Archive for the ‘Slavery’ Category

Video: How U.S. Courts Decided if you were a slave.

January 28th, 2009

Some people mistakenly think that only Black Americans were slaves, and that all Whites were free. In fact, tens of thousands of White folks were slaves. Two points explain this odd fact.

Slavery is Irrelevant

June 1st, 2007

When trying to explain or to understand U.S. “race” relations, most Americans seem to focus on slavery: ordinary Americans, politicians, even many professional historians focus on slavery. And yet slavery fails as an explanatory paradigm. Slavery was ubiquitous but only the United States has a color line with all its implications. The people who forged African-American ethnicity were not slaves. U.S. racialism is dichotomous today, but it was not dichotomous where slavery was common. Slavery is irrelevant; racialism itself is the explanatory paradigm.

Why Did Virginia’s Rulers Invent a Color Line?

November 1st, 2005

Why was the endogamous color line invented in the Chesapeake and nowhere else? Why was it invented at the turn of the eighteenth century and not before nor after? This essay presents several theories. It Was a “Divide and Conquer” Tactic suggests that it was a deliberately calculated solution to a unique problem of: too few yeomen, too many European laborers, and too little time. Other Voices presents a collection of alternative theories including: fair-skinned people have an instinctive loathing for those with dark skin tone, people of certain religions or cultures were taught to reject Africans, and it was related to the numbers of European women.

Barbadian South Carolina: A Class-Based Color Line

June 1st, 2005

This essay introduces the first of four societies, within what became the United States, whose color-line customs differed from the mainstream—Barbadian South Carolina. It presents three topics. The Rule of Socioeconomic Class explains that antebellum South Carolina lacked a rule of blood fraction but used a rule of socioeconomic class instead. A Permeable, Shifted Color Line shows that it was acceptable for wealthy White adults to have a Black parent, and that some swarthy White South Carolinians might have been seen as Black elsewhere in the United States. An Echo of Barbados suggests that South Carolina’s unique color line had been adapted from the Barbadian color line.

No Color Line in Spanish Florida

February 1st, 2005

This essay introduces one of four societies, within what became the United States, whose color line customs differed from the mainstream—Spanish Florida. It is presented in three topics: Echoes of Spain and Latin America traces the lack of an endogamous color line to Latin American and, ultimately, to Spanish customs. Legal Policy Regarding Afro-Hispanic Colonists shows how the state inadvertently encouraged people to switch “racial” identities by attempting unsuccessfully to impose an endogamous barrier. Society Changed When Americans Arrived narrates the transition from Spanish to Anglo-American laws and customs.

The Invention of the Color Line: 1691

January 1st, 2005

This essay explains, in three topics, when, where, and how America’s endogamous color line was invented. The Years Before the Color Line was Invented describes colonial life before the turn of the eighteenth century. It shows that colonists of African and European ancestries mingled and married within each of the three rigid social classes: forced laborers, shopkeepers/artisans, and planters. The Transition Period narrates events in and around the Chesapeake leading up to the 1691 law, the first in history to outlaw Afro-European intermarriage. The Spread of the New Color Line describes the aftermath as punishments for violating the 1691 law became increasingly harsher, and similar laws were passed in subsequent generations throughout British North America.

Antebellum Louisiana and Alabama: Two Color Lines, Three Endogamous Groups

October 15th, 2004

This essay introduces two out of the four societies, within what became the United States, whose color-line customs differed from the mainstream—Alabama and Louisiana. The other two were South Carolina and Florida. Alabama and Louisiana had two mildly endogamous color lines separating three groups: White, Colored, and Black. Both regions could trace their color line traditions to French colonies in general and to Haiti in particular. They are presented in three topics: English-Speaking Alabama describes an English-speaking three-caste society. French-speaking Louisiana depicts the better known Colored Creole society. An Echo of Haiti summarizes the origins of these cultures.

How the Law Decided if You Were Black or White: The Early 1800s

August 11th, 2004

This essay introduces the three legal rules that emerged in the early 1800s for deciding if you were a member of the Black endogamous group or a member of the White endogamous group: physical appearance, blood fraction, and association. It comprises three topics: Slavery Depended on Matrilineal Descent, Not on the Color Line shows that endogamous group membership neither affected nor was affected by slave status. Slave status was decided by a different rule entirely: the rule of matrilineal descent. The Color Line Became Legally Important Around 1800 explains why it became increasingly necessary for courts to decide whether someone was White or Black. At first, it was only to decide where the burden of proof fell in slavery cases, but state legislatures soon passed dozens of laws requiring distinctions across the color line. Physical Appearance, Blood Fraction, Association presents with examples, the strengths and weaknesses of each of the three rules that were applied in court.