Race Relations in the U.S. I’ve discovered the real roots of America these past few days and decided that writing about it was better than killing an innocent victim to soothe the hostility I feel towards my heritage. I picked up a pen because it was safer than a gun. This was a valuable lesson I’ve learned from my forefathers, who did both. Others in my country react on instinct and choose not to deliberate the issue as I have.
If they are black, they are imprisoned or dead. As The People vs. Simpson storms through its ninth month, the United States awaits the landmark decision that will determine justice. O.J. Simpson would not have had a chance in 1857.
Racial segregation, discrimination, and degradation are no accidents in this nation’s history. The loud tribal beat of pounding rap rhythm is no coincidence. They stem logically from the legacy the Founding Fathers bestowed upon contemporary America with regard to the treatment of African-Americans, particularly the black slave woman. This tragedy has left the country with a weak moral foundation. The Founding Fathers, in their conception of a more perfect union, drafted ideas that communicated the oppression they felt as slaves of Mother England.
Ironically, nowhere in any of their documents did they address the issue of racial slavery. The Declaration of Independence from England was adopted as the country’s most fundamental constitutional document. It was the definitive statement for the American policy of government, of the necessary conditions for the exercise of political power, and of the sovereignty of the people who establish the government. John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress and slave trader, described it as “the Ground & Foundation of a future government.” James Madison, Father of the Constitution and slave owner, called it “the fundamental Act of Union of these States.” “All men are created equal,” and endowed by the Creator with the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” They either meant that all men were created equal, that every man was entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or they did not mean it at all. The Declaration of Independence was a white man’s document that its author rarely applied to his own or any other slave.
Thomas Jefferson suspected blacks were inferior. These suspicions, together with his prophecy that free blacks could not harmoniously co-exist with white men for centuries to come, are believed to be the primary reasons for his contradictory actions toward the issue of slavery. At the end of the eighteenth century, Jefferson fought the infamous Alien & Sedition Acts, which limited civil liberties. As president, he opposed the Federalist court, conspiracies to divide the union, and the economic plans of Alexander Hamilton. Throughout his life, Thomas Jefferson, hypocrite, slave holder, pondered the conflict between American freedom and American slavery.
He bought and sold slaves; he advertised for fugitives; he ordered disciplinary lashes with a horse whip. Jefferson understood that he and his fellow slave holders benefited financially and culturally from the sweat of their black laborers. One could say he regarded slavery as a necessary evil. In 1787, he wrote the Northwest Ordinance which banned slavery in territory acquired from Great Britain following the American Revolution. However, later as a retired politician and ex-president, Jefferson refused to free his own slaves, counseled young white Virginia slave holders against voluntary emancipation of theirs, and even favored the expansion of slavery into the western territories. To Jefferson, Americans had to be free to worship as they desired. They also deserved to be free from an overreaching government.
To Jefferson, Americans should also be free to possess slaves. In neither of the Continental Congresses nor in the Declaration of Independence did the Founding Fathers take an unequivocal ezd against black slavery. Obviously, human bondage and human dignity were not as important to them as their own political and economic independence. It was not an admirable way to start a new nation. The Constitution created white privilege while consolidating black bondage. It didn’t matter that more than 5,000 blacks had joined in the fight for independence only to discover real freedom didn’t apply to them.
Having achieved their own independence, the patriots exhibited no great concern to extend the blessings of liberty to those Americans with black skin. Black people were thought of as inferior beings, animals. “You can manage ordinary niggers by lickin’ em and by given’ em a taste of hot iron once in a while when they’re extra ugly,” one uncouth white owner was heard to say at a slave auction shortly before the Civil War. “But if a nigger ever sets himself up against me, I can’t never have any patience with him. I just get my pistol and shoot him right down; and that’s the best way.” Certainly the formal doctrines of the country didn’t apply to animals. If the “animals” were excluded from the rights of the people, then naturally it followed that they didn’t deserve justice.
Dred Scott vs. Sanford ezds as one of the most important cases in the history of the United States Supreme Court. Most of the literature deals with the controversial final decision, rendered on March 6, 1857, by Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney. “Once free always free” became maybe once free but now back to work, nigger. This case was a prime example of how even the American judicial system failed when faced with volatile and subeztive racial issues.
Dred Scott was declared to be still a slave for several reasons. 1) Although blacks could be citizens of a given state, they could not be and were not citizens of the United States with the right to sue in the federal courts. In other words, “animals” couldn’t sue a fellow countryman. 2) Aside from not having the right to sue in the first place, Scott was still a slave because he never had been free to begin with. Owning slaves was protected by the Constitution at the time, and Congress exceeded its authority when it passed legislation forbidding or abolishing slavery in the territories.
The Missouri Compromise was such an exercise of unconstitutional authority and was accordingly declared invalid. So, “animals” were the white man’s property by authority of the doctrines passed down by the Founding Fathers. 3) Whatever status the slave may have had while he was in a free state or territory, if he voluntarily returned to a slave state, his status there depended upon the law of that slave state as interpreted by its own courts. In Scott’s case, since the Missouri high court had declared him to be still a slave, that was the status and law which the Supreme Court of the United States would accept and recognize. In other words, in the middle of the nineteenth century, “animals” better just keep their mouth shut and work if they knew what was good for them.
What was good for them was making the master rich. The good Reverend Jesse H. Turner of Virginia shifted from a Richmond pulpit to a nearby plantation and explained his prosperity by saying “I keep no breeding woman nor brood mare. If I want a Negro I buy him already raised to my hand, and if I want a horse or a mule I buy him also..I think it cheaper to buy than to raise. At my house, therefore, there are no noisy groups of mischievous young Negroes to feed, nor are there any flocks of young horses to maintain.” (Farmers’ Register X, 129. March, 1842) Whether it were cheaper to “breed” or to buy slaves depended upon the market price at the time.
Slave children were a by-product that could hardly be controlled and whose cost had no relation to market price. Often a woman for sale was described as a “good breeder”. New-born “pickaninnies” had a value purely because at some day their labor would presumably yield more than the cost of their keep. The sex of the child was generally irrelevant as most slave women did the same labor as men. Slave women cut down trees and hauled …