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The experience of black slaves in the united states

This article is part of a series marking the launch of The Conversation in the US. Our foundation essays are longer than our usual comment and analysis articles and take a wider look at key issues affecting society.

Slavery has been in the news a lot lately. Several publications have fueled these conversations: A Story of Justice and Redemption. As a scholar of slavery at the University of Texas at Austin, I welcome the public debates and connections the American people are making with history. However, there are still many misconceptions about slavery. Instead, we trace the history of slavery in all its forms to make sense of the origins of wealth inequality and the roots of discrimination today.

The history of slavery provides deep context to contemporary conversations and counters the distorted facts, internet hoaxes and poor scholarship I caution my students against.

Four myths about slavery Myth One: The majority of African captives came to what became the United States. The majority of enslaved Africans went to Brazil, followed by the Caribbean.

An Overview of the African-American Experience

They spent months or years recovering from the harsh realities of the Middle Passage. Once they were forcibly accustomed to slave labor, many were then brought to plantations on American soil. Slavery lasted for 400 years. Popular culture is rich with references to 400 years of oppression. There seems to be confusion between the Transatlantic Slave Trade 1440-1888 and the institution of slavery, confusion only reinforced by the Bible, Genesis 15: The American part of the experience of black slaves in the united states story lasted fewer than 400 years.

How do we calculate it? Most historians use 1619 as a starting point: Africans first arrived in America in the late 16th century not as slaves but as explorers together with Spanish and Portuguese explorers. As far as the institution of chattel slavery - the treatment of slaves as property - in the United States, if we use 1619 as the beginning and the 1865 Thirteenth Amendment as its end then it lasted 246 years, not 400.

All Southerners owned slaves. The fact that one quarter of the Southern population were slaveholders is still shocking to many. When it established statehood, the Lone Star State had a shorter period of Anglo-American chattel slavery than other Southern states — only 1845 the experience of black slaves in the united states 1865 — because Spain and Mexico had occupied the region for almost one half of the 19th century with policies that either abolished or limited slavery.

Still, the number of people impacted by wealth and income inequality is staggering. Slavery was a long time ago. African-Americans have been free in this country for less time than they were enslaved. Blacks have been free for 149 years which means that most Americans are two to three generations removed from slavery. However, former slaveholding families have built their legacies on the institution and generated wealth that African-Americans have not been privy to because enslaved labor was forced; segregation maintained wealth disparities; and overt and covert discrimination limited African-American recovery efforts.

The value of slaves Economists and historians have examined detailed aspects of the enslaved experience for as long as slavery existed. Recent publications related to slavery and capitalism explore economic aspects of cotton production and offer commentary on the amount of wealth generated from enslaved labor.

They were bought and sold just like we sell cars and cattle today. They were gifted, deeded and mortgaged the same way we sell houses today. They were itemized and insured the same way we manage our assets and protect our valuables.

Their values decreased on a quarter scale from three-fourths hands to one-fourth hands, to a rate of zero, which was typically reserved for elderly or differently abled bondpeople another term for slaves. Guy and Andrew, two prime males sold at the largest auction in US History in 1859, commanded different prices.

Slavery was an extremely diverse economic institution; one that extrapolated unpaid labor out of people in a variety of settings from small single crop farms and plantations to urban universities. This diversity is also reflected in their prices. Enslaved people understood they were treated as commodities. Those in bondage understood their status. American slavery happened — we are still living with its consequences. The original image was of a plantation in Australia, not the United States.