Effects of Slavery on American Society

African American slavery has a dramatic impact on slaves and it changed all time periods in American society throughout America’s history. From the 1600’s when slaves first arrived from Africa, through the Civil War, Great Depression, Civil Rights Era and up until today, slavery’s impact has been felt in America. Slavery was brought to America as early as 1619, but we chose to keep it here for over 200 years, longer than any other country who also adopted the ways of slavery. Our economy flourished with the cheap labor of slaves, and as new inventions, and products came to our attention, we always had a cheap way to produce a mass quantity of it. The South is known for being Pro-slavery, while the Northern states where known for being against slavery. Even after slavery was abolished, racism, discrimination and segregation existed for many more years. Then came the Civil Rights era, winning the elimination of Jim Crow laws and legally making blacks equals, however, the hate crimes and racism still carried on, and until whites set aside their differences and the laws began to be strictly enforce against hate crimes and segregation, the blacks did not get the same privileges as the previously preeminent white race.

Slavery came to America in 1619, and stayed until 1865, and the effects lasted all the way through the 1900’s. As a plantation economy arose in the South, it created a need for more slaves. Slavery had been practiced in British North America from early colonial days, and was firmly established by the time the United States’ Declaration of Independence was passed in 1776. After this, there was a gradual spread of abolitionism in the North, while the rapid expansion of the cotton industry in 1800 caused the South to side strongly with slavery, and attempt to extend it into the new Western territories (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Slavery_in_the_United_States). The first slaves were brought to America on a Dutch Ship in the year 1619 and docked at what is now Jamestown, Virginia. In 1925 there was all of 23 Africans in the colony of Virginia (Vox 1).

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The number of slaves increased at an incredibly slow rate, as there was not that much work that required their labor. As mentioned before, the cotton industry boomed, and all that cotton needed to be picked and cleaned and woven, which became slave labor. Cheap labor was a better profit and slaves provided that inexpensive labor and their bodies were able to tolerate the harsh abuse, and punishments their owners would give them. As the Argument against slavery grew in the North, the South’s flourishing plantation economy had come to rely on an enslaved labor force (Danzer et al 157). In the narrative, The Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass by Fredrick Douglass he believes that slavery is bad for the slave as well as the owner. An example from his story is “…he (Mr. Covey) rushed at me with the fierceness of a tiger, tore off my clothes, and lashed me till he had worn out his switches, cutting me so savagely as to leave the marks visible for a long time after.” This shows that slavery not only hurts the slaves, but also turns whites into savages.

The author also discusses how his soul, body, and spirit were broken. This quote, “Mr. Covey beat Douglass so horribly that it not only hurt his body but also deprived him of his manhood,” exposes the fact that being beaten not only inflicts pain on someone’s body, but also crushes their dignity. What is of more importance is what Douglass says about how he regained his manhood. He states how he attains his dignity in the quote, “Douglass beat Mr. Covey, and regained his sense of pride and manhood.” This shows that there is hope for better treatment for slaves. Douglass describes his horrible experiences with being a slave and how he was deprived of his manhood but explains how he emerged from it as a new man. In the narrative The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano he is saying that African Americans in the time of slavery suffered a great deal of pain and hardships. He shares his story of the torture, pain, and struggles that he faced in his experience with slavery. An example from his narrative is “…every one of their countenances expressing dejection and sorrow…” This shows that every slave was going through a time of depression.

The author also shows how Equiano’s fear of the white men. This quote “…but, being afraid of him, I would not take it out of his hand,” demonstrates that he wouldn’t even take food from them, even though he was starving. Equiano feared the white men and wouldn’t even reach out when they offered a helping hand because of his past experiences. What is more important is what Equiano says about how the slave market affects families. He expresses how cruel the white slave traders were with slave families in the quote “…relations and friends separated most of them never to see each other again.” This is explaining that families were split up, and most of the time, never got to see one another ever again. In his slave narrative Equiano demonstrates the horror and struggle of living in slavery. His use of imagery conveys a powerful feeling of sympathy into his readers, and also a feeling of anger and hatred towards white slave traders. Equiano uses a lot of examples of families being separated from one another; I think he does this to give you an example of just how cruel and careless the white men were.

Overall Equiano’s message was that slavery was a horrible thing, and he was trying to get that message into the heads of other whites. Although slavery had dehumanizing effects on slaves, slavery continued in America for over 200 years because the Southern economy depended upon the free labor of the slaves. Southern church leaders, politicians and community members held anti-abolitionist views. The church leaders believed that god authorized the practice of slavery; they figured that it was “okay” to have slaves because it was in the bible, and the bible is “never wrong”. “Some of the most eminent of the Old Testament saints were slaveholders,” (Rhea 2). This quote explains why people thought that there was nothing wrong with slavery, because they believed that the bible was always right. Southern politicians in 1860-1861 thought their race would be “completely exterminated” by blacks if slaves were freed. A man named William Harris claims that freedom of the slaves would bring eternal degradation to the whites. “Our fathers made this a government for the white man, rejecting the Negro as an ignorant, inferior, barbarian rave incapable of self-government and not therefore entitled to be associated with the white men upon terms of civil, political or social equality,” (Rhea 3).

Whites looked down on blacks and didn’t even see them as humans, but as animals, and they thought the world would go back to wilderness and whites would be wiped out if slaves were given freedom. Community leaders were saying the economy would fail if the slaves were given freedom. Without slavery the plantation owners of 1860 would lose at least 4 billion dollars. “The status of color of the black race becomes the badge of inferiority,” (Rhea 3). This quote shows that black slaves actually did have the upper hand on plantations because their labor was the basis of the economy. They said that abolition meant the “tuning loose upon society,” that without the restrictions of slavery the blacks would become criminals. The quote “…first to petty thefts, and afterward to the bolder crimes of robbery and murder,” (Rhea 3) demonstrates exactly the belief that blacks were not prepared for new freedoms, they will not know how to act and will result to breaking the laws. Slavery almost divided the nation into tw separate countries. “In many ways the Civil War was warfare in transition, a junction between the classical conflicts of the eighteenth century and the massive carnage of the twentieth century.” (Drew 1).

This quote describes the type of warfare that was used during the Civil War; tactically, battles were organized and fought along the lines of the Napoleonic campaigns by armies led by commanding officers. At the time no one really appreciated how the face of war was changing. The soldiers were all largely untrained militias, with leaders that didn’t really know what they were doing. When people started to realize that they didn’t have enough people to fight, they allowed slaves to join the militias. It was mostly northern blacks that had more motivation to fight, but blacks did fight on the southern side. The United States was bonded as the Union, until an argument over slavery caused some southern states to secede from the union, creating the Confederate States of America. Black Boy, Richard Wright’s autobiography explains the effects of Slavery on American society, and the effects on African American victims of that era (1920 – 1940’s) He talks about how the African Americans had to go through so much harsh treatment and racism from whites.

For example, Wright tells us how one day he was making a delivery for his job in a white neighborhood and when he got there two police officers pulled him to the side of the road and searched him at gunpoint just because they were suspicious. This shows that the Negroes were subject to harsh treatment from the White people in society even 50 years after slavery was abolished. Most colored people lived in poverty, like Wright, and had to live with the constant feeling of hunger. Even when a white man offered Wright $1 so that he could buy himself something to eat, he refused because in his mind it would be “unethical”. Wright believes that as a result of slavery in America there is an issue with Black and White relations. The problem is that it caused both races to live in hate and fear of each other, making it nearly impossible for either to live a full human life.

Slavery had significant effects on American Society in the civil rights era. According to thinkquest.org, in the article The Civil Rights Movement, slavery had left people with no choice but to fight for their equal rights. Boycotts were a common way of protests during this era. A situation when a boycott was done is when African Americans, led by Martin Luther King Jr., boycotted busses because they were segregated. “By deciding as a large group not to ride the bus, bus companies would lose money and the African American community would make their point known that segregation in busses was unfair and would not be tolerated”(The Civil Rights Movement 1). Their efforts finally paid off in 1956 when the US Supreme Court ruled that segregation on busses was illegal.

This shows that African Americans were serious about fighting for equal rights, and they could find a peaceful and effective way to do so. In addition, the author also explains how the Civil Rights Act (1963) and the Voting Rights Act (1965) were important victories for the civil rights movement. “After nearly 100 years since the end of the Civil War, the American people and its government had finally ended legal segregation. All the laws that allowed the separation between white and black Americans no longer existed.” (The Civil Rights Movement 1). This proves that society was segregated for almost 100 years even after slavery was abolished. Slavery’s effect on society in the Civil Rights Era was significant because if slavery had never occurred and if American Americans hadn’t been oppressed for so long after slavery was abolished, then there wouldn’t have been any reason to fight for equal rights.

The impact that African American slavery had on both slaves and society forever changed American history. Slaves like Equiano and Douglass felt the effects, as did American society in every historical time period in America’s history. However, the effects of slavery can still be felt today. America might be known as the land of the free where everyone lives with equality but discrimination and racism are still around us although very rare. Slavery was the start of America’s evolution into the great nation that it is today. Since 1619 all the way up until the mid-1900’s blacks had been fighting for their rights and their extreme determination drove our nation to the top. We have come so far from where we were over 100 years ago, yet I don’t think the United States of America would be nearly as strong as we are now, if we didn’t face the struggle of slavery.

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Effects of Slavery on American Society. (2016, Jun 15). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/effects-of-slavery-on-american-society/