The enslaved Africans in the Americas...rehumanized themselves.
Why was the transatlantic slave trade instituted? After Christopher Columbus’s rediscovery, of what is now known as the America, the European powers acquired and developed the region calling it the New World. The land masses were used to supply the European nations with commodities and an economic boost. However, as the demand grew there was a greater need for labourers who could withstand the climates and do so for longer periods than the Amerindians. Due to the use of slavery in West Africa previous to their arrival the Europeans had no difficulty in obtaining Africans, to ship to the plantations, in exchange for goods brought from Europe. After being sold the Africans would then be taken to the New World where they would be sold to another group of Europeans, known as the planter class, who would put them to work in the fields to sow and reap sugar, tobacco, rice, cotton and the like. To the Europeans, they were objects of labour and treated as nothing more.
”They dug a hole large enough for two to four people. They pulled a lid made of brush over the top. Down in the pit they practiced their lesson” (McKissack 182). This is a picture of revolution. Unable to take charge over themselves, their bodies, and their offspring openly they did so under the cover of anything which could hide them and their actions from the planter class. Revolutionary acts such as enlightening themselves and developing their own culture led to the regaining and reforming of identities lost in chattel slavery. Chattel slavery “refers to people who are treated as the property of another person, household, company, corporation or government” within it they “are deprived of personal freedom and compelled to work…against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth and are deprived of the right to receive compensation” (Wilson 14). This process effectively dehumanized the enslaved Africans. Dehumanization, according to the Free Dictionary means “to deprive of human qualities such as individuality, compassion, or civility” (Farflex). It affected not only the outer happenings but also that of the inner being. The deprivation of knowledge kept the enslaved Africans and their enslaved offspring in an animalistic state of ignorance. This tactic withheld the reasoning power of blacks while keeping the large populous in check. In addition, it served well economically: “…being property,” they “could not own property or be a party to a contract” (Congress). Due to this law there was no need to pay them. Free labour could continue, inhumane conditions could be practiced and great profit could be had by all else. Unsatisfied by this way of life they took a relentless stand against slavery. The enslaved Africans in the Americas, through passive and active resolution, during 1834 to 1968, rehumanized themselves.
During 1834 to 1968 the enslaved and formerly enslaved Africans managed to gain the status of “human” within themselves and society from a variety of angles including education and enlightenment, communication, and culture. Years before this slot of time America had fought for and won its independence from the British Crown: having done so they controlled themselves and their territories entirely. For this reason the blacks in the United States were still warring slavery for the first 29 years being discussed while developing themselves as a separate identity[HSH1] . However, in 1834 the British Empire[HSH2] [HSH3] had granted freedom to blacks, who during this period were gaining a foothold of the territories in which they lived in mind and body. [HSH4]
Tradition as well as laws were built around keeping blacks from learning to read and write in efforts to keep them within the reins of control. The planter class thought this would be an effective way of protecting themselves from revolutionary acts, and according to Frederick Douglass:
If a mother shall teach her children to read, the law in Louisiana proclaims that she may be hanged by the neck…If the father attempt to give his son a knowledge of letters, he may be punished by the whip in one instance, and in another killed, at the discretion of the court. Three million people shut out from the light of knowledge! (231)
Toussaint L’Ouverture preaches to this message again with his story and victory with the people of Haiti. It was his ability to read which led to the introduction “of new ideas that change[d the] thinking and disrupt[ed] the status quo” (Nicholson 89). It was this ability which allowed Toussaint to become inspired, motivated by the writing of “The Amis des Noirs along with Raimond,” who “wrote pamphlets encouraging the emancipation of slaves and the granting of equal rights among whites and people of mixed race” (Nicholson 94). Discontent with the norm for a variety of reasons, be it want of change and freedom, to the need to be taught Christianity, the enslaved taught themselves to read and write with the help of sympathetic whites and missionaries. Persons such as Sojourner Truth, Harriet Ann Jacobs and Frederick Douglass, who wrote his autobiography and continued on to be a lecturer and editor of The North Star, a periodical which he owned, were slaves noted for breaking away from appreciated ignorance.
In the period after emancipation, enlightenment was viral as the enslaved and formerly enslaved relentlessly pursued heights higher than their present stance. “Former slaves of every age took advantage of the many opportunities to unlock the shackles of ignorance. Grandfathers and the grandchildren, mothers and sons sat together in classrooms seeking to obtain the tools of freedom” (30) In the Caribbean, as in the United States blacks were educating themselves. Where the U.S. could boast of the ability of its blacks leaning to read and write there the Caribbean flaunted it diversity, and ironically, its unity of dialects formed from a fusion of the European and African languages with which they had come into contact as an addition. These fusions consisted of Papliemento/Papiamentu spoken in the ABC islands, Kweyol spoken in Dominica, and the Antiguan and Jamaican dialects/patios spoken in their respective countries. This was in addition to their ability at this point to engage openly in education:” a mass provision of day schools for black and coloured children” (Campbell 1).[HSH5] At first, and for quite some time the education system: the curriculum and the financial issues were governed by the Europeans. Black Americas having found their voice through enlightenment, knowledge refused to sit still but rather continued to nurture and cultivate within themselves the pieces of culture thought to be lost through journeying away from Africa.
In the United States laws of ethnic separation indirectly enhanced the musical culture of the black society (Weinstock). [HSH6] Within Louisiana the free blacks had made music after laws of segregation passed they were forced out of society, this added another element to their music.
Curwen Best states in Culture @ the Cutting Edge: Tracking Caribbean Popular Music “…no other facets of Caribbean culture reflects the tensions, compromises and complexities of this era like the region’s music” (Best 1). His concise analysis of the development of Caribbean music proves true according to Stephen Stuempfle explanation of the steel pan music being an incorporation of “celebration, power, resistance, and identity” saying that they were “an integral part of the steelband experience” (Stuempfle 17). The Caribbean engaged in the making of music through the use of steel drums and different genres to express themselves while entertaining and informing others as well. The steel pan is accepted as having being conceived in 1938 to 1939 (Guppy) . “Both calypso and steelband also have their roots in the [African] martial tradition of kalinda, a kind of stickfighting that is done to the accompaniment of singing and drumming” (Dudley 82). These performances would grow into actual fights and as a way to control and restrain laws were passed to stop such activity and the use of the instruments in any setting. Nonetheless, Trinidadians were not to be held in the post-emancipation state of mind and they persisted in creating their own cultural voice.
It took only a little over a decade to transform an assortment of metal containers into an orchestra of high precision instruments…Despite opposition and restrictions, panmen continued to appear on the streets and, through their musical performances, began to assert themselves as a distinctive group in the society. (Stuempfle 1, 32)
Rehumanized identities separated from the Crown could be seen in their lyrical ensembles as they spoke of themselves as natives of the countries in which they resided and also through the use of their dialects in the lyrics. The genre formed by the combination of steelband and lyrics is known as calypso, it has since then spread across the Caribbean and still remains the outspoken voice of those who refuse to be silenced.
In 1962 Jamaica gained it political independence and its already thriving culture embraced the furtherance of freedom as they pushed the bounds of music. “Local musicians in Kingston were developing a new Jamaican sound based on the confluence of Mento music, a kind of ragged Jamaican calypso descended…” (Davis 29): this became Ska which in turn evolved into Reggae with the addition of Blues and drumming. However Ska did not transition into Reggae at once. At first it went through Rocksteady, a slower version of itself, which has been linked to a class preferred to as ‘rude boys’ due to their hooliganistic tendencies. The music enticed them and they became a part of the music as lyrics were written to speak out about the violation of their civic and civil rights. As the musical and social climate changed the genre followed and at this point became Reggae. The music change was followed by the change in focus as Jamaicans turned their attention to becoming more empowered in society and religion specifically through Rastafarianism (Clionsky).
The changing of their mind-set and the range of their knowledge brought complications as well as clarity.[HSH7] Having raised themselves to the point where they could fight the whites with their own philosophies and laws life became easier and more difficult simultaneously. It could no longer be argued by anyone that blacks could not rule themselves. Though independence had been given to all, freedom had not. Blacks were still restricted to certain areas, behaviours, and rights. They were controlled and treated by the government in a manner in which whites were not subjected. However, they were able to voice their opinions in a civil and legal manner and though this too was met with resistance the blacks were not discouraged but made greater efforts to become fully rehumanized.
On a personal level this meant being a better individual than the day before, taking advantage of everything that had been acquired paid jobs, education, and the lessening of restrictions. None of these was acceptable but blacks were set on using them to achieve their fullest potential: whether received legally or otherwise making use of them for an enhanced tomorrow was paramount. As individuals who had taken themselves out of darkness, they knew they were entitled to equality. They were also aware that they had not and would not be given it without a struggle. They were also aware that though a lot could be achieved through blood shed more could be gained with the lessening of violence and the increase in the use of intellect and civility. They kept their heads down while elevating themselves. Henry[HSH8] Blair was one such person to disregard the notion of violence and segregation. Instead he looked toward being more effective in profession, farming and succeeded in inventing and patenting two farming-related inventions in 1835 and 1836 (Encyclopedia).[HSH9] Others included Macon Bolling Allen, John Mercer Langston the first two black lawyers in America and John Mercer Langston also a black lawyer and one of the first to be appointed in a position concerning society as a whole (Smith Jr. 94, 96, 422).
There is an adage from the Xhosa people of South Africa that says "I am because we are …" One aspect of this multi-meaning truth is that one's identity is tied to a body larger than the self. The wisdom in the saying also clearly indicates that in order to understand the self, to identify the self, the group from which one emerges must have an identity as well. (Osayande)
The identity of the African descendents was still being created and enhanced. But they had made great strides in and through culture and education. In becoming enlightened they gain their own voices with which they said we will not be subjected to laws based on and in discrimination. In Jamaica, when the Crown pushed with the Sugar Duties Act 1846 which removed the country as Britain’s main exporters of sugar their crippled economy suffered. The already boiling social issues came to a head and the blacks pushed back with the Morant Bay Rebellion in 1865 which led to The Jamaica House of Assembly being disarmed (Meditz and Hanratty). Their point had been made: they had no voice within the assembly and they would not stand by and allow those ruling to take advantage of them any longer. If they did not stand for what they desired the planter class would always put their needs off the list and nothing of worth would be accomplished for and in their society. As singular units they could not progress against any governmental body and therefore could not accomplish any meaningful goals. They saw and understood the path which they would need to trod, assessments were made, and the way forward required a unified force and in this manner they moved forward.
Moreover, the Caribbean as a whole noted this point. They were gaining confidence in themselves and their voice and power as a collective. The growth and formation of communities up to 1858 was noted in Jamaica and other territories of the Caribbean such as St. Vincent, Antigua and also in Barbados where the acquiring of land financial harder (Meditz and Hanratty).[HSH10] From this point they proceeded to form larger communities and groups within and among the islands. The most noted of which was the founding of the West Indies Federation in 1958. Within this forum they were able to accomplish other tasks on a wider span. An example of this is today’s University of the West Indies which was established in 1948 and under the federation was able to expand in its territorial reach. Similarly, within this body they were able to establish other organization such as the West Indian Meteorological Services. Other bodies had been and continued to be formed in specific areas where the need for improvement was seen: the Associated Chambers of Commerce and the Caribbean Union of Teachers are two such organizations. The federation disbanded in 1962. Some of the establishments dissolved while other survived and morphed into organizations of sustainability and advancement.
Likewise, in America the effect of the aforementioned point is seen in the establishment of the civil rights movements. Many grass-root organizations sprung up as an answer to the call and in doing so encouraged the formation of like-minded organizations and empowered blacks further. Examples of these include the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). These groups and others were extremely instrumental in achieving the removal of legal segregation where it was found that the “separate but equal” law went against the constitution (NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund), the enabling of the black vote, and desegregation of passenger in public transportation. As individuals and a group, the blacks having found and continuing to find a separate identity from the Europeans and their counterpart, had a better understanding of the path they needed to take, and the problems they had and would faced.
Rehumanization did not only affect the way of life of the blacks but also that of the general society. Whenever there is change its effects are always felt directly and otherwise. Before beginning the revolutionary process of rehumanization the black society behaved in a manner befitting what they were taught and how they were treated. After being dehumanized they were a lost people within themselves without literacy, individuality, compassion, and culture. In regaining these qualities their attitudes and self-concept changed. The society noticed the changes; some were willing to take part in affirming the change, whereas others were not.[HSH11] Becoming rehumanized within themselves was drastically different from being rehumanized within the mind society. It meant treating blacks as humans fully. After the abolition of slavery the higher classes were not willing to readjust to having new citizens with the same rights as themselves. This was due to the effects newly recognized humans would have on the economy and the actual effect it would have on the lifestyle and quality of the other classes.
Slavery had been a great platform for the European economy. It envelops several industries and as a business was extremely profitable. Ships were needed to transport goods and people to Africa through to the new World and back to Europe. This encouraged the blossoming of ship builders. The goods sent to Africa were those which were and could be acquired cheaply. The slaves were put to work lands which the Europeans had obtained through force and the output was returned to Europe and sold for profits never to be seen by any African involved in the system, whether those selling or those being sold. With the constant demand for the commodities being produced and the constant supply of cheap and then free slaves brought about by the reproducing of the enslaved. The ending of such a business dented the European economy which led to the taxation of the same colonies and in turn translated into being a higher cost of living. On a smaller yet equally important level the planter class then had to pay for labour. Of course, they had to be paid a sum by the formerly enslaved for their use of the land if they remained on it. But this did not compare to the free flow of income that the planters were previously accustomed to. Furthermore, as the rehumanization process continued the economy was threatened even more. Blacks began to integrate themselves into areas of work not related to farming. Having entered the workforce they were demanding to be treated differently, equally: they require better working environs, better payment and the guarantee the colour of their skin would not be a deciding factor in job status. This, in essence, asked the countries governing body to pay out more money than they did in the years preceding. Their freedom and refusal to accept status quo not only affected the financial details of life but also the social.
By entering the class of humans in the eyes of the law, blacks were given liberty to access certain rights such as being able to move about without having passes. However the other classes, the Caucasians were threatened by this. They did not see themselves as being within the same class as the Blacks. Since, Blacks had been accepted as being humans it could not be vehemently disputed. On the other hand they could be pushed down in a way. To do this the society of Caucasians treated the Blacks as second rate not having everything that was given to and allowed by them. To push Blacks having separate restaurants, theatres, train cars, and bathroom further they were usually dirty and when they were served their food was usually cold or hardly edible. By doing these things Caucasians felt as though they were different, better than the newly accepted humans. Blacks in the society still caused problems with the rearing of Caucasian families. No more could a child be taught to hate another because of the colour of the others skin as easily. Actually, children in this period were becoming curious having more interaction with the Blacks. This was causing a change in society and laws were created within it to prevent and penalize the Blacks if and when such things happened and were found out. The freedom of Blacks had created a new problem within the society. It would seem that Caucasians felt like less of a human with the introduction of other humans in their society. Blacks having being introduced into the education system could also compete for the same jobs as the whites.
Throughout 184 to 1968 it was a struggle in the Americas to maintain the identity which had been formed. Within the United States the populous of Caucasian citizens greatly outnumbered their counterparts in the Caribbean. This was due in part to the size of the land mass as well as the foothold they had gained by obtain independence from Britain. Where Blacks in the West Indies could force them out with mob-like behavior and political unification those of the U.S. could not. There the Caucasians had rooted themselves in and built upon the land. For the purpose of this section the United States will be the focus. In maintaining their rehumanized identity the enslaved had to face the challenges which arose as a result.
“From the late 1870s, Southern state legislatures…passed laws requiring the separation of whites from…a “person of colour”; the pre-Civil War distinction favouring those whose ancestry was known to be mixed—particularly the half-French “free persons of colour” in Louisiana—was abandoned” (Encyclopedia Britannica). This statement embodies most of the Black’s History in which their rights were handed to them, or so it seemed, as privileges in laws and then withdrawn by the rectification of those laws. After become apart of the society the Blacks referred to had to move from their homes into the community designated for the Blacks. The maintaining of the identity can best be described in layman terms as a cat and mouse game. In some instances as with the abolition of slavery legislators were on the side of the Blacks and in other instances, they were not. When they were, America flourished with new contributions from persons like Thomas Jennings, an inventor, and the aforementioned Henry Blair, also an inventor, and Frederick Douglass, a writer. When they were not, persons like Jennings and Blair suffered. In their case it pertained to the U.S Patent Law which was changed in to omit the allowance of blacks holding patents. However it was later reversed in 1861 “…giving all American men including blacks the rights to their inventions” (Bellis). Other injustices done to Blacks under the legal system include the Black Codes in which the “separate but equal” precedence was set in the Plessy vs. Ferguson case of 1896 (Encyclopedia Britannica). Through this law blacks were not allowed to mingle with whites and if they were in the same closed space blacks were to take the back where they would be served last. Unified in the effort to be recognized and given their right the Blacks pushed on. Segregation was the norm in every aspect of life conceivable even to the point of restricting marriages between blacks and whites through the Anti-miscegenation (Johnson). Fifty-eight years later the ruling was overturned in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka (Cozzens). The Blacks continued to use the law to defend and fight for their rights individually and as collectives as in the case mentioned above in which it was the NAACP which provided the legal assistance for Brown.
Likewise within the society itself other restrictions were applied with the same principle as the Black Codes. According to www.ferris.edu, these restrictions were referred to as Jim Crow. Under these restraints Blacks could not shake the hands of whites or have any form of intimacy with them because it would suggest equality, introduction always had to be made to the Caucasian not vice versa. In addition, Caucasian drivers always had the right of passage at any turning point and Blacks could not be intimate with each other in the presence of another due to the disrespect (Pilgrim). As a way of assuring control punishment was passed down through mobs without the use of courts or any legal systems. In these occurrences, the violator was “…hanged, then cut, shot and burned” (Wells). This was and still is known as lynching. In these circumstances Blacks usually responded, according to, Karlos Hillby fleeing and when found put up a fight and would also threaten to retaliate and at times do so but this would lead to an increase in lynching on a much wider level (Hill 91, 106). It allowed for the killing, the murdering of blacks with ease even those appointed to upholding the law would as in the case of Curl (Hill 91). It allowed for the expression of the intense negative emotions and attitudes towards the Blacks by the Caucasians (Gibson).
During 1834 to 1968 enslaved Africans managed to gain the status of humans within themselves and society from variety of angles. Through educating themselves, forming their own culture through language and music Blacks across the Americas were able to integrate themselves into society with a full understanding of where they were, where they had come from and had set a well-informed goal about their future destination. The changing of their mind-set and the range of their knowledge brought complications as well as clarity. Being able to fight the mental chains binding them encouraged the formations of new chains which could bind them easily and under the law which they were required to abide by. In maintaining their rehumanized identity had to face the challenges which arose as a result. Both within and without the legal system Blacks faced great challenges under and in the law. Where they were required to stay within its realms or suffered more penalties in the law, the other classes freely broke and bent it at will in crowds without implications. However they were able to keep to their goal and move forward progressively. The enslaved Africans in the Americas, through passive and active revolution, during 1834 to 1968 rehumanized themselves.
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Wilson, Stephanie. "Unit II: History of Slavery (Summary)." 22 March 2010.
[HSH1]Freedoom granted in USA Jan1, 1863 - http://www.lemuseedefpc.com/footsteps/history/free-people-of-color-a-timeline-th...
[HSH2]Freedom granted Aug 1 1834
[HSH3]Link HSH1 and HSH2 so that they flow well w/in paragraph.
[HSH4]Incomplete – Overview of Body – A
[HSH5]The dialects were present before 1834. What were the advancements in education, schools…look at Trinidad and Barbados and remember the Americas is fairly vast look for other countries outside of the big names.
[HSH6]Music in America post 1834 Jazz/Blues/etc.
[HSH7]Incomplete – 200 words missing
[HSH8]B1 in reference to the Individuals is still missing
[HSH9]Ask Ms. Hodge about the Encyclopedia being on the website…which is actually a search engine.
[HSH10]The book is entire on the site but does not list page what should I do.
[HSH11]Remember to use a grabber! This a simple continuing sentence.