African American Distress and Misery in the Beginning

The concept that all human beings are born with fundamental rights was not prevalent in the 1700s. If you were born at the bottom of society, you lived a life in poverty and with hard work and labor. Other people could be owned just like goods and money. In today’s time African Americans have always been looked down upon by certain groups of people, mostly racist. This is not something new though, when the founders of this country were in the process of making this nation what it is today, racism and slavery were both very prevalent, accepted and practiced more than it would ever be. The African-American experience of distress and agony spans centuries, from Jamestown in Virginia and the Revolutionary War through the Civil War, Emancipation and the Civil Rights eras.

In this paper I will be uncovering what the harsh life of an African American has been like since the creation of the colonies in this nation. It all started in the early 1600s, the segregation and racism of the black man in Virginia that is. Africans first came to Virginia in the early 1500s as explorers and as members of Spanish and French Jesuit missions, almost a century before the English permanently settled Jamestown Virginia in 1607.

The other first few Africans who came to Jamestown Virginia arrived in 1619 aboard a Dutch slave-trading vessel. The captain exchanged about 20 Africans for supplies. These Africans could have been slaves but rather became indentured servants for the time being, such as Englishmen who traded several years, around 20, of labor in exchange for their passage to America and became indentured servants themselves. Being an indentured servant meant that you were basically a slave who had a pay and had a serving sentence of most commonly 20 years of your life given to your master rather than your whole life, as a slave did. Although you were an indentured servant, you would still get treated horrendously, just like a slave would be. Many people who became indentured servants ran away from their owners in hopes of escaping that life, because of how harsh it was. Although being an indentured servant meant you had to serve your master for a period of time some indentured servants regretted the decision of becoming servants and preferred to be dead than to serve their masters. If being an indentured servant was that bad, then this goes to show how horrible slavery, which was only enforced with the African Americans, back at that time period was like.

John Punch, a runaway indentured servant of African descent, was one of the first documented slaves in 1640. Eventually John Punch was also one of the first indentured servants on record to be sentenced to slavery afterwards, on the grounds of race. However, he was neither the first nor the last black man to attempt to flee from the oppressive bondage that was held against his people because of skin color and race. Despite the development of harsh fugitive slave acts in the next century, running away remained one of the most common strategies for escaping slavery, as it was the only way to try to even escape it.

John Punch, James Gregory, and a man named Victor were all indentured servants contracted to Virginia planter Hugh Gwyn. These three men each performed similar tasks as slaves and every single one of them felt so exploited that they were willing to take unimaginable risks to pursue freedom. John, James, and Victor ran away from their owner and the plantation they were working on but were captured within days because of posters being put up around and their names being published on newspapers. Though fleeing under similar circumstances, the fates of these runaways differed under the court’s aegis personal racism. A judge sentenced all three to whippings. The judge then added four years to the indenture terms of James and Victor, both white Europeans. John, a black man, alone he condemned to a lifelong servitude of slavery because of his skin color and race. This is a good example of how African Americans were harassed and treated during the1600s in the colonies.

African American slaves deserved freedom just like you and I, but whenever they tried to obtain it by running away, they would fail, most of them anyways. In fact, there were laws that were set in place for occasions like these, for example, the Fugitive Slave Acts. These laws that were created were mostly followed by southerners, since the southern states were the only ones not wanting to abolish slavery at that time.

The Fugitive Slave Acts during the mid-1800s were put in place for African Americans as these acts were a composition of federal laws that allowed for the capture and return of runaway slaves within the territory of the United States. Enacted by Congress in 1793, the first Fugitive Slave Act permitted local governments to seize and return escaped slaves to their owners and imposed penalties on anyone who aided them in their fight for freedom.

Although it all goes back to the constitution. Article IV of the Constitution has a clause that we call the Fugitive slave Clause, which orders states to deliver up fugitives from labor (Runaway Slaves) when they are requested by slaveholders. That clause gets translated into the first 1793 Civil Statute we talked about earlier, this was a law that was not well enforced according to southerners who complained about it bitterly especially in the 1840s and that’s what led to the creation of the 1850s Fugitive Slave Act that was part of the compromise of the 1850s. This 1850s Statute was much tougher than the earlier one. They punished people who harbored and helped runaway slaves like the members of the underground railroad for example with civil penalties, which included hefty fines. A civil penalty would be given today to someone if they dumped toxic waste in a state park, the state would have the same right to seek to recover the cost of cleaning up the mess as would a private landowner, and to bring the complaint to a court of law, if necessary. A probable hefty fee would be bestowed upon that person if found guilty. criminal penalties were also a form of punishment for those who helped harbor and protect slaves, and that included up to 6 months in prison if they were caught and prosecuted successfully.

All these laws being created to make African American people feel like property more than actual human beings is more proof of how African Americans were very mistreated and racially profiled. Land Owners who had slaves at the time would actually refer to their slaves as property, not human beings. Land owners would list supplies and cattle above slaves when they would list what they had to their name on their property, denouncing African Americans even more. Upon reaching the colonies, the first generation of enslaved laborers did not speak a language that the Europeans understood and were thus unable to protest when they were sold as goods. After that, they were not considered as people with a will of their own, but merely as other people’s property. Ownership in this sense was as absolute as for goods or money. Enslaved individuals could be sold, pawned, and rented out.

Slaves were everywhere in the colonies, they would try to escape their masters in hopes of gaining the freedom that was stripped away from them from the very beginning. Some failed and others succeeded, but those who failed and got caught trying to escape would get punished in the form of lashes or other bloody hurtful methods, one of these methods being, according to Miller, who was a scholar studying slavery, the burning of extremities such as toes and fingers and often times the beating and mutilation of the body . Back in the late 1700’s, Ona Judge, the slave of George Washington’s wife, Martha Washington, was treated significantly better than the average slave. But that didn’t change the fact that she was a slave. Being unable to do many things like have a job and have a say in things was very unsettling for most African Americans, especially for Ona Judge.

Ona Judge was a person who successfully escaped slavery by running away and persevering on her dreams of being a free woman. Ona Judge decided to escape the Washington mansion located in Philadelphia and ran away to another location in New Hampshire. In Portsmouth, finally being able to make her own choices she found someone to marry, Jack Staines, the man whom she would later have kids with. George Washington felt very betrayed by Judge when she ran away, but slavery was something that no one would ever want for themselves even if they were treated better than any other slave. George Washington sent his nephew to try and convince Ona to come back on her own but Ona, being tired of the life she had freed herself of, declined the offer and proclaimed that she would rather die than go back to the horrible life she had to endure with slavery. Ona Judge lived on her life as criminal according to the laws in the past, but that didn’t stop her from sharing her life story in order to open people’s eyes and make them realize all the wrong doing that his nation has endured in the past.

The life of an African American during the colonial times was very harsh and obscure, no one should have to go through all the hardships that slaves went through. Running away from their owners was the only way African American slaves could recover their freedom which was taken away from them in the first place, but even if they did, they would run the risk of being caught and brought back to serve a serious punishment.

During the late 1800s there were laws created to help the free African American, like the law that enabled male African Americans to vote in 1869. It was passed down by Congress on February 26 of that year, Congress sends the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution to the states for approval (Rudy Kennedy). The amendment guarantees African American males the right to vote but, it wasn’t until February 3, 1870, that the fifteenth Amendment was ratified and put into effect.

There was an era called the reconstruction era which happened between 1867 and 1877, and during the reconstruction era, for the most part African Americans were allowed, to vote, as I mentioned before, and you did have African Americans who were elected to high office too. You had African Americans that were governors, senators and legislators. It was kind of working out for the African American people, but it was all being held together by military occupation, which meant that not all people agreed to these things taking place. There was an incident in Louisiana called the Colfax massacre in 1873, and this was really the southern democratic forces trying to coalesce around these anti segregation groups in order to take back what they saw as their rightful place as the leaders of these southern governments, and in Louisiana at the Colfax massacre in 1873 there was a group called the white league and this white league unlike the K.K.K. (Ku Klux Klan) which was kind of a terrorist underground organization, these people were open about their opposition about African American rights and their wanting of power, at Colfax they basically attacked a court house that was being held by republican forces , and we had a mini civil war there, according to Adam Muller, another historian taking a view on this subject, 150 African Americans were murdered, maybe more but people aren’t sure about mass graves or people being thrown in the river. Although laws were being past to better the life of the African American, it didn’t fix the deep hatred and racism that people had towards African Americans.

Dr David Pilgrim, the founder of a museum called the Jim Crow Museum, started collecting racist objects when he was a teenager and he claimed that, the stuff was everywhere , at a certain point he ended up with a thousand pieces. David Pilgrim didn’t know what he would have done with them. Dr. David thought a lot about what it meant to be a person of color living and enduring the time of Jim Crow. David Pilgrim had no intention of creating a museum, but his collection kept growing, so in the 1990s, he gave his collection to the Michigan University. Dr. David took 15 years but in 2012 he opened his Museum. he has a lot of respect for museums that celebrate the African American history, that celebrate African American accomplishment and what not but, that’s not what his facility was about. Dr. David wanted to create an actual racism facility to have people focus on the specific topic in terms of our history. With all of his racist toys, such as, an all-black cloth doll with big white lips eating a watermelon that was supposed to symbolize and make fun of the African American people, he wanted to show the world how racism was and is still prevalent in the United States.

Item collectors, Chuck Schoenknecht and Ward Paul, started collecting the same type of artifacts as did Dr. David Pilgrim. They started collecting these types of items because they realized what it said about their society and what it said about where they were in the past and maybe where they still were ( Chuck Schoenknecht), when they met Dr. David in the Jim Crow museum, they finally found a place where they could let go of those items, so that other people could learn from those items. They have some understanding of Bigotry and being the outsider or not being accepted or being told that they were not welcomed, or they can’t be accepted, an understand of the statement, you have no place here , because they are homosexual. At one point in their life they found a really racist object, they found an ash tray, where the black washer women has one of her breasts stuck on her wringer and she is hollering , which is also sexist, according to Chuck. It is reported that the museum now has about 500 items from Chuck and Ward.

By collecting those things, they want us to have a broader picture of how racism continued all the way up until the 60s and 70s and still continues. They have seen things about president Obama that were Horrible and disturbing (Ward Paul). People that go to the Jim Crow museum are often surprised when they see items from 2015 that are, if not more racist than many of the things from one hundred years ago. And we’ve had friends who are a complete mess after they have left the museum because suddenly, they have been confronted with the truth . (Ward Paul). The truth being that racism is a very important topic that everyone should see with open eyes.

A considerable amount of time has passed since the days of Jim Crow and slavery, and there has been a huge change in segregation and racism, it being a lot more people supporting the acceptance of African Americans but still, segregation and systematic racism are still prevalent in today’s society, for example, there was an event which took place during 2015 in America. This story involved the horrible decision of a star athlete by the name of Brock Turner at an elite American University. Brock Turner sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, making him a sex offender, nonetheless. People were upset because as this man, Brock Turner, committed this crime, another did as well. A black male by the name of Cory Batey had also committed a crime of the same type, that, being the rape of an unconscious person. The only difference being the racism and prejudice behind the sentencing. While Brock Turner was given 6 months in jail, the colored Rapist Cory Batey was given an unfair sentencing which was 15 to 25 years in jail time compared to Brock Turners sentence. Many people at the time knew this was an unfair judgment in the system, so they spoke out, “3,000 per cent longer than what Brock Turner was given for a comparable crime,” (Shaun King, The New York Daily News). This goes to show how some people in this country still have ways to go in terms of equality in racial treatment. These kinds of cases are seen by the public and challenged, which is good. If people see something is unfair then they should call it out and fight against it. Many people do this in 2018, making the clear assumption that we may be on our way to a better living in the future for all someday, despite race but, we still have ways to go.

In November 22, 2018, an African American teenager was shot and killed because he was seen as a threat during a shooting that happened at a shopping center near Birmingham. The horrid event took place during Thanksgiving holiday when a gunman shot and wounded a 12-year-old girl and an 18-year-old man at the Riverchase Galleria Mall in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover. The shooting happened just before the Black Friday sales outside a footwear retailer. As people got away from that place, they claimed to have seen what the altercation was about, people fighting over shoes. When police arrived on the scene, a uniformed officer saw Mr. Bradford with a firearm and shot him to death, believing him to be the gunman. Police initially praised that officer as a “hero”. But on Friday evening they said their earlier report was “not totally accurate (Liza Cornell).

The updated police department statement said: “New evidence suggests that while Bradford may have been involved in some aspect of the altercation, he likely did not fire the rounds that injured the 18-year-old victim.” Mr. Bradford was trying to protect himself by withdrawing his legally owned gun after he heard shots that were fired near him and was shot to death by a white cop. Without question the officer pulled out his gun upon seeing Mr. Bradford and shot him until he died. The family’s lawyer, Ben Crump, said on CNN that an officer “made a decision within milliseconds to shoot [Mr. Bradford] in his face”. Ben Crump also represented the family of Trayvon Martin. Mr. Martin was an unarmed black person who was shot dead by a neighborhood watchman in Florida in 2012. “If you’re black and you’re a good guy with a gun, the police do not see you as a good guy. They just see you as a criminal and they shoot and kill you.” (Ben Crump).

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