes always depressed my spirit, and
filled me with ineffable sadness. I have frequently found myself
in tears while hearing them. The mere recurrence to those songs,
even now, afflicts me; and while I am writing these lines, an
expression of feeling has already found its way down my cheek.
To those songs I trace my first glimmering conception of the
dehumanizing character of slavery. I can never get rid of that
conception. Those songs still follow me, to deepen my hatred of
slavery, and quicken my sympathies for my brethren in bonds. If
any one wishes to be impressed with the soul-killing effects of
slavery, let him go to Colonel Lloyd's plantation, and, on
allowance-day, place himself in the deep pine woods, and there
let him, in silence, analyze the sounds that shall pass through the
chambers of his soul,--and if he is not thus impressed, it will only
be because "there is no flesh in his obdurate heart."
I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to
find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as
evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to
conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are
most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of
his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is
relieved by its tears. At least, such is my experience. I have often
sung to drown my sorrow, but seldom to express my happiness.
Crying for joy, and singing for joy, were alike uncommon to me
while in the jaws of slavery. The singing of a man cast away upon
a desolate island might be as appropriately considered as
evidence of contentment and happiness, as the singing of a slave;
the songs of the one and of the other are prompted by the same
      “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”
Expose of the “slave
Huge hit
Inflames both
Southern and
Northern opinion
Lincoln’s comment
  Side-Stepping the Issue
Missouri         South extends west,
Compromise       taking slavery with it.
Reform culture
Unpopular minority
in North
Anathema in South

                     William Lloyd Garrison
“I do not wish to think, or speak, or
   write, with moderation… I am in
earnest – I will not equivocate – I will
not excuse – I will not retreat a single
     inch – and I will be heard.’ –
William Lloyd Garrison (The Liberator, January 1,
Frederick Douglass
Slaveholder’s Point of View

   “I know many [slaves] have as
   much contentment in a general
  way and in their way as we have.”
        -- Susan Petigru King
 Slaveholder’s Point of View
  “I was born a slave, in the family of a
 gentleman... My mistress, who was very
 kind to me, made me her nurse, when I
    was about ten years old. I grew up
amongst her daughters. I was always well
 dressed and received a portion of all the
 delicacies of their table. I believe there
was not a happier being in the world than
   I was. At present none can be more
 Former slave living as sharecropper after Civil
  Frederick Douglass

“I stole myself into freedom.”
       Frederick Douglass
       Frederick Douglass
Escaped slave becomes
         Frederick Douglass

“To those who have suffered in slavery I, too, have
“To those who have battled for liberty, brotherhood and
citizenship I can say I, too have battled.”
Frederick Douglass in His
  Ex-Slave Point of View

“If I had my life to live over again,
I would die fighting rather than be
  a slave. I don’t want no man’s
  yoke on my shoulders no more.
    But in them days, us niggers
       didn’t know no better.”
    -- Ex-slave interviewed after
Eyewitness Account: Slaves as
      Beasts of Burden
      A gang of slaves were being led along the
road in chains by their master, who had no
intention of selling any before he was approached
by a stranger:
"He said he wanted a couple of breeding
wenches, and asked the price of the two pregnant
ones... Our master replied, that these were two of
the best breeding wenches in all Maryland -- that
one was 22, and the other only 19 -- that the first
was already the mother of seven children, and the
other of four -- and that such wenches would be
cheap at $1,000 each."
 “I know what slaves feel. I can tell by
  myself what other slaves feel, and by
what they have told me. The man that
  says slaves be happy in slavery - that
they don’t want to be free - that man is
    either ignorant of a lying person.”
Fugitive slaves
              Denmark Vesey
Educated slave from South
Tries to gather avenging army
of 9,000 of slaves to slay all
whites in Charleston and sail to
Africa and freedom.
Is betrayed to authorities by
fellow slaves at the last
Vesey and 34 others hung.

     “Remember Denmark Vesey of
  Charleston.” Frederick Douglass tells
   recruits for the 54th Massachusetts
Regiment of Black Volunteers led by Col.
   Robert Shaw during the Civil War.
 “Liberty won by white men would lose
   half its luster. Who would be free
   themselves must strike the blow.”
       Northern Abolitionists

     "I will be as harsh as truth, and as
uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I
do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with
  moderation... I am in earnest - I will not
  equivocate - I will not excuse - I will not
   retreat a single inch - AND I WILL BE
“The Liberator”
     William Lloyd Garrison
Calls U.S. Constitution “a
convent with death, and
in agreement with hell."

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