By Kenn Daily
Clash Daily Contributor
It’s a scenario I’ve seen dozens of times: While black thugs riot in the streets, white-collar pundits appear to fight back tears as they sympathize with the mayhem.
“After all,” they say, “the black community has endured generations of racial discrimination.”
Talking heads fill our TV screens as they continue to enumerate the offenses white Americans have committed from slavery to Jim Crow.
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Consequently, a false narrative has been embedded in the minds of Americans. The nation is suffering from false memory syndrome. Our ancestors, we believe, raided peaceful African villages, bopped innocent Africans on the head, then led them in chains to slave ships.
Once in America we imagine wealthy white plantation owners forcing hordes of blacks slaves to pick cotton in the hot summer sun twelve months out of the year.
The narrative is so well ingrained in our thinking that its seem almost sacrilegious to question it.
Nonetheless, facts are stubborn and data takes precedence over anecdotes.
Here are thirteen things most Americans don’t know about black history.
1. America’s first black military officers served the Confederacy.
In 1861 about 1,500 free blacks in New Orleans answered Gov. Thomas Overton Moore’s call to serve the Confederate army. The new enlistees were garnered at a meeting called by ten prominent black residents. About 2,000 blacks attended the meeting on April 22, located at the Catholic Institute. The new regiment was formed May 2.
Considering there were about 10,000 free blacks of both genders and all ages living in the Louisiana in 1861, the large number of black enlistees speaks to the loyalty of blacks to the Confederacy. It can be estimated that as many as half of all free black males between the ages of 15 and 50 enlisted.
The governor appointed three white officers to oversee the regiment. They were accompanied by three black officers appointed from the regiment. These became the first black military officers in American history.
2. The first legally recognized slave owner in American history was black.
Anthony Johnson came to the American colonies in August, 1619 as an indentured servant. In 1623 Johnson had completed his indenture and was recognized as a free negro. In 1651 he acquired 250 acres of land in Virginia, later adding another 250 acres; a sizable holding at the time.
John Casor, a black indentured servant employed by Johnson, became what historians have long considered to be America’s first slave. His enslavement resulted from a legal dispute between Johnson and Robert Parker. Parker was a white colonist who employed Casor while Casor was still indentured to Johnson. Johnson sued Parker in Northampton Court in 1654. The court upheld Johnson’s right to hold Casor as a slave on March 8, 1655. The court found:
The court seriously consideringe and maturely weighing the premisses, doe fynde that the saide Mr. Robert Parker most unjustly keepeth the said Negro from Anthony Johnson his master … It is therefore the Judgement of the Court and ordered That the said John Casor Negro forthwith returne unto the service of the said master Anthony Johnson, And that Mr. Robert Parker make payment of all charges in the suit.
Five years later, in 1670, the colonial assembly passed legislation permitting blacks and Indians the right to own slaves of their own race, but prohibiting them from owning White slaves.
(In July, 2012, supporters of Barack Obama considered it politically advantageous to advance the notion that John Punch was the first slave of African descent in the American colonies. Obama is suspected of being a descendant of Punch through Obama’s maternal lineage.)
3. Free blacks commonly owned black slaves in the antebellum South.
Henry Louis Gates of the White House “Beer Summit” fame said, “This is the dirtiest secret in African American history. A surprisingly high percentage of free Negros in the South owned slaves themselves.” [Source]
There were thousands of black slave owners in the South.
In 1830 there were 3,775 such slaveholders in the South who owned 12,740 black slaves, with 80% of them located in Louisiana, South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. There were economic differences between free blacks of the Upper South and Deep South, with the latter fewer in number, but wealthier and typically of mixed race. Half of the black slaveholders lived in cities rather than the countryside, with most in New Orleans and Charleston.
To write extensively about blacks who owned slaves in the antebellum South would require a library of full volumes. Black slave owners: free Black slave masters in South Carolina, 1790-1860 by Larry Koger is one such volume.
Koger tells of Richard Holloway, Sr., a black carpenter who purchased his African cousins as slave labor. Cato was the name of one of his slaves. Cato remained in Holloway’s possession throughout the 1830s and ’40s, according to Koger, until he was sold to his son, Richard Holloway, Jr., in 1845. Cato died in 1851 and the younger Holloway replaced him with the purchase of a 16 -year-old black male.
Koger says there were ten black slave owners in Charleston City, SC in 1830.
4. In 1860 the largest slave owner in South Carolina was William Ellison, a black plantation owner.
Ellison was one of many free blacks who, themselves, owned black slave labor.
In 1830 there were about 319,599 free blacks living in the United States. That same year there were 12,740 slaves owned by blacks
Black Property Owners in the South, 1790-1915, by Loren Schweninger is another excellent source for accurate history detailing the life in the antebellum South.
5. Without black African slave owners there would have been no slavery in America.
Henry Louis Gates enraged his base in 2010 by strongly opposing reparations to blacks. According to Gates the slave trade was almost wholly the result of black slave owners selling their human wares to Europeans.
While we are all familiar with the role played by the United States and the European colonial powers like Britain, France, Holland, Portugal and Spain, there is very little discussion of the role Africans themselves played. And that role, it turns out, was a considerable one, especially for the slave-trading kingdoms of western and central Africa. These included the Akan of the kingdom of Asante in what is now Ghana, the Fon of Dahomey (now Benin), the Mbundu of Ndongo in modern Angola and the Kongo of today’s Congo, among several others.
The historians John Thornton and Linda Heywood of Boston University estimate that 90 percent of those shipped to the New World were enslaved by Africans and then sold to European traders. The sad truth is that without complex business partnerships between African elites and European traders and commercial agents, the slave trade to the New World would have been impossible, at least on the scale it occurred.[Emphasis added] The notion of White European raiding parties descending on unsuspecting African villages is a gross distortion of reality. Not only does the historical record argue against White raiding parties, but such parties would have been costly and inefficient compared to purchasing Africans already held in slavery. White slave traders would not endure the risk related to such incursions. Furthermore, Africans already held as slaves would be less willing to resist, particularly among those whose African owners were brutal and abusive enemies.
Gates noted on another occasion that the importance of David Livingstone’s disappearance into black Africa was significant because White people never ventured beyond the coasts. The prospect of disease and other unanticipated dangers compelled them not to embark on slave-hunting expeditions.
According to the report of Joseph Cinque’s testimony in court, New York Journal of Commerce (10th January, 1840), the leader of the famed Amistad slave ship rebellion was originally taken captive by Africans, not Europeans.
It is widely rumored that Cinque, himself, became a slave trader after his return to Africa.
6. Blacks, including slaves, were allowed to own property in the antebellum South.
The ‘rent-a-slave’ concept may grate against our contemporary moral sensitivities, but owners of black slaves often found it economically reasonable to earn extra income by renting idle slaves. We also may find it surreal to learn that slaves often rented themselves. This allowed them to live autonomous lives to varying degrees, depending on the rental agreement arranged with their owners.
Mary Ann Wyatt is a quintessential example of a self-rented slave. She was a Virginian slave who rented herself (and her five children) for $45 per year for ten years. During this time Wyatt established an oyster retail business. Each week she would travel sixteen miles to the Rappahannock River and buy two baskets of oysters which she sold on the town square to local residents in King and Queen County. Wyatt earned enough profit to purchase properties including a rental house.
Southern states enacted laws to regulate the activities of self-rented or otherwise autonomous slaves. This was due to concern that autonomous slaves would outbid freemen, including whites, for freelance work, such as construction. There was also concern that autonomous slaves would resell untraceable stolen property. This prompted free Southerners to press for limitations on what autonomous slaves were allowed to sell. Many whites favored the concept of autonomous slaves, believing it encouraged personal responsibility among blacks.