A Very Brief History of the American South. ELA 20. Slavery’s Beginning. Slavery in America began when the first African slaves were brought to the North American colony of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, to aid in the production of such lucrative crops as tobacco. . The Slave Trade.
A Very Brief History of the American South
Slavery in America began when the first African slaves were brought to the North American colony of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, to aid in the production of such lucrative crops as tobacco.
Slavery was practiced throughout the American colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries, and African-American slaves helped build the economic foundations of the new nation. The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 solidified the central importance of slavery to the South's economy.
By the mid-19th century, America's westward expansion, along with a growing abolition movement in the North, would provoke a great debate over slavery that would tear the nation apart in the bloody American Civil War (1861-65).
The Underground Railroad 1780-1862
The Underground Railroad, a vast network of people who helped fugitive slaves escape to the North and to Canada, was not run by any single organization or person. Rather, it consisted of many individuals -- many whites but predominantly black -- who knew only of the local efforts to aid fugitives and not of the overall operation. Still, it effectively moved hundreds of slaves northward each year -- according to one estimate, the South lost 100,000 slaves between 1810 and 1850.
The Underground Railroad. 1780-1862 cont.
The system grew, and around 1831 it was dubbed "The Underground Railroad," after the then emerging steam railroads. The system even used terms used in railroading: the homes and businesses where fugitives would rest and eat were called "stations" and "depots" and were run by "stationmasters," those who contributed money or goods were "stockholders," and the "conductor" was responsible for moving fugitives from one station to the next.
The Underground Railroad. 1780-1862 cont.
For the slave, running away to the North was anything but easy. The first step was to escape from the slaveholder. For many slaves, this meant relying on his or her own resources. Sometimes a "conductor," posing as a slave, would enter a plantation and then guide the runaways northward. The fugitives would move at night. They would generally travel between 10 and 20 miles to the next station, where they would rest and eat, hiding in barns and other out-of-the-way places. While they waited, a message would be sent to the next station to alert its stationmaster.
In the spring of 1861, decades of simmering tensions between the northern and southern United States over issues including states' rights versus federal authority, westward expansion and slavery exploded into the American Civil War (1861-65). The election of the anti-slavery Republican Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860 caused seven southern states to secede from the Union to form the Confederate States of America; four more joined them after the first shots of the Civil War were fired.
Four years of brutal conflict were marked by historic battles at Bull Run (Manassas), Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Vicksburg, among others. The War Between the States, as the Civil War was also known, pitted neighbor against neighbor and in some cases, brother against brother.
By the time it ended in Confederate surrender in 1865, the Civil War proved to be the costliest war ever fought on American soil, with some 620,000 of 2.4 million soldiers killed, millions more injured and the population and territory of the South devastated.
The Union victory in the Civil War may have given some 4 million slaves their freedom, but African Americans faced a new onslaught of obstacles and injustices during the Reconstruction era (1865-1877). By late 1865, when the 13th Amendment officially outlawed the institution of slavery, the question of freed blacks' status in the postwar South was still very much unresolved. Under the lenient Reconstruction policies of President Andrew Johnson, white southerners reestablished civil authority in the former Confederate states in 1865 and 1866. They enacted a series of restrictive laws known as "black codes," which were designed to restrict freed blacks' activity and ensure their availability as a labor force now that slavery had been abolished.
The black codes stated that African Americans could marry, own property, sue, and be educated. The codes restricted African Americans from serving on juries, carrying weapons, testifying against whites, or marrying someone outside of their race. In addition, the black codes set up a curfew for all blacks and required them to have a special permit in order to travel.
From the 1880s into the 1960s, a majority of American states enforced segregation through "Jim Crow" laws (so called after a black character in minstrel shows). From Delaware to California, and from North Dakota to Texas, many states (and cities, too) could impose legal punishments on people for consorting with members of another race. The most common types of laws forbade intermarriage and ordered business owners and public institutions to keep their black and white clientele separated.
Here is a sampling of laws from various states.
Nurses No person or corporation shall require any white female nurse to nurse in wards or rooms in hospitals, either public or private, in which negro men are placed. Alabama
Restaurants It shall be unlawful to conduct a restaurant or other place for the serving of food in the city, at which white and colored people are served in the same room, unless such white and colored persons are effectually separated by a solid partition extending from the floor upward to a distance of seven feet or higher, and unless a separate entrance from the street is provided for each compartment. Alabama
Toilet Facilities, Male Every employer of white or negro males shall provide for such white or negro males reasonably accessible and separate toilet facilities. Alabama
Intermarriage The marriage of a person of Caucasian blood with a Negro, Mongolian, Malay, or Hindu shall be null and void. Arizona
Intermarriage All marriages between a white person and a negro, or between a white person and a person of negro descent to the fourth generation inclusive, are hereby forever prohibited. Florida
Education The schools for white children and the schools for negro children shall be conducted separately. Florida
Parks It shall be unlawful for colored people to frequent any park owned or maintained by the city for the benefit, use and enjoyment of white persons...and unlawful for any white person to frequent any park owned or maintained by the city for the use and benefit of colored persons. Georgia
Railroads All railroad companies and corporations, and all persons running or operating cars or coaches by steam on any railroad line or track in the State of Maryland, for the transportation of passengers, are hereby required to provide separate cars or coaches for the travel and transportation of the white and colored passengers. Maryland
Education Separate schools shall be maintained for the children of the white and colored races. Mississippi
Promotion of Equality. Any person...who shall be guilty of printing, publishing or circulating printed, typewritten or written matter urging or presenting for public acceptance or general information, arguments or suggestions in favor of social equality or of intermarriage between whites and Negroes, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to fine or not exceeding five hundred (500.00) dollars or imprisonment not exceeding six (6) months or both. Mississippi
In 1929, the United States’ stalk market crashed. This day became known as Black Tuesday. As unemployment rose, people were forced out of their homes. Half of all children, as well as their families, in the U.S. did not have enough food, shelter or medical care. Unemployment rose to 25% by 1933. There was no unemployment insurance and no social security. There was also no insurance on bank deposits so when 11,000 out of the 25, 000 U.S. banks failed by 1933, people lost what little money they had with no way to get it back.
Farmers were also hit hard by The Great Depression. During World War I, they worked hard to produce record crops and livestock. When prices fell they tried to produce even more to pay their debts, taxes and living expenses. In the early 1930s prices dropped so low that many farmers went bankrupt and lost their farms. As well as The Great Depression, an unprecedented decade of drought set in that made their situation more hopeless.
As discussed before, the 1930s were home to racial tension and segregation so The Great Depression hit African Americans the hardest. While 1.5 million African American people moved north for jobs in the 1920s, more than 4 out of 5 of them lived in the South during the 1930s. Unemployment rates rose over 50% and any jobs in the North and South were given to white workers or eliminated altogether. Disparities in wages meant that even African Americans with jobs could not support their families. Infant mortality rates for African American babies (10%) nearly doubled the rates of Caucasian babies (6%).
The United States did not recover from The Great Depression until after World War II (which took place between 1939 and 1945). This was also the last war that had segregated troops.