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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,984
August 22, 2019
Black America After 400 Years
By Mike McManus

Exactly 400 years ago, in August, 1619, a ship arrived in Virginia with about 25 enslaved Africans. For 250 years, the barbaric system of chattel slavery continued in America until the North defeated the South in the Civil War.

Neither whites nor blacks know this history. But it is powerfully reported in an outstanding special issue of The New York Times Magazine. Every article it its 98 pages was written by African American writers, "to tell our story truthfully."

Nikole Hannah-Jones, in the first article begins, "Our founding ideals of liberty and equality were false when they were written. Black Americans fought to make them true. Without this struggle, America would have no democracy at all."

Her father was born into a family of sharecroppers on a white plantation in Greenwood, Miss. "where black people bent over cotton from can't-see-in-the-morning to can't-see-at-night, just as their enslaved ancestors had done not long before.

"White residents in Mississippi lynched more black people than those in any other state in the country, and the white people in my dad's home county lynched more black residents than those in any other county in Mississippi, often for such `crimes' as entering a room occupied by white women, bumping into a white girl or trying to start a sharecropper's union."

In 1776, Thomas Jefferson penned these words, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Of course, Jefferson and 10 of the first 12 American Presidents - were slave owners, who certainly did not think their slaves were "created equal" to white men.

Ms. Hannah-Jones reports that one of the "primary reasons colonists decided to declare independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery! By 1776, Britain had grown deeply conflicted over its role in the barbaric institution...In London there were calls to abolish the slave trade."

I bet that none of my white readers were aware of that fact surfaced by this black writer.

After the Civil War, 4 million black Americans were suddenly free. Lincoln thought that they might want to go back to Africa. None were interested. "This is our home and this is our country," said one. "Beneath its sod lie the bones of our fathers...Here we were born, and here we will die."

In 1865 Congress passed the 13th Amendment making the United States one of the last nations in the New World to outlaw slavery. Congress passed the 14th Amendment ensuring citizenship to any person born in the United States. Finally in 1870, Congress passed the 15th Amendment guaranteeing the right to vote.

"In this fleeting moment known as Reconstruction, the majority in Congress seemed to embrace the idea that out of the ashes of the Civil War, we could create the multiracial democracy that black Americans envisioned even if our founding fathers did not," writes Ms. Hannah-Jones.

Some 600 blacks were elected to state legislatures and 16 were elected to Congress. Hiram Revels of Mississippi was the first black man elected to the Senate. However, that Reconstruction period ended in 1877, and it took another century for Edward Brooks to be the second black man elected to the Senate.

One achievement of these brief days of Reconstruction "was the establishment of the most democratic American institution, the public school," she writes. Before Reconstruction, the white elite sent their kids to private schools, while poor white children were not educated.

"Newly freed black people who had been prohibited from learning to read and write during slavery, were desperate for an education. So black legislators successfully pushed for a universal state funding system of schools - not just for their children but white children too."

Did you know that black legislators created America's public school system?

In another article, Clint Smith writes that over three centuries, 36,000 slave ships crossed the Atlantic. "For every hundred people who were captured and enslaved, forty died before they every reached the New World."

Matthew Desmond reports that "Cotton grown and picked by enslaved workers was the nation's most valuable export...Overseers recorded each enslaved worker's yield. Accounting took place not only after nightfall, when cotton baskets were weighed, but throughout the workday."

I urge readers to ask your library for the August 19th edition of The New York Times Magazine. You can even order 4 copies for $3 from the Times, or get 100 for $63.

Both black and white Americans need to know this history.


Copyright (c) 2019 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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