"Shining Light on Slavery"

Connor Roy
Lightning Talk Presented: March 13, 2014
Published: March 16, 2014

"Who are we? We are the descendants of slaves...We are the heirs of a past of rope, fire and murder. I for one am not ashamed of this past. My shame is for those who became so inhuman that they could inflict this torture upon us."
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

While many believe slavery has ended in the America, slavery is still an issue faced by many countries all over the world; including the United States. If not acknowledged, true freedom will never be seen in our world.

Slavery impacted our ancestors in such a way that hundreds of books, songs, and movies demonstrated emotions towards the suffering of slaves. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe is a perfect demonstration of the way hundreds of slaves felt and still feel in the modern day slavery that spreads across the globe. Uncle Tom's Cabin was just one of the many books that "gave millions of Americans their first view of human bondage through the eyes of slaves (Hacker, 4)."

There are many aspects of slavery that have been discussed and debated throughout history. The aspects that I have found to be of interest to me are art, morals, food, clothing, geography, and religion.

When thinking of slavery and art, I usually think of music. The work the slaves had to do was back breaking. I imagine that's why slaves sang songs: to get their minds off of how hard the work was. There are many songs that the slaves sang. These songs are often referred to as "spirituals." Another aspect of slavery and art is drawings. Thomas Nast used his drawings to show America how things could be.

Looking into slavery and morality, we can learn a lot from Robert Lewis Dabney. Dabney shows how the abolitionists and egalitarians have twisted the meaning of the Golden Rule in the Bible. He sums up the abolitionist argument like this:

"One of these general objections to our New Testament argument is the following. They say Christ could not have intended to authorize slavery, because the tenure and spirit of His moral teachings are opposed to it. The temper He currently enjoins is one of fraternity, equality, love, and disinterestedness. But holding a fellow-being in bondage is inconsistent with all these. Especially is the great "Golden Rule" incompatible with slavery. This enjoins us to do unto our neighbor as we would that he should do unto us. Now, as no slaveholder would like to be himself enslaved, this is a clear proof that we should not hold others in slavery. Hence, the interpretations which seem to find authority for slavery in certain passages of the New Testament must be erroneous, and we are entitled to reject them without examination.
— Robert Lewis Dabney

In 1860, the federal census counted nearly 4 million slaves just in the south-men, women, and children. Slaves usually received their clothing as allowance from their owners. Imagine when you were younger if your parents gave you clothes as allowance instead of money? Some owners, however, just gave the slaves fabric and made the slaves cut and sew their own clothes. House servants, primarily in elite households, could have been better clothed than those working on the plantation fields, but that was not generally true.

The food plantation slaves were given varied widely depending on time, period, location, what food was grown on the plantation, and the owner's economic situation all made a difference. Frederick Douglass, a slave who escaped, wrote in 1845: "The men and women slaves received, as their monthly allowance of food, eight pounds of pork, or its equivalent in fish, and one bushel of corn meal."

Geography became of interest to me after I found a book in the library called The Underground Railroad in Michigan. Decades before the Civil War, Michigan had an important role in the national attempt to end slavery. Some antislavery activists communicated their resistance to slavery by helping men and women escape to freedom by means of the Underground Railroad. From the decades before the Civil War, Michigan was the habitat to a vastly intricate and flexible system of workers helping freedom seekers.

Families from New York and New England settled much of Southeast Michigan and usually carried with them religious, social, and political principles maintaining racial tolerance. Free blacks in Detroit achieved a national reputation for skillfully moving freedom seekers away from the reach of slave catchers. What is less known is that the area southwest of Detroit is where public disclosure and an ordered system of helping freedom seekers met with the national antislavery movement. The Underground Railroad was not just for Michigan. It was a way of escape for all those who were enslaved. Thought not everyone was able to escape, there were those who did find freedom.

Religion is a big part of slavery. Personally, I think that faith is probably what kept many of the slaves going. God was probably the only thing a slave could have faith in. They probably didn't have much faith in humanity. By the eve of the Civil War, Christianity had encompassed the slave community. Not all slaves were Christian, nor were all those who accepted Christianity members of a church, but the doctrines, symbols, and image of life preached by Christianity were well-known to most. The religion of the slaves was both evident and unseen, formally structured and impulsively modified. Regular Sunday worship in the local church was paralleled by illegal, or at least casual, prayer meetings on weeknights in the slave cabins. Preachers certified by the church and employed by the master were complemented by slave preachers certified only by the Spirit. Texts from the Bible, which most slaves could not read, were explained by verses from the spirituals. Slaves prohibited by masters from going to church or, in some circumstances, even to pray, risked beatings to go to secret meetings to worship God.

Screen: Slavery - Crash Course US History #13 (14:24).

Slavery was a major issue throughout American history in the nineteenth century. Many of you probably thought that slavery ended long ago. However, slavery is, in fact, still an issue today — not only in America — but across the world.

Slavery today is different than it was in the nineteenth century. Human trafficking is one of the biggest issues of slavery today. Prostitution is another major issue today.

Screen: End It: Shine a Light on Slavery (1:58).

When will slavery finally see its demise?

Works Consulted

    Aiken, George L., George C. Howard, Thomas Laurence. Riis, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Uncle Tom's Cabin: (1852) . New York: Garland, 1994. Print.

    Allen, William Francis, Charles Pickard Ware, and Lucy McKim Garrison. Slave Songs of the United States. New York: A. Simpson, 1867.

    Basu-Zharku, Iulia O. "Slavery and Religion in the Antebellum South." Student Pulse. Student Pulse, 2011. Web. 17 Feb. 2014.

    Blight, David W. Passages to Freedom: The Underground Railroad in History and Memory. Washington: Smithsonian in Association with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, 2004. Print.

    Boles, John B. Masters & Slaves in the House of the Lord: Race and Religion in the American South, 1740-1870. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 1988. Print.

    Hacker, Jeffrey H. Slavery, War, and a New Birth of Freedom, 1840s-1877. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

    Hahn, Steven. The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2009. Print.

    King, Martin Luther, Jr. "Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes." Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes. Quotes Wise, n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.

    Mull, Carol E. The Underground Railroad in Michigan. Jefferson, NC: McFarland &, 2010. Print.

    Opperman, David. "Slavery: Its Morality, History, and Implications for Race Relations in America, Part 1." Faith and Heritage. Faith and Heritage, 30 Apr. 2012. Web. 17 Feb. 2014.