Slavery: the Trail to Pseudo – Liberty

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Throughout the course of history, slaves have been used as a means of gaining economic prosperity. In the early 1500s, the Spanish explorers conquered Native Americans and used them for economic gain. In the early 1600s, the American colonists enslaved Africans because they believed that this would increase their crop production and decrease their labor. As slavery the popularity of slavery grew in the U.S. southern colonies, stringent regulations were designed to restrict the progression of African slaves, and their poor conditions continually intensified.

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During early U.S. history, the lives of African Americans has remained substandard, and even with slavery’s end in 1865, the hegemony of African Americans endured and many blacks began a crusade towards true freedom that they previously believed to be acquired.

In 1619, slavery was introduced to American colonists. With that, thousands of Africans were transported across the Atlantic Ocean in order to quench colonists’ thirst for economic gain. The Africans were replacing the indentured servants; according to the colonists, the Africans were better suited for the farming conditions. The first African slaves to settle in the Virginia colony were known as “the 20 and odd”; these Africans were brought to America erroneously. The first African slaves to arrive in the U.S. colonies were treated like indentured servants, and they were not compelled to follow unyielding regulations. After Nathaniel Bacon’s Rebellion, affluent American colonists wanted to prevent potential future insurrections from the labor class, which led to the shift from indentured servants to African slaves. As African servitude became more accepted in the American colonies, countless African slaves were shipped to America through the Middle Passage to help the American colonists in their economic exploits. This inhumane treatment of African Americans continued into the 1700s, and this brought about a period where many white people believed that blacks were inferior to them.

With the slave of labor, American colonists created slave codes to restrict the progression of African slaves; if one disobeyed these laws, he would be penalized. In the 1660s, the Virginia colony became the “first to acknowledge slavery in its [laws]”. For instance, one Virginia law stated that “if any slave resist[ed] his master…by the extremity of the correction should chance die…shall not be accompted felony”. This rule is important because it shows that certain laws were not applicable to African slaves like the right to legal immunity. Also, this rule shows that African slaves were considered to be critical to the idea of economic prosperity.

Furthermore, many of these laws were created to hinder the activity of African slaves. For example, slaves were required to travel with a form of identification (slave pass) to reduce “any illegitimate encounters”. If slaves did not carry their forms of identification, their slave masters would “whip, maim, or brand”. The enforcement of slave codes illustrates that leaders went to extreme measures to prevent uprisings among the slave population; they are trying to prevent the events that occurred with many indentured servants. Also, the slave codes show that a slave’s freedom was very limited, if not completely removed.

During the Revolutionary War, slaves were enlisted into the army by their white slave mas and promised freedom. George Washington allowed the enlistment of African American soldiers to fill the depleted ranks of the Continental Army. There were many accounts of the high participation level of African Americans in the army. A member of the French army noted, “A quarter of them [the American army] are Negroes, merry, confident and sturdy.” While fighting the war, many African Americans gained a sense of liberty. This change was very noticeable, even by outsiders, who didn’t share the same sentiments. With the defeat of the British army, the Revolutionary War showed the African slaves that liberty was attainable.

Throughout the early to mid-1800s, African Americans began to publically speak about the evil, that is slavery, in this country. For example, Frederick Douglass created the North Star Newspaper; in his writings, the theme pointed towards awareness to victims “of slavery”. Also, Douglass brought attention to the African slaves not being educated and spoke on how African slaves developed a “sense of unworthiness” from being condemned by white Americans. The articles of Frederick Douglass showed that the lives of African Americans had been fixed since slavery’s institution in the 1600s. African slaves were still considered lesser than white Americans; many African American liberties, including security under the law and right to trial by jury, were not extended to them.

In 1861, the Civil War commenced, and many slaves viewed it as an opportunity to gain their desired freedom. During this war, “approximately 179,000” African Americans offered “to assist the Confederate [and the Union] war effort” because they were promised and believed that they would receive their freedom by aiding this cause. In addition to fighting in the Civil War, many African Americans served as attendants and spies throughout the war effort. For instance, Harriet Tubman was one of the main guides for the Underground Railroad, an operation to help slaves escape their imprisonment. Also, Harriet Tubman worked together with former slaves “to find for rebel camps…and report on the movement of the Confederate troops” to the Union throughout the Civil War. Many African Americans jeopardized their safety for the sake of the country and liberty, but they were still treated terribly after war by many white Americans.

Following the Civil War, the process of Reconstruction started, and U.S. government began their effort to incorporate Africans Americans into society. Before the end of the Civil War, the U.S. Congress created the Freedmen’s Bureau, which was an agency that intended to help newly freed African Americans that needed jobs and to care for them. Particularly, the Freedmen’s Bureau provided former African slaves with “medical aid.” Also, it made sure that slaves received equitable trials and “fair wages”. Most African Americans were pleased with the government aid that they were receiving; they still wanted to be offered the same opportunities and liberties like every other American, such as voting and job opportunities. Still, the U.S. government failed in its attempts to racist groups from oppressing blacks. For instance, in the South, several states passed black codes that demanded slaves to carry a travel. Similar to the slave codes of the 1600s, the black codes were intended to maximize African American activities. Additionally, white supremacist groups, such as the White League and the Ku Klux Klan, were the ones carrying out these horrid acts; these acts were meant to frighten African Americans. For example, the 14th and 15th Amendments were meant to give African Americans “equal protection under the law” and voting rights. Notwithstanding the rights given to African Americans, the Supreme Court limited the effect of the 14th and 15th amendments by demanding poll taxes and only imparting African Americans with the protection of the government and not protection of the state. The lives of many African Americans did not drastically change much during Reconstruction because African Americans were still considered lesser than white Americans; they received certain right, but not full equality.

While the lives of blacks had somewhat improved since the conclusion of the Civil War, black blacks were still condemned by society through most of the 20th century. By the early 1900s, groups of African Americans were still working on farms because they could hardly secure a job. For example, many white Americans refused to hire black individuals for work. If African Americans did find jobs, they received very low wages. Additionally, many states passed inequitable regulations known as Jim Crow Laws, which promoted the separation of African Americans and white Americans in multiple aspects of society. Throughout the South, “movie theaters, hotels, restaurants, and swimming pools…were declared off limits to blacks”. The institution of Jim Crow Laws caused African Americans to be targeted by racist groups; around 4,700 African Americans were lynched in order to solve the anger that white Americans “had in relation to the free blacks”. These situations of African Americans being persecuted further showed that African Americans had not received true equality in American society. Moreover during World War I, a black regiment, called the Harlem Hellfighters, received many awards for their bravery in the war effort. Notwithstanding their accolades, they were still treated as lesser individuals; this can be seen in the race riots of 1919. The lives of African Americans did not change in the early 1900s because white Americans wanted to be the superior race; in order to achieve this result, they hindered African Americans from progressing in life.

From the 1950s to 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement took root in the United States, and African Americans used peaceful, nonviolent protests to secure the rights of African Americans. Before the 1950s, African Americans were often “denied the right to vote, barred from public facilities, subjected to insults and violence”. In addition, blacks had difficulty finding basic necessities like “housing, employment, and education”. However, throughout the 1950s and 1960s, many African Americans started to see significant changes in their lives. For example, in the Brown v. Board of Education, it was deemed unconstitutional for public schools should integrate blacks and not be segregated. Even though it took a while for this law to be implemented in schools, many black children soon started to receive an education, which allowed them to make important contributions to American society. Furthermore, during this time, Martin Luther King Jr. was an active member of the Civil Rights Movement, and he led many protests that advocated for the equality of all people. Also with the Civil Rights Act, discrimination was outlawed in public facilities, schools were integrated, and employment discrimination was banned. The 1960s was the actual turning point in the treatment of African Americans. Prior to this period, African Americans were ostracized and discriminated against in society, and they were deprived many rights of an American citizen. Nevertheless, in the 1960s, African American citizens earned their due rights.

In conclusion, for centuries, African Americans were demeaned by whites and stripped of their rights, but they finally obtained them in the 1960s. Through the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement, prejudice against African Americans was eliminated from the labor force; schools became integrated in the United States. It was a long and hard fought journey to reach the freedom that many other Americans enjoyed. The African slaves suffered the hardships of slavery and life on the plantation. Also, blacks suffered various types of discrimination in the United States, such as unjustified brutality and racial profiling. Through their hardships in the United States, African Americans were able to sustain and continue their fight against the injustices that faced them, which ultimately led them to the acquisition of the full scope of their rights in the 1960s.

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Slavery: The Trail to Pseudo – Liberty. (2021, Mar 25). Retrieved from