If you’re just joining us, jump back to “Before Freedom (Pt 1 of 3): Shhh, We Don’t Talk About Slavery” to get my full breakdown of life during and after slavery, and why we’re so hesitant to talk about it.
As always, I’d like to thank you for reading along and the encouraging feedback I’ve received since Part 1. I know these are difficult subjects, but as I said in a recent social media post – for our ancestors to endure such ungodly horrors, it would be equally unconscionable for us to ignore it and act like it never happened…
That being said, let’s begin the final chapter, shall we? I will include excerpts from the book, “Before Freedom: 48 Oral Histories of Former North and South Carolina Slaves” edited by Belinda Hurmence.
When word spread throughout the south that the confederate army had ceded and that slavery had been abolished by virtue of the Emancipation Proclamation, shock and disbelief was soon replaced with tearful jubilation. But let me add that I’m speaking from the slaves’ perspective. For plantation owners, this meant an abrupt halt to free labor (farming the land, tobacco, picking/collecting cotton and other tasks by which their wealth had been obtained for over two centuries).
For many owners, this was too much to bear. Many slave masters withheld this information as long as possible (some, successfully for a few years) in efforts to get as much service as possible before the authorities learned and intervened. Others, in their wrath, mercilessly slaughtered their slaves. In one such case, a slave master asked his slaves, who among them wished to be free. Those who said “yes” were shot in the face.
[Pause and think about that for a moment before continuing. Seriously, read that last line again and contemplate…]
Those who said “yes” were SHOT IN THE FACE.
It was clear that life, for both parties, would be changed forever.
Although free, life for the slaves became immediately difficult. Having no accrued wealth or land of their own, many had no choice but to remain on the land of their former masters, working for food and shelter.
“Honey, us wasn’t ready for the big change that come. Us had no education, no land, no mule, no cow, not a pig, nor a chicken, to set up housekeeping. The birds had nests in the air, the foxes had holes in the ground, and the fishes had beds under the great falls, but us colored folks was left without any place to lay our heads.”
Violet Guntharpe, interviewed at age 82.
Illiterate and uneducated, the ability to earn a living on their own was highly unlikely. For those who did, they were subjected to harassment and discrimination.
To take things a step further, crimes committed against “niggers” (blacks were no longer supposed to be called that, not that it stopped) often went unreported, knowing little action could and would be taken against a white man. Worse, such claims were met with retaliation from mobs and a faceless new threat, namely, the Ku Klux Klan (originally known as “Night Riders”).
One of its purposes was to terrorize (mentally and physically) politically active blacks and their allies in the South during the Reconstruction era. In one case, the KKK laid a sack at the door of a black man, too active in politics. In it, were seven severed heads as a warning.
“Slavery was a bad thing, and freedom, of the kind we got, with nothing to live on, was bad. Two snakes full of poison. One lying with his head pointing north, the other with his head pointing south. Their names was slavery and freedom. The snake called slavery lay with his head pointed south, and the snake called freedom lay with his head pointed north. Both bit the nigger, and they was both bad.”
Patsy Mitchner, interviewed at age 84 in 1937.
John Good, a black blacksmith, used to shoe horses for the Klan. Unbeknownst to them, he made recognizable markings in horseshoes so the riders could be identified after their villainous acts. When he reported it to the authorities, the Klan suspected that it was him. They forced him to reveal his method of discovery and then murdered him. That scenario was shown in the 1977 version of Roots, with Georg Stanford Brown playing Tom Harvey, the blacksmith (although his character survived their retaliatory acts).
The stories go on and on and if I shared everything I’ve learned over recent years (hell, the last two MONTHS), most anyone reading this would become enraged at the thought that a man could be so heartless and cruel to another. And I shudder to think of the millions of untold tales the dead would have to share, if they all had a voice. But I guess that’s what’s to be expected when a race of people are classified as monkeys, captured from trees; unable to reason and function as real humans.
That’s best illustrated in the first night of “Roots” (1977) during the discussion between Captain Davies of the ship Lord Ligonier and his experienced assistant, Mr. Slater, while prepping for their journey:
Captain Davies: What are they like? The Blacks.
Slater: Just a different kind of breed, sir. You know like a man’d breed his dogs for huntin’ and bring another sort of dog for his wife and children to play with. Black breed’s kinda slow at thinkin’, but strong, they’re suited to be slaves, sir. Just as your suited to be commander of this here vessel. The natural order of things, you might say.
Davies: Yes, yes I could understand that, I suppose.
Slater: Myself, I think it’s good for them, us takin’ them like that. They’re the better off for it, sir.
Davies: I’m not quite sure I understand that part, Mr. Slater.
Slater: For one thing there’s Christianity, sir. We’re bringin’ them to a Christian land. It’s got to be better than that heathen Allah they got with them now. That’s the first thing. Second thing is… …we’re probably saving them from being eaten by their own kind. They DO that, sir, ya know. Cannibals, all of them.
I’d like to think that we’ve (mankind) progressed enough as a species to truly understand that all men are created equal. But sadly, I get questions from the ignorant from time to time that lead me to believe otherwise.
I know, I know. It’s the 21st century! Are you serious?
So hopefully it comes as no surprise that back in 1865 and during the subsequent years, people still subscribed to such nonsense and similar myths. Consequently, allowing black people to serve in positions of authority (law enforcement and politics) or even vote on ruling bodies was a preposterous notion. Need I go on about how people felt about blacks owning land and business and, God forbid, receiving an education and being wealthier than them?
But we know how that was handled…
“Oh, the people, they is awful worser than what they used to be…
…Lord, I wish I had went before I had so much to grieve over.”
Hester Hunter, interviewed at age 85, in 1937.
So yeah, slavery is over, so there’s no need to talk about it. Life is fair for everyone and has been ever since General Lee surrendered to General Grant.
The Civil War is ovah! We’s FREE!
Better days ahead…
Final thought: It was my intention to make this a 5-part series, including (1) a piece on The Middle Passage from Africa To America and (2) a very detailed commentary on life for African Americans from emancipation to today. The latter serving to help people understand that to so callously claim that blacks have “had every opportunity” is both untrue and unfair. No, it’s not a “woe is me”, but rather an explanation of how slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, segregation and other racial caste systems impeded the development of the black community. But I suppose it can wait until next year, during Black History Month. To be honest, I’m spent (again) just talking about it. My goal was to educate and hopefully not infuriate.
But if I DID make you angry, hopefully it was enough make you care and, be a part of the solution.
Thank you again, for your time, attention and comments. God bless…