Essay Slavery in America has always been a touchy subject, especially when it comes to the truths about the effects of slavery on the slaves themselves. The accounts by slaves are few and far between, and the accounts that are available often tell one side of the story about slavery. This is why I decided to take the Slavery in America course. I hoped to find out more information about the truth of slavery in American history, and I wanted to possible get an insight into what my great, great grandmother had to deal with as a slave in Virginia.
With that said, I came into this course with my own personal perceptions of slavery in America, and also about the beginnings of the European slave trade itself. In this critical essay, I will take a look at my pre-existing views and compare them with what I have learned over the first four weeks of class. One of the first personal views that I had about slavery was that there were never any amicable proceedings between slaves and their masters. I believed that the aspect of “slavery” started with the Europeans capturing and selling Africans.
After watching “The Terrible Transformation”, I came to learn that slavery didn’t just come out of nowhere specifically in the capture of Africans for economic reasons. Previous to the African exploitation, there was a caste system in Europe. The aspect of slavery was founded in servitude in the European culture, as it was built mostly based on class. There was the rich king and queens, and then there were there servants. But, the servitude of the Europeans was not that of American slavery. The serfs were treated well.
They were punished for subordination, of course, but they were paid, fed, and cloth, and sometimes treated like family. The second personal view that I had was that there were only black slaves in American slavery. This was proven wrong in an important video that we had in this course. In “Terrible Transformation”, I learned that black and white people were initially treated as indentured servants, and earned their freedom, as well as, land rights.
In fact, I learned that it was actually an African man hat helps to change the status of slavery in Virginia before any European person did. Known as Antonio a Negro, by old records, he was the first African to not only own slaves himself, but to win in court the right to own a slave for life. I was not aware at all of the paradigm shift from the notion of “freed” indenture servants to full slaves with no freedom. When I did learn of Antonio a Negro, I always wondered what was going through his mind of fighting to control one’s life forever, and not let them earn freedom like he had earned.
The final pre-existing view that I had about slavery in America was that it was a strict linear development in that the Europeans came to the Ivory Coast, conquered and exploited the Africans and brought them to America. From what I have learned thus far in class, this idea is both true and false. In “The African Slave Trade” by Basil Davidson, I learned that there was much more to the slave trade in Africa that meets the eye. There was a cross continental trade in which sub-Saharan slaves were transported as well.
Not only that, there was a focal point in Africa which served as the basis for the trade. Kings of a variety of African villages took part in the trade with Europeans for things such as horses and guns. When I read about the fact that African Kings and villages took part in the slave trade I was flabbergasted. I think it must have been okay to African Kings because they too had some type of class system in which there were serfs and servants. In conclusion, the facts about American slavery that I thought I had down have been uprooted in just four weeks of taking this course.
The foundations of American slavery itself has been changed into more than just the racial inferiority complex of the Europeans towards that of Africans, but a large multi-economical trading system. I also find it really interesting that the facts that I am learning about from books such as Huggins’ “Black Odyssey”, Davidson’s “ The African Slave Trade” have not been brought to the attention of many an American people. Some of the thoughts that run through my mind, especially after these four weeks, have been why is this information not taught in general American history?
I believe that if some of the issues that I learned about, especially from “The Terrible Transformation”, were brought to the light to many Americans, that there would be a greater appreciation of how far we have come as a society, and the role that slavery has played in the development of “enlightened and refined” civilizations. I look very much forward to what I am going to learn in the next weeks about African slavery, and the views that haven’t been taught to society.