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How the Slave Trade Built America

disunion45We don’t know exactly when the last sale of enslaved persons occurred in Richmond, Va., known as “the great slave market of the South,” but it must have taken place before April 3, 1865. On the previous day, the order had come to evacuate in advance of the arrival of Union troops who liberated the city.

Amid the chaos, a slave trader named Robert Lumpkin still had a jail full of people he was hoping to sell. According to the journalist Charles Carleton Coffin, who was there to witness the fall of Richmond, after learning of the order to evacuate, Lumpkin “quickly handcuffed his human chattels,” about 50 men, women and children, and marched them four blocks south to the Danville-Richmond Railroad depot on the banks of the James River. He was hoping to whisk them away, and find buyers for them in another city.

When they arrived, however, “there was no room for them on the train which whirled the Confederate Government from the capital. Soldiers with fixed bayonets forced them back. It was the last slave gang seen in this Western world.” Lumpkin was angry, but there was nothing he could do. So, “with oaths and curses loud and deep,” Coffin reported, Lumpkin was forced “to unlock their handcuffs and allow them to go free.” These 50 people were worth about $50,000, according to Coffin, “but on that Sunday morning were of less value than the mule and the wagon which had drawn the slave-trader’s trunk to the station.”

Even though Lumpkin’s coffle was not, as Coffin so colorfully pronounced it, “the last slave gang seen in this Western world,” his comment points to the way that the slave trade had become the iconic symbol of the institution of slavery. And with Lee’s surrender at Appomattox only a few days later, the reporter’s prophetic statement became true for the United States. It was the end of the slave traders and slave gangs.

Richmond had long been the epicenter of the northern end of the American slave trade. In the preceding decades, tens of thousands of people had been brought to the city from the surrounding regions, where they were held in jails, sold at auction and sent to labor in the sugar and cotton fields of the Deep South. From the end of America’s participation in the Atlantic slave trade in 1808 until the opening of the Civil War, at least two-thirds of a million people were forcibly relocated through the internal American slave trade from the Upper South (Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina) to the Lower (especially Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama). This massive movement of people populated what was then considered the American Southwest and resulted in the destruction of hundreds of thousands of families as husbands and wives, parents and children were sold away.

The economic engine of the slave trade helped to fuel America’s prosperity. The profits from the trade in enslaved people flowed to many places. Traders were not the only ones to profit from America’s internal slave trade. Slave owners in the Upper South profited because they received cash for the people they sold. Slave owners in the Lower South profited because the people they purchased were forced to labor in the immensely productive cotton and sugar fields. The merchants who supplied clothing and food to the slave traders profited, as did steamboat, railroad and shipowners who carried enslaved people.

Capitalists in the North profited by investing in banks that handled the exchange of money for people, or in insurance companies that provided insurance for the owners’ investments in enslaved people. So did foreign investors in Southern securities, some of which were issued on mortgaged slaves. The hotbed of American abolitionism — New England — was also the home of America’s cotton textile industry, which grew rich on the backs of the enslaved people forced to pick cotton. The story of America’s domestic slave trade is not just a story about Richmond or New Orleans, but about America.

The slave trade is not merely a footnote or a side story in the history of American slavery, but was central to its modernization and continuation. That was well understood by the Boston artist David Claypool Johnston, who used it to powerful illustrative effect in his satirical work “The House That Jeff Built.” Playing off the English nursery rhyme “This is the House That Jack Built,” Johnston wrote and illustrated a series of 12 verses, beginning with the simple statement, “This is the house that Jeff built.” “Jeff” is, of course, Jefferson Davis, and his “house” is shown as a slave pen with a sign announcing a slave auction to the left of the door. Three scenes later, the image shows the inside of a slave auction room, with two men seated on a bench and two women and children standing. “These are the chattels,” the poem tells us, “To be sold by the head, in the slave pen: A part of the house that Jeff built.”

"The House That Jeff Built," by David Claypoole Johnston, 1863.

“The House That Jeff Built,” by David Claypoole Johnston, 1863.Credit Library of Congress

Other images show slave dealers, slave buyers, slave breeders, manacles and whips. The final image displays the paraphernalia of the slave trade: manacles, an auction hammer, a “slave auction” sign, advertisements and bills of sale. For this artist, like so many Americans, the slave trade stood at the center of the Confederacy and was the reason they had continued to fight the war. The last stanza reads:

But Jeff’s infamous house is doom’d to come down.
So says Uncle Sam and so said John Brown. —
With slave pen, and auction, shackles, driver, and cat,
Together with seller, and buyer, and breeder for that
Most loathsome of bipeds by some call’d a man,
Whose trade is to sell all the chattels he can,
From yearlings to adults of life’s longest span,
In and out of the house that Jeff built.

On that day in Richmond in 1865, when Jeff’s house finally came down, thousands of people no longer had to fear that at any moment they could be sold away. As the city was abandoned, chaos reigned. Fires set to warehouses grew out of control and burned much of the city. On April 4, Abraham Lincoln arrived and was thronged by African-Americans, who had lived their entire lives with an auction hammer hanging over their head. As a former slave named William Wells Brown explained: “None … can estimate the suffering their victims undergo. If there is one feature of American slavery more abominable than another, it is that which sanctions the buying and selling of human beings.”

After decades of steady business along Wall Street in Richmond, the auction rooms were silent. The detritus of the business of human trafficking littered the floor: shackles, bills of sale, advertisements, receipts and ledgers. On April 8, 1865, as the city still smoldered, two Massachusetts abolitionists, Sarah and Lucy Chase, who were in Virginia to help educate emancipated African-Americans, entered Richard H. Dickinson’s slave-trading house on the corner of Franklin and Wall Streets. Wanting something to document the atrocities of slavery, they scooped up two ledger books and a stack of correspondence documenting the sale of thousands of men, women and children.

civil-war-sumter75-popupWhen they first saw Richmond from its docks a few days earlier, they had been struck by the symbolic image of the burned out city. Sarah wrote that nothing was left of the warehouses “but the brick walls ragged and jagged pointing their threatening fingers to heaven,” concluding, “as if saying there is justice.” She noted that inside the ledger books Dickinson had recorded the sales of several slaves on March 31, but for April 1 — one day before the Confederate retreat — only the date was written. There were no sales. “Thank God — no more was written or will ever be in that bloody register.” As Union troops filled the streets, as Lincoln toured the city, as the auction rooms fell silent, thousands rejoiced that they would never have to fear the slave market again.

At the end of the war, abolitionists like the Chase sisters collected documents and artifacts to preserve the memory of the slave trade and document why the sacrifices of the war had been necessary. But with the resurgence of white supremacy in the late 19th century, much of that history was deliberately removed from public memory. In Richmond, for example, slave-trader offices were quickly repurposed or destroyed. First the railroad and then I-95 forever altered the landscape where most of the trade took place.

But the story of the slave trade lived on in the family histories of African-Americans, and in the last decade of so, its memory has returned to the broader public consciousness as well. Current exhibitions on the slave trade in Richmond and New Orleans have led to new discoveries of histories long buried. This new research into the slave trade will give all of us an opportunity to make sure that it is never forgotten again.

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Sources: Charles Carleton Coffin, “The Boys of ’61; or, Four Years of Fighting”; Sarah Chase, comments in R. H. Dickinson & Bro. record book, 1855-58, Slavery in the United States Collection, American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass.; William Wells Brown, “Narrative of the Life of William W. Brown: An American Slave.”

Maurie D. McInnis is the author of “Slaves Waiting for Sale: Abolitionist Art and the American Slave Trade” and the curator of “To Be Sold: Virginia and the American Slave Trade,” a show at the Library of Virginia on view until May 30, 2015.

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A Forgotten Stage of the Atlantic Slave Trade

by Gregory E. O’Malley 

HNN September 21, 2014

156926-FPJOn January 9, 1786, thirty-five “Men, Women, boys and Girls” from Angola climbed aboard a small brig in Kingston’s busy harbor and returned to sea. They had recently survived an Atlantic crossing to Jamaica with hundreds of other captives, but the vagaries of the Atlantic slave market split them off for another voyage. Embarking on this second ocean passage, the smaller group of captives climbed aboard a much smaller vessel, called Mars. The crew also packed the hold with goods, so the Angolans maneuvered around barrels of rum, sugar, and pimento.

The observant among them gleaned from the sun or stars that this new voyage carried them north, instead of west. They surely noticed a change in the weather. Winter gripped North America, and even in Georgia that January, locals remarked at “the severity of it.” The Mars rocked and thrashed in violent waves whipped up by storms out of the northeast. Frigid rains and high seas drenched the deck with water that dripped and sloshed into the hold. Contrary winds caused an unexpectedly “long passage.” Provisions ran low.

The crew headed for the nearest harbor, but one of the Angolan women succumbed to cold or hunger and “died two days before [the Mars] got into port.” Mercifully, the other thirty-four prisoners survived to reach Savannah, Georgia—probably unaware that their intended destination had been a place called Charleston, farther up the coast. The merchant in charge of selling the survivors perceived them as “a very slight made People,” probably because their passage from Jamaica on short rations made them appear so. One man died “a few days after they arrived.” The others recovered enough for sale into American slavery, but it would eight months after sailing from Jamaica before the last of them sold.

As typically told, the story of the Atlantic slave trade ends after the ocean crossing. A transatlantic slave ship glides into an American port, planters flock to an auction on the pier, and enslaved people presumably march with new owners to nearby plantations. Slave trade histories usually end with such a sale, but for hundreds of thousands of enslaved African people the journey did not end there. Labor-hungry plantation owners were not the only buyers of weary survivors of the Middle Passage; merchant speculators sought human commodities as well.

Port records, merchant papers, and imperial correspondence all suggest that a thriving intercolonial slave trade dispersed as many as a quarter of the African people who arrived in the New World, extending their dangerous journeys to American plantations. Such “final passages,” after the Atlantic crossing, occurred for a variety of reasons. Some colonial markets were too small to attract vessels directly from Africa with hundreds of slaves, but could be profitably targeted by intercolonial traders with a few enslaved people and an assortment of goods; some European empires enjoyed stronger trading positions in Africa than others, creating supply and price discrepancies across imperial borders in the Americas, setting the stage for smuggling; some important sites of American slavery were inland, requiring overland distribution after the Middle Passage. Whatever the reasons, colonial port records document more than seven thousand such shipments originating in British American colonies alone. Thousands more ventures surely occurred—in other regions and in periods not covered by surviving records.

Despite the vast scale of such intercolonial trafficking, historians have been slow to recognize and examine it, a blind spot especially pronounced for the British Atlantic. The oversight may stem partly from the long shadow that Philip Curtin cast on the field. His path-breaking book, The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census (1969), was framed by a simple and straightforward question: Just how many African people crossed the Atlantic in the slave trade? That question (and his attempt to answer it by synthesizing regional estimates from the extant secondary scholarship) was an essential starting point for slave trade studies. But in some ways, Curtin’s focus on quantifying the transatlantic migration circumscribed the field—in ways both obvious and more surprising. – See more at: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/156926#sthash.K6rDShzB.dpuf

Most straightforward, for decades after Curtin’s book appeared, slave trade scholars focused on the so-called “numbers game,” with one scholar after another revising Curtin’s estimates. Some used census records and demographic modeling; others counted the captives in port records and shipping returns. Such efforts culminated in Voyages: The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database (www.slavevoyages.org), spearheaded by David Eltis, which seeks to document each individual voyage that carried Africans across the Atlantic. It is a prodigious work that documents more than 35,000 slave-trading ventures. The database improves our knowledge of the trade’s scale, organization, and mortality, and it stands as a monument to scholarly collaboration, with dozens of researchers contributing data. Despite these virtues, however, the database is limited to voyages that crossed the Atlantic—omitting the intercolonial trade—perhaps because that is how Curtin framed the question that launched the field.

More surprising perhaps, critics of such quantitative study have also focused on the Atlantic crossing at the expense of other phases of the trade. In recent years, a rich historiography has called for moving beyond the counting of enslaved people crossing the Atlantic to achieve a more humanizing portrayal—one that reckons more with what enslaved migrants endured, how they understood their journeys, and what cultures they carried with them. Marcus Rediker’s The Slave Ship: A Human History (2008) and Stephanie Smallwood’s Saltwater Slavery (2009), for example, focus explicitly on lived experiences aboard slave ships, on putting a human face on the millions of people who had been counted by other slave trade scholars. Yet these works, too, stop after the Atlantic crossing. They describe the infamous Middle Passage, but do not examine the networks of dispersal that forced beleaguered men and women onward—from Barbados to Savannah, from Jamaica to Panama, or from Charleston to the North American backcountry.

Yet hundreds of thousands of enslaved people did move on. Weary, often ill, angry, and often terrified, they arrived in a first American port only to be purchased by intercolonial speculators. American traders bought enslaved people in one port for transshipment to another, adding additional weeks and new dangers to the voyages of captives. Mortality in this intercolonial trade was devastating for people already debilitated by the Middle Passage. Furthermore, dispersal after the Atlantic crossing often separated transatlantic shipmates who shared language, culture, or even ties of kinship. And the importance of such intra-American trafficking extends beyond the devastating experiences of captives. The intercolonial slave trade spread the institution of slavery to new colonies and helped colonial merchants elaborate their trade networks. Many general traders in the Americas (and imperial policymakers) saw such slave trading as vital to opening a broader business with new customers, entangling the profits of slave trading with all manner of other commerce.

There is a certain irony to slave trade scholars focusing only on the Atlantic crossing—an irony captured in the phrase used to describe that journey. For most twenty-first-century readers, “Middle Passage” conjures thoughts of the horrific experiences of African captives in their forced Atlantic crossings, but the voyage was termed “middle” to reflect European, not African, experience. For European traders the transatlantic voyage typically formed the second leg of a three-part journey: a first passage, from Europe to Africa with trade goods; a “middle” passage, from Africa to America with slaves; and a third voyage, from America back to Europe with colonial staples. This “triangle” trade gave the Middle Passage its name. Despite these Eurocentric origins, scholars have claimed the term for the slave trade’s victims. But ironically, “Middle Passage” actually fits the experiences of African migrants better than most scholars have realized. The journeys of enslaved Africans did not begin at their ports of embarkation for the ocean crossing, nor did they end when transatlantic vessels reached the Americas. Instead, people often fell into slavery deep in the African interior, facing a first passage to the Atlantic coast; likewise, many enslaved people spread outward after the Middle Passage, often settling hundreds or even thousands of miles away from their first American landfall. Understanding the African migration experience—and the full profits of slave trading—requires reckoning with these final passages after the Atlantic crossing.

Gregory E. O’Malley is an Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the author of “Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619-1807” (2014

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“Counter-Revolution of 1776”: Was U.S. Independence War a Conservative Revolt in Favor of Slavery?

Democracy Now    June 27, 2014

As the United States prepares to celebrate Independence Day, we look at why July 4 is not a cause for celebration for all. For Native Americans, it may be a bitter reminder of colonialism, which brought fatal diseases, cultural hegemony and genocide. Neither did the new republic’s promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” extend to African Americans. The colonists who declared their freedom from England did not share their newly founded liberation with the millions of Africans they had captured and forced into slavery. We speak with historian Gerald Horne, who argues the so-called Revolutionary War was actually a conservative effort by American colonists to protect their system of slavery. He is the author of two new books: “The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America” and “Race to Revolution: The U.S. and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow.” Horne is professor of history and African American studies at the University of Houston.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org,The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman in Chicago with our next guest. Juan González is in New York.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, next weekend, the United States celebrates the Fourth of July, the day the American colonies declared their independence from England in 1776. While many Americans will hang flags, participate in parades and watch fireworks, Independence Day is not a cause for celebration for all. For Native Americans, it is yet another bitter reminder of colonialism, which brought fatal diseases, cultural hegemony and full-out genocide. Neither did the new republic’s promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness extend to African Americans. As our next guest notes, the white colonists who declared their freedom from the crown did not share their newly founded liberation with the millions of Africans they had captured and forced into slavery.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Gerald Horne argues that the so-called Revolutionary War was actually a counterrevolution, in part, not a progressive step forward for humanity, but a conservative effort by American colonialists to protect their system of slavery.

9781479893409_FullFor more, Professor Horne joins us here in our Chicago studio. He’s the author of two new books: The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America and another new book, just out, Race to Revolution: The U.S. and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow. Professor Horne teaches history and African American studies at the University of Houston.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. So, as we move into this Independence Day week, what should we understand about the founding of the United States?

GERALD HORNE: We should understand that July 4th, 1776, in many ways, represents a counterrevolution. That is to say that what helped to prompt July 4th, 1776, was the perception amongst European settlers on the North American mainland that London was moving rapidly towards abolition. This perception was prompted by Somerset’s case, a case decided in London in June 1772 which seemed to suggest that abolition, which not only was going to be ratified in London itself, was going to cross the Atlantic and basically sweep through the mainland, thereby jeopardizing numerous fortunes, not only based upon slavery, but the slave trade. That’s the short answer.

The longer answer would involve going back to another revolution—that is to say, the so-called Glorious Revolution in England in 1688, which, among other things, involved a step back from the monarch—for the monarch, the king, and a step forward for the rising merchant class. This led to a deregulation of the African slave trade. That is to say, the Royal African Company theretofore had been in control of the slave trade, but with the rising power of the merchant class, this slave trade was deregulated, leading to what I call free trade in Africans. That is to say, merchants then descended upon the African continent manacling and handcuffing every African in sight, with the energy of demented and crazed bees, dragging them across the Atlantic, particularly to the Caribbean and to the North American mainland. This was prompted by the fact that the profits for the slave trade were tremendous, sometimes up to 1,600 or 1,700 percent. And as you know, there are those even today who will sell their firstborn for such a profit. This, on the one hand, helped to boost the productive forces both in the Caribbean and on the mainland, but it led to numerous slave revolts, not least in the Caribbean, but also on the mainland, which helped to give the mainlanders second thoughts about London’s tentative steps towards abolition.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Gerald Horne, one of the things that struck me in your book is not only your main thesis, that this was in large part a counterrevolution, our—the United States’ war of independence, but you also link very closely the—what was going on in the Caribbean colonies of England, as well as in the United States, not only in terms of among the slaves in both areas, but also among the white population. And, in fact, you indicate that quite a few of those who ended up here in the United States fostering the American Revolution had actually been refugees from the battles between whites and slaves in the Caribbean. Could you expound on that?

GERALD HORNE: It’s well known that up until the middle part of the 18th century, London felt that the Caribbean colonies—Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua, in particular—were in some ways more valuable than the mainland colonies. The problem was that in the Caribbean colonies the Africans outnumbered the European settlers, sometimes at a rate of 20 to one, which facilitated slave revolts. There were major slave revolts in Antigua, for example, in 1709 and 1736. The Maroons—that is to say, the Africans who had escaped London’s jurisdiction in Jamaica—had challenged the crown quite sternly. This led, as your question suggests, to many European settlers in the Caribbean making the great trek to the mainland, being chased out of the Caribbean by enraged Africans. For example, I did research for this book in Newport, Rhode Island, and the main library there, to this very day, is named after Abraham Redwood, who fled Antigua after the 1736 slave revolt because many of his, quote, “Africans,” unquote, were involved in the slave revolt. And he fled in fear and established the main library in Newport, to this very day, and helped to basically establish that city on the Atlantic coast. So, there is a close connection between what was transpiring in the Caribbean and what was taking place on the mainland. And historians need to recognize that even though these colonies were not necessarily a unitary project, there were close and intimate connections between and amongst them.

AMY GOODMAN: So, why this great disparity between how people in the United States talk about the creation myth of the United States, if you will—I’m not talking about indigenous people, Native American people—and this story that you have researched?

GERALD HORNE: Well, it is fair to say that the United States did provide a sanctuary for Europeans. Indeed, I think part of the, quote, “genius,” unquote, of the U.S. project, if there was such a genius, was the fact that the founders in the United States basically called a formal truce, a formal ceasefire, with regard to the religious warfare that had been bedeviling Europe for many decades and centuries—that is to say, Protestant London, so-called, versus Catholic Madrid and Catholic France. What the settlers on the North American mainland did was call a formal truce with regard to religious conflict, but then they opened a new front with regard to race—that is to say, Europeans versus non-Europeans.

This, at once, broadened the base for the settler project. That is to say, they could draw upon those defined as white who had roots from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains, and indeed even to the Arab world, if you look at people like Ralph Nader and Marlo Thomas, for example, whose roots are in Lebanon but are considered to be, quote, “white,” unquote. This obviously expanded the population base for the settler project. And because many rights were then accorded to these newly minted whites, it obviously helped to ensure that many of them would be beholden to the country that then emerged, the United States of America, whereas those of us who were not defined as white got the short end of the stick, if you like.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Gerald Horne, as a result of that, during the American Revolution, what was the perception or the attitude of the African slaves in the U.S. to that conflict? You also—you talk about, during the colonial times, many slaves preferred to flee to the Spanish colonies or the French colonies, rather than to stay in the American colonies of England.

GERALD HORNE: You are correct. The fact of the matter is, is that Spain had been arming Africans since the 1500s. And indeed, because Spain was arming Africans and then unleashing them on mainland colonies, particularly South Carolina, this put competitive pressure on London to act in a similar fashion. The problem there was, is that the mainland settlers had embarked on a project and a model of development that was inconsistent with arming Africans. Indeed, their project was involved in enslaving and manacling every African in sight. This deepens the schism between the colonies and the metropolis—that is to say, London—thereby helping to foment a revolt against British rule in 1776.

It’s well known that more Africans fought alongside of the Redcoats—fought alongside the Redcoats than fought with the settlers. And this is understandable, because if you think about it for more than a nanosecond, it makes little sense for slaves to fight alongside slave masters so that slave masters could then deepen the persecution of the enslaved and, indeed, as happened after 1776, bring more Africans to the mainland, bring more Africans to Cuba, bring more Africans to Brazil, for their profit.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to historian Gerald Horne. He’s author of two new books. We’re talking about The Counter-Revolution of 1776. The subtitle of that book is Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America. And his latest book, just out, is called Race to Revolution: The U.S. and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow. He’s professor of history and African American studies at University of Houston. When we come back, we’ll talk about that second book about Cuba. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Slavery Days” by Burning Spear, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org,The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman in Chicago. Juan González is in New York. Before we talk about the book on slavery, I want to turn to President Obama’s remarks at the White House’s Fourth of July celebration last year. This is how President Obama described what happened in 1776.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: On July 4th, 1776, a small band of patriots declared that we were a people created equal, free to think and worship and live as we please, that our destiny would not be determined for us, it would be determined by us. And it was bold, and it was brave. And it was unprecedented. It was unthinkable. At that time in human history, it was kings and princes and emperors who made decisions. But those patriots knew there was a better way of doing things, that freedom was possible, and that to achieve their freedom, they’d be willing to lay down their lives, their fortune and their honor. And so they fought a revolution. And few would have bet on their side. But for the first time of many times to come, America proved the doubters wrong. And now, 237 years later, this improbable experiment in democracy, the United States of America, stands as the greatest nation on Earth.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was President Obama talking about the meaning of July 4th. Gerald Horne, your book, The Counter-Revolution of 1776, is a direct rebuttal of this, as you call, creation myth. Could you talk about that?

GERALD HORNE: Well, with all due respect to President Obama, I think that he represents, in those remarks you just cited, the consensus view. That is to say that, on the one hand, there is little doubt that 1776 represented a step forward with regard to the triumph over monarchy. The problem with 1776 was that it went on to establish what I refer to as the first apartheid state. That is to say, the rights that Mr. Obama refers to were accorded to only those who were defined as white. To that degree, I argue in the book that 1776, in many ways, was analogous to Unilateral Declaration of Independence in the country then known as Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, in November 1965. UDI, Unilateral Declaration of Independence, was in many ways an attempt to forestall decolonization. 1776, in many ways, was an attempt to forestall the abolition of slavery. That attempt succeeded until the experiment crashed and burned in 1861 with the U.S. Civil War, the bloodiest conflict, to this point, the United States has ever been involved in.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Gerald Horne, how does this story, this, what you call, counterrevolution, fit in with your latest book, Race to Revolution: The U.S. and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow?

GERALD HORNE: Well, there’s a certain consistency between the two books. Keep in mind that in 1762 Britain temporarily seized Cuba from Spain. And one of the regulations that Britain imposed outraged the settlers, as I argue in both books. What happened was that Britain sought to regulate the slave trade, and the settlers on the North American mainland wanted deregulation of the slave trade, thereby bringing in more Africans. What happens is that that was one of the points of contention that lead to a detonation and a revolt against British rule in 1776.

I go on in the Cuba book to talk about how one of the many reasons why you have so many black people in Cuba was because of the manic energy of U.S. slave traders and slave dealers, particularly going into the Congo River Basin and dragging Africans across the Atlantic. Likewise, I had argued in a previous book on the African slave trade to Brazil that one of the many reasons why you have so many black people in Brazil, more than any place outside of Nigeria, is, once again, because of the manic energy of U.S. slave traders and slave dealers, who go into Angola, in particular, and drag Africans across the Atlantic to Brazil.

It seems to me that it’s very difficult to reconcile the creation myth of this great leap forward for humanity when, after 1776 and the foundation of the United States of America, the United States ousts Britain from control of the African slave trade. Britain then becomes the cop on the beat trying to detain and deter U.S. slave traders and slave dealers. It seems to me that if this was a step forward for humanity, it was certainly not a step forward for Africans, who, the last time I looked, comprise a significant percentage of humanity.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Gerald Horne, so, in other words, as you’re explaining the involvement of American companies in the slave trade in Brazil and Cuba, this—that book and also your The Counter-Revolution of 1776 makes the same point that slavery was not just an issue of interest in the South to the Southern plantation owners, but that in the North, banking, insurance, merchants, shipping were all involved in the slave trade, as well.

GERALD HORNE: Well, Juan, as you well know, New York City was a citadel of the African slave trade, even after the formal abolition of the U.S. role in the African slave trade in 1808. Rhode Island was also a center for the African slave trade. Ditto for Massachusetts. Part of the unity between North and South was that it was in the North that the financing for the African slave trade took place, and it was in the South where you had the Africans deposited. That helps to undermine, to a degree, the very easy notion that the North was abolitionist and the South was pro-slavery.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Gerald Horne, what most surprised you in your research around Cuba, U.S. slavery and Jim Crow?

GERALD HORNE: Well, what most surprised me with regard to both of these projects was the restiveness, the rebelliousness of the Africans involved. It’s well known that the Africans in the Caribbean were very much involved in various extermination plots, liquidation plots, seeking to abolish, through force of arms and violence, the institution of slavery. Unfortunately, I think that historians on the North American mainland have tended to downplay the restiveness of Africans, and I think it’s done a disservice to the descendants of the population of mainland enslaved Africans. That is to say that because the restiveness of Africans in the United States has been downplayed, it leads many African Americans today to either, A, think that their ancestors were chumps—that is to say, that they fought alongside slave owners to bring more freedom to slave owners and more persecution to themselves—or, B, that they were ciphers—that is to say, they stood on the sidelines as their fate was being determined. I think that both of these books seek to disprove those very unfortunate notions.

AMY GOODMAN: So, as we move into the Independence Day weekend next weekend, what do you say to people in the United States?

GERALD HORNE: What I say to the people in the United States is that you have proved that you can be very critical of what you deem to be revolutionary processes. You have a number of scholars and intellectuals who make a good living by critiquing the Cuban Revolution of 1959, by critiquing the Russian Revolution of 1917, by critiquing the French Revolution of the 18th century, but yet we get the impression that what happened in 1776 was all upside, which is rather far-fetched, given what I’ve just laid out before you in terms of how the enslaved African population had their plight worsened by 1776, not to mention the subsequent liquidation of independent Native American polities as a result of 1776. I think that we need a more balanced presentation of the foundation of the United States of America, and I think that there’s no sooner place to begin than next week with July 4th, 2014.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Gerald Horne, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Historian Gerald Horne is author of two new books: The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America as well as Race to Revolution: The U.S. and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow. He’s a professor of history and African American studies at the University of Houston.

That does it for our broadcast. Happy birthday to Jon Randolph. Democracy Now! has two job openings — administrative director, as well as a seasoned Linux systems administrator — as well asfall internships. Check out democracynow.org/jobs for more information.

 

 

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