African Peoples of the Americas: From Slavery to Civil Rights


African Peoples of the Americas offers a well-researched and stimulating approach to the study of the experiences of Black Americans in the Caribbean and the U.S., with a focus on slavery, emancipation, the civil rights movement, and the forging of new identities and cultures. It is written in an accessible style with an emphasis on primary source documents.
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African Peoples of the Americas offers a well-researched and stimulating approach to the study of the experiences of Black Americans in the Caribbean and the U.S., with a focus on slavery, emancipation, the civil rights movement, and the forging of new identities and cultures. It is written in an accessible style with an emphasis on primary source documents.
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Product Details

Table of Contents

Introduction: The African past 4
1 Black cargoes 6
2 To be sold as a slave 12
3 A life of slavery 16
The fight for freedom, 1699-1865 22
4 Revolt and resistance 24
5 Runaways 28
6 Abolitionists 31
7 Contraband 34
8 One gallant rush 40
9 Emancipation in the USA 44
The struggle for equality, 1865-1920 46
10 Reconstruction 48
11 Pioneers, cowboys end buffalo soldiers 52
12 Early black protest 56
13 Civil rights since the 1920s 60
Index 64
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First Chapter


Black cargoes

In the century white Europeans began taking large numbers of Africans to America as slaves.

Why did this process of slavery begin and how did it operate?

The idea of slavery is a very old one. The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt used slave labour to build the pyramids. The economy of ancient Greece and the might of the Roman Empire depended on millions of slaves. Slavery existed in Europe throughout the Middle Ages and there was a trade in African slaves in 15th-century Spain.

The Spanish colonisation of the Americas during the 16th century required hard physical work in order to clear woodland, cultivate and process crops, mine for mineral wealth, and build homesteads. Having gone to the New World to live like gentlemen, the Spanish forced the native people of the Americas, such as the Caribs of the Caribbean islands and the Incas of South America, to work for them under very harsh conditions. Exposed to new and fatal diseases carried across the Atlantic by Europeans, such as measles and smallpox, these native peoples died in their millions. By the early 16th century the Spanish needed an alternative source of labour for their colonies in the New World.

The growth of the slave trade

Slavery had existed in Africa, as in other parts of the world, from the earliest times. In the 15th century Portuguese explorers moved down the west coast of Africa establishing trading stations and building fortresses to protect the possessions they had seized. By the end of the century they were importing 10,000 African slaves into Lisbon every year. Many of the slaves were put to work on the Portuguese sugar plantations in Madeira and elsewhere.

In the early years of colonisation, the Spanish and Portuguese settlers in Central and South America used a relatively small number of African slaves as domestic servants and farm labourers. From the beginning of the 16th century an increasing number of African people were brought to work on sugar plantations in the Caribbean, Brazil and Mexico. During the next three centuries a massive expansion of slavery took place as the Portuguese and Spanish established their control of the New World and exploited the wealth of its natural resources.

Most of these enslaved people were not kidnapped by white traders but bought from African slave dealers. Large states, controlled by powerful African political and military rulers, were being set up in Africa at this time. Some of the people bought by the Europeans had been enslaved for debt and others as a punishment for crime but the great majority had been captured during fighting between warring African groups. The Europeans traded guns with African leaders and in return demanded slaves.

The triangular trade

The sea captain, Sir John Hawkins, was responsible for beginning the English involvement in the slave trade. In 1562, he set sail from England for the west coast of Africa with a cargo of cloth and other valuables. In Africa he traded these goods for slaves, which he took across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. There he exchanged the slaves for sugar, silver and leather, which he then took back to England. This system became known as the 'triangular trade' end other European countries such as France and the Netherlands followed his example. Although the English did not have the Asiento, or licence, Hawkins made three more voyages along this route between 1562 and 1568. The trade, encouraged by Queen Elizabeth, was extremely profitable to the English, who became the biggest slave traders.

Plantation slavery in North America

The first Africans arrived in North America during the early days of English colonisation, in 1619. Slavery developed quite slowly in North America, increasing as the growth of the tobacco trade during the 17th century created a demand for workers. By the middle of the 18th century there were over 260,000 African slaves in Virginia alone, most of whom had been transported to, rather than born in, the colony. A few years later the numbers decreased as the tobacco trade reduced, only to increase again with the introduction of cotton as a plantation crop, particularly after the invention of the cotton 'gin' in 1793 by Eli Whitney, an American from Connecticut.

The gin was an engine which speeded up the process of separating the fleecy white cotton fibre from the tough seeds. This made it possible to supply a rapidly expanding textile industry in Britain and, as a result, plantation owners required many more slaves to work in the cotton fields.

The slaves who survived the Atlantic crossing and reached North America were sold at slave auctions held regularly at large ports and towns, and subsequently put to work on the cotton, tobacco, sugar beet and rice plantations which developed in the southern states during the 17th and 18th centuries. The wealth of the plantation owners depended on plantation slavery which was known as 'The Peculiar Institution of the South' but was actually one of the most cruel of human systems. Between 1526 and 1870 about 10 million Africans were shipped to the Americas. Some people say this estimate is far too low. This figure does not allow for all those people who died in the process of enslavement and imprisonment in Africa while they awaited the European slave traders.

The triangular trade brought death and appalling hardship to millions of captured Africans. Slaves were collected and kept in dungeons in European-built forts along the coast of West Africa awaiting shipment. European ships' captains went ashore and did business with African chiefs or traders, and herded their human cargo onto overcrowded sailing vessels. Then came the 'Middle Passage, or voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, with its dreadful death-rate. Between 1680 and 1688, for example, the British Royal African Company lost nearly a quarter of all slaves shipped from Africa. The slaves were shackled in pairs with leg-irons. They were branded with a red-hot iron, like cattle, to show who owned them; their heads were shaved and their clothes taken away.


To be sold as a slave

When they finally reached America Africans were sold, often in a brutal and terrifying manner.

What was it like to be sold as a slave?

The 'scramble'

Slaves brought to the Americas were distributed in different ways. One method, which must have been horrifying to the newly arrived slaves, was known as a 'scramble'. When the slave ships reached port their cargoes were herded together to be sold, either on deck or in a nearby yard. Sometimes they were sold at a fixed price per head, rather than being auctioned, and the purchasers would rush upon them, grabbing those they wanted to buy.

Sales and auctions

Many slaves were unloaded and held in slave pens to be sold at a later date. The most common form of slave sale was public auction -- a method which was also used when slaves were re-sold.

Being sold by auction was a very cruel and frightening experience for a slave. In ports such as Charleston and Savannah they were often paraded in front of white buyers and examined like animals.

Slaves were made to stand on an auction block whilst the bidding took place. Often auctions took place 'by inch of candle' which meant bids were received until an inch of candle had burned. Families of slaves were sometimes kept together when sold, but usually children were taken from their parents and husbands and wives were separated.

Branded and sold like cattle

Prices paid varied greatly depending on whether the slaves were young or old, well or ill. Slave owners would pay less for newly arrived slaves than for those who had been trained or who possessed valuable skills. Slaves who had already worked on the plantations and shown their abilities could be sold for a relatively high price. In the records of one plantation in Jamaica for the year 1787, there is an entry showing 330 [pound sterling] being paid for a good mill carpenter named Jimmy, while on the same page is found Quamina 'a good watchman, but bad legs' valued at 6d (2.5p). On the other hand, unhealthy slaves who had just arrived but who could not be sold were regarded as valueless and were often left to die on the wharfs without food or water.

Upon purchase, slaves who had just arrived were given a European name in an attempt to make them forget their African past. They were usually branded like cattle with their owner's initials or mark on the face, chest or shoulder. In 1838, a slave owner in North Carolina. in the United States. advertised a slave as having been 'burnt with a hot iron on the left side of her face; I have tried to make the letter M.' In 1848, a Kentuckian described his runaway slave called Jane as having a brand mark 'on the breast something like L blotched.'

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