Friday, July 3, 2015

The Slave Market, Not the Plantation, Was the Real Face of the Confederacy

 When you visit Monticello or Mount Vernon or even Colonial Williamsburg, you can come away with a picture of slavery as an ordered world where white families lived in symbiosis, albeit a hierarchical one, with black families they owned.

However, this architectural and social portrait is frozen in time, masking the  economic and social dynamics of a system which contained some of the most brutal features of the capitalist marketplace along with the ownership of human beings.

By the 1830's and 1840's, soil erosion and rise of cotton agriculture had rendered the coastal plantations of Virginia portrayed in those historic sites an economic anachronism. Most of the great plantations had gone bankrupt, and either tried to move Westward into Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana or Texas, or had sold their slaves to agricultural entrepreneurs settling those regions. That's right, SOLD THEIR SLAVES.

  Forget paternalism. Forget respect for families. The economic dynamics of Westward settlement, soil exhaustion and the emergence of new crops and markets had made the selling of slaves an essential feature of the society that became the Confederacy.

 All you have to do is read a book called "Remembering Slavery" a compilation of the oral history of former slaves which were collected during the 1930's to realize that the selling of slaves, and the breaking up of families and communities, was an essential feature of the Slave South, more feared by those Black folk trapped within it than even physical brutality and sexual exploitation which were also endemic to the system

 Black people lived in constant terror of being sold away from their friends, family members, and their own children. And this happened all the time because the major salable asset of people engaged in plantation agriculture were their slaves!  The bank threatens to foreclose on your property- you sell a few slaves!  You want to buy new agricultural equipment or build a new house- you sell some more!

Slave markets were all over Southern towns and cities, filled on a regular basis with the most horrific scenes of crying people and bodies poked and prodded and auctioned off.

To take the false aura of romance from the Slave South, we need some new historic sites. Let's find and  restore slave markets and explain what really went on there and how essential they were to the Westward expansion and economic vitality of the South.

Hundreds of thousands of slaves were sold away from their families. And were being sold right up to the eve of the Civil War.

When I see the Confederate flag, that is what I see. I am still haunted by the stories of broken families and broken lives I read in "Remembering Slavery"


phila.ken said...

Don't discount the plantation. It was the foundation of the early American economy. An excellent recent book "The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism" by Edward Baptist documents this. After the American Revolution with the introduction of cotton, slavery tripled in size and with increasing barbarity. It came to the point that slaves were working from sunup until ten at night and were whipped if they didn't make a daily quota!

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