The institute of slavery was a cruel, violent and a heartless system from its starting places in West Africa to its implementation in the cotton fields of the American south. Though we as a nation have abolished slavery and worked to have equality among all races. We have rarely taken the time to realize
the extreme mental and physical stress placed upon African-American people by this cruel system of economics we called slavery. A wise man once said “In order to understand where you’re going, you must understand where you came from” which means in order to understand the African-American psyche, we must take a journey through this ugly piece of American History.
During the 17th and 18th century, the demand for slaves was at its peak. Europe slave traders quickly provide the labor needed. This is how the Middle passage started. The potential of earning a small fortune in the slave trading business was enough of a profit for traders to put aside the fact that Africans were human beings.” In the 1760, in some markets, a trader could sell a male slave for 50 pounds, which was enough to live comfortable for one year. With the promise of making more than a decent living from slave trade, it also became profitable. Traders could not have been successful without the formation of a relationship with the Africans who provide them with other Africans to enslave. In return for providing human cargo to the enslavers, African kidnappers received guns, textiles, iron bars, and other products.”(The Middle Passage, http://afroamhistory.about.com, 3/1/08 ) The African slaves were about to embark on the infamous Middle passage, so called because it was the middle leg of a three-part voyage. A voyage that began and end in Europe. “The first leg of the voyage carried a cargo that often included iron, cloth, brandy, firearms, and gunpowder. Upon landing on Africa’s “Slave Coast,’’ the cargo was exchanged for sugar, tobacco, or some other product. The final leg brought the ship back to Europe.”(The Middle Passage, http://www.pbs.org,3/1/2008).
Captains of slave ships were known as either “loose packers” or “tight packers”, depending upon how many slaves they crammed into the space they had. Most ships, especially those of the later 18th century, were “ tight packers”, carrying a huge quality of slaves who were often forced to lie in spaces smaller than that of grave, or in some cases stacked spoon-fashion on top of one another.”( Hell Bellow Deck (life on the slave ship), http://beatl.barnard.columbia.edu,3/1/2008) Once at sea, the slaves were brought up out of their steamy dungeon each morning. The men’s leg-irons were linked to a chain running down the center of the ship to prevent suicide attempts. On some ship they were made to dance for exercise. The slave would receive their meal, usually the same as the first. While on deck a good captain had the slaves washed down with warm vinegar and scrubbed. Some did not bother and in rough weather the slaves would not be allowed out at all. “Shackled in darkness and filth, seasickness and disease were rife. The heat in the hold could be over 30 degrees Celsius and the slaves would have no access to toilets or washing facilities. Extreme foulness was the smell of slave ships that other vessels try to stayed far away from them. In such conditions disease spread, and many slaves died.”(The Middle Passage, http://www.headleypark.edu, 3/1/2008)
Other deaths can be attributed to the Africans being faced with the horrible conditions of the voyage.
The unknown future that lay beyond, many Africans preferred to die. But even the choice of suicide was taken away from these people. From the captain’s point of view, his human cargo was extremely valuable and had to be kept alive and, if possible, uninjured. A slave who tried to starve him or her self was tortured. If torture did not work, the slave was forced fed with the help of a contraption called a speculum orum, which held the mouth open.
Eventually, after the hard 3,700-mile voyage, the slave would reach North America. In order to strengthen them before sale, the slaves were normally fed better in the days directly before their arrival in the new world, however their suffering was far from over. Before the could be sold, the slaves would be oiled to make their skin shinny and any imperfections, such as scars from whipping, would be filled in with hot tar in order to improve their appearance and get the best market price. Most slave ship would not be allowed to dock in the ports, which they could not due to their horrible stench and the fear of the spread of any diseases, which had been spread throughout the ship. Therefore, the slavers would drop anchor a few miles off shore and carry slaves to land the slaves in land in smaller boats, which had been stored aboard the ship. After arriving on land, almost all slaves were separated from there loved ones and sold off to different households never to see each other again.
Slavery in the south was hard. Over 4 million enslaved African Americans lived throughout the south by 1860. Most of these slaves were agriculture laborers, either on a small farm of large plantation. These slaves worked from sunrise to sunset. Women worked the same hours as the men and pregnant women were expected to continue until their child was born. Most slaves worked in cotton tobacco, or sugar fields. A few slaves held specialized jobs as artisans, skilled laborers, and factory workers. An even smaller number of slaves worked as cooks, butlers, or maids. The law provided slaves with virtually no protection from their masters. On large plantations this power was delegated to overseers. These men were under considerable pressure for plantation owners to maximize profits. They did this by bulling the slaves in increase productivity. The punishment used against slaves judged to be under-performing included the use of the whip. Sometimes slave-owners resorted to mutilating and branding their slaves.
Some punishments were associated with certain areas. According to William Wells Brown, slave owners in Virginia smoked slaves. This involved whipping the slaves and putting them in a tobacco smokehouse. “ Moses Roper claimed that in South Carolina they used to “drive nails into a coffin like box, so as to leave the point of the nail protruding in the side of the cast. In this he used to put slaves for punishment, and roll them down a very long and steep hill.” ( Slave Punishments (Testimonials), www.spartacus.net,3/1/2008) Lewis Clarke, a house slave in Kentucky, describe in his autobiography the different methods use by his mistress: “instruments of torture were ordinarily the raw hide, or a bunch a hickory- sprouts seasoned in the fire and tied together. But if these were not at hand, she would use beat him with a chair, the broom, tongs, shovel, shears, knife-handle, the heavy heel of her slipper, and an oak club, a foot and a half in length and an inch and a half square. With this delicate weapon she would beat us upon the hands and upon the feet until they were blistered.” ( Slave Punishments (Testimonials), www.spartacus.net, 3/1/08)
Another method slave owners use to control slaves, was what I call the Willie Lynch method. This is a portion of the letter he wrote, to explain his method.” I have a foolproof method for controlling your black slaves. I guarantee every one of you than if installed correctly it will control the slaves; for at least 300 hundred years. My method is simple. Any member of the family overseer can use it. I have outlined a number of differences among the slaves; and I take these differences and make them bigger. I use fear, distrust and envy for control purpose.
These methods have worked on my modest plantation in the West Indies and it will work throughout the south. Take this simple little list of differences and think about them. On the top of my list is age but it’s there only because it starts with of plantations, status on plantation, attitude of owners, whether the slaves live in the valley, on a hill, east, west, north, south, have fine hair or course hair, are tall or short. Now that you have a list of differences, I shall give you an outline of action, but before that, I shall assure you that distrust is stronger than trust and envy is stronger adulation or admiration. The black slaves after receiving this indoctrination shall carry on and will become self refueling and self-generation for hundreds of years, maybe thousands. Do not forget you must pitch the old black male vs. the young black male, and the young black male against the old black male. You must use the dark skin slaves vs. the light skin slaves, and the light skin slaves vs. the dark skin slaves. You must use female vs. male. And the male vs. the female. You must also have your white servants and overseers distrust all blacks.
But it is necessary that your slaves trust and depend on us. They must love, respect and trust only us. Gentleman, these kits are your keys to control. Use them. Have your wives and children use them, never miss an opportunity. If use intensely for one year, the slaves themselves will remain perpetually distrustful. Thank you gentleman.” (The Willie Lynch letter (1712),http://www.osirisgroup.org,3/1/2008)
This method still acted out among some African Americans today. This is called Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder. The Theory of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome is that centuries of slavery followed by systemic racism and oppression have resulted in multigenerational adaptive behaviors, some of which have been positive and reflective of resilience, and others that are detrimental and destructive( Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Leagcy of Enduring Injury and Healing. This is common in African Americans that are 60 years or older or has been spread from generation to generation. What it is, is a slave like mentality, if you have children you treat them according to their color, age and sex. People who have this disorder usually severely beat their children and call them names such as nigger as slave owners did. Willie Lynch’s method is also portrayed in today’s African American youth. By calling each other nigger, which was a word used to degrade the African American slaves. As well as the staggering number of African American men in our prison system compared to our other racial counter parts.
As African-American we have been treated as an inferior race for over a decade. Even during the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s, we were still beaten by police and made to sit in the back of the bus. As well, as forced to go to separate schools and to use separate facilities as our white counter parts. Though our generation didn’t have to deal with the extremes of this racism, these stories and hostilities are still passed from generation to generation.
In conclusion, the institute of slavery was a cruel, violent and a heartless system from its starting places in West Africa to its implementation in the cotton fields of the America south. Though we as a nation have abolished slavery and worked to have equality among all races. We have rarely taken the time to realize the extreme mental and physical stress placed upon African-American people by this cruel system of economics we called slavery. In order to start the healing process , I feel we must as a people start to recognize this slave like mentality and break threw this state of mind as well as the habits that come with it.