In 1619, a ship carrying 20 slaves docked at Point Comfort, Virginia, kicking off the American slave trade.
The arrival of 102 people on the Mayflower in 1620 is many Americans’ first introduction to American history. However, 20 enslaved Africans had been taken to the British colonies against their will a year before.
A Dutch ship delivered “20 and odd Africans” to the infant British colonies, arriving at what is now Fort Hampton, then Point Comfort in Virginia, as John Rolfe wrote in a letter in 1619. Despite the fact that enslaved Africans had been a part of Portuguese, Spanish, French, and British history in the Americas since the 16th century, the captives who landed in Virginia were most likely the first slaves to enter what would become the United States 150 years later.
Almost every major moment in American history has been informed by the captives’ arrival 400 years later, even if that history has been framed around anyone other than Africans and African Americans.
“Historians, elected political figures, and community leaders would prefer to see the United States as a legendary, Anglo-Saxon Christian place,” says Michael Guasco, a Davidson College early American history professor.
“In our country, American means white,” Toni Morrison told the Guardian in 1992. Everyone else is required to hyphenate.”
The First Settlers
After a Dutchman forced the first prisoners onto Virginia’s shores in 1619, the majority of the country remained white, relying primarily on Native American slaves and white European indentured servants for labor. The transatlantic slave trade did not have an impact on the American colonies until the late 17th century.
Shortly after enslaved people were brought to the colonies, the first anti-miscegenation ordinance — forbidding marriage between races – was written into law in Maryland in 1661. By the 1960s, those prohibitions were still in force in 21 states, most of which were in the south. In 2000, Alabama became the last state to eliminate the interracial marriage ban.
Revolution in the United States of America
The Declaration of Independence, which stated in its first lines that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights,” did not extend that right to slaves, Africans, or African Americans, with a reference to the abolition of slavery being removed from the final version. Those sentences were written by Thomas Jefferson, a slaveowner himself, who withdrew the allusion after receiving criticism from a number of delegates who enslaved African people. Some historians have speculated that this has since represented “the fabric of the American political economy.”
Slavery prospered in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina’s tobacco crops at first. Slaves made up more than half of the population in the tobacco-producing districts of those states by 1776. Slavery then migrated south to the rice plantations. According to census records, African Americans maintained the majority in South Carolina well into the twentieth century.
Census of the United States, 1790
Non-white slaves made up a significant share of the population of southern states at the time of the first US Census.
One of the most profitable enterprises in the 18th century was the transatlantic slave trade, which was run by the British. Before the slave trade, not slavery was outlawed by Congress in 1808, around 600,000 African slaves made their way into the American colonies. However, as the American-born population rose, the US-registered approximately 4 million enslaved black people – 13 percent of the population – in the country by 1860.
Eight of the first twelve presidents of the United States were slave owners. Slavery supporters backed organizations like the American Colonization Society, which “sent back” tens of thousands of free black people – most of whom were born in the United States – to Liberia in the 19th century to avoid disruption caused by free offspring of slaves.
The Civil war
The civil war, according to Abraham Lincoln, was waged to keep America united, not to abolish slavery — at least at first. Southern states claimed they were seceding to safeguard state rights, but in reality, they were fighting to keep people, slaves. Some historians believe Lincoln took up the struggle for slave emancipation because he was concerned that the British would support the south’s self-declared self-determination and recognize the south as a distinct state. If he had made the war about abolishing slavery, it would have been a disaster for the south’s cause and the British who backed it. According to historian Peter Kolchin, Lincoln’s death was likely the first casualty of “a long civil rights movement that is not yet over.”
Reconstruction, according to some analysts, set the groundwork for “the establishment of new segregated institutions, white supremacist ideology, legal rationalizations, extra-legal violence, and everyday racial fear” — extending the racial gulf between blacks and whites even further. Others have pointed out that the end of the war left black Americans free but their status “undetermined,” with “codes” preventing them from fully being free.
African American men were eventually granted the right to vote under the 14th amendment. In addition, African Americans were granted birthright citizenship, which now extends to descendants of liberated black slaves and immigrants.
The United States was devastated by the late-nineteenth-century recession. In the dead of night, Knight Riders set fire to the dwellings of African Americans who had purchased their own land. They rode up to Washington to demand change as southern white Democrats peeled back many of Reconstruction’s relatively restricted liberties.
The Jim Crow era
African Americans were barred from drinking from the same water fountains, eating at the same restaurants, or attending the same schools as white Americans during the Jim Crow era of segregation, which lasted until the 1960s, and often much beyond.
After Jim Crow kept African Americans out of jobs and opportunities, and more jobs were available in the north and midwest, more than 2 million southern African Americans moved north after WWI. Even hundreds of miles distant from southern segregation, these migrants were confronted with “sundown towns,” where black people were not welcome after sunset, and city limitations on where they may dwell.
In 1926, Oregon’s constitution was amended to eliminate the state’s exclusionary provision, which prohibited black people from entering the state.
The struggle persisted in the years leading up to the end of Jim Crow and the beginning of the civil rights era. For example, the United States military was only desegregated by executive order in 1948. The Supreme Court declared in Brown v Board of Education in 1954 that segregation was unconstitutional and that schools must integrate. In the 1960s, civil rights leaders led anti-segregation marches across the country. The Civil Rights Act was brought into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. It was considered legal to bus African American children to white schools in white communities.
“Slavery had ended, but Jim Crow had not. In The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, Edward E Baptist stated, “Almost all southern African Americans were shut out of the electoral box and the political power it could yield.” The Voting Rights Act of 1965 attempted to address this by outlawing racial voting discrimination and setting limits on a number of southern states that attempted to amend voting rights laws. In a 2013 supreme court judgment, the prohibitions were reversed.
Since Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book The Case for Reparations was published in 2014, the issue of how to settle the financial obligations of 250 years of slavery has climbed to the top of the political agenda. Those in favor of financial compensation for descendants of slaves argue that it is necessary to solve the country’s persistent racial inequalities.
According to a 2017 Pew research, white households had a median wealth of $171,000, which was ten times that of black households ($17,100). Cory Booker, a Democratic presidential candidate, has presented a reparations measure in the Senate, which has the support of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
Meanwhile, voter suppression is becoming a more public issue as another legacy of slavery and its aftermath. Since the Voting Rights Act was gutted in 2013, aggressive attempts by largely ex-Confederate states to limit the vote for impoverished communities of color have grown increasingly pronounced.
“Not surprisingly, these massive removals are concentrated in precincts that tend to have higher minority populations and vote Democratic,” Carole Anderson, academic and author of One Person, No Vote, wrote in the Guardian last week about the 33 million Americans who have been purged from the voter rolls since 2014: “
This Article Was First Published By The Guardian