Some Inconvenient Truths about Slavery in America

Recently Steve Baldwin, former California Assemblyman, and former Executive Director of the Council for National Policy, and I co-authored a piece on the realities of slavery in America as well as the idea of paying reparations to millions of African-American descendants of American slaves. The story appeared in the Western Journal. Here it is, updated and reprinted.

By Steven Baldwin and Ronald E. Yates

In addition to the ongoing frenzied assault on American statues and monuments by Antifa anarchists and thugs, the latest rage of the left is “reparations,” which is the name given to an issue that has become a litmus test for 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

A year ago, most of the 2020 Democrat candidates showed up at Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and groveled before a group of professional social justice warriors and assorted race-baiters.

Without missing a beat, every candidate in attendance signed on to the idea of supporting Congresswoman’s Sheila Jackson Lee’s bill which will “study” the idea of giving money to African-Americans as atonement for the practice of slavery over 150 years ago.

But the word “reparations” is being used improperly by Sharpton and the left. Google’s online dictionary defines the term as “the making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged.” That definition clearly refers to parties in the present tense, meaning actual persons who are wronged would receive money from actual persons who wronged them.

In other words, the reparations movement wants people who have committed no injustice or crime to pay people who had no crime or injustice committed against them.

A more accurate description of what the left is proposing would be “bribery,” since that’s exactly what is occurring. We are witnessing presidential candidates promise money to radical black activists in exchange for supporting their candidacies. Nothing more.

Indeed, Trump’s rising support among blacks probably has something to do with why this issue has suddenly burst onto the leftist political scene. The left is hoping this issue will prevent any further hemorrhaging of the black vote.

Nevertheless, this issue bears scrutiny. When it comes to reparations — especially reparations for those claiming to be descendants of slaves — the issue is fraught with complications, not the least of which is who today should qualify for a reparation payment.

How will that be determined? Will there be pervasive DNA testing? And who will be tested? Are there accurate records available that will allow recipients to unequivocally trace their lineage back to enslaved ancestors? How will those records be vetted? Or will it just be enough that an individual is black or looks black and is therefore entitled to reparations based on his or her presumed race? And how black must one be? Do you need to be 100 percent black? Or does 50 percent, or 25 percent, or 10 percent qualify?

Indeed, there are millions of African-Americans living today with zero connection to slavery because their ancestors immigrated here post-Civil War. Should they benefit from reparations? What about blacks who owned slaves?

Yes, blacks did own slaves. That is one of the inconvenient truths about slavery in America that Sharpton and his fellow race-baiters will never tell you.

For example, the first legal slave owner in American history was a black tobacco farmer named Anthony Johnson who owned a 250-acre tobacco farm in Virginia. While Johnson was not the first slave owner in American history, he was, according to historian R. Halliburton Jr., among the first to have his lifetime ownership of a slave legally sanctioned by a court. In 1654, a civil court found that Johnson, in fact, owned five indentured servants for life, an outcome historian Halliburton calls “one of the first known legal sanctions of slavery — other than as a punishment for crime.”

Then, there was William Ellison. He was a wealthy black plantation owner and cotton gin manufacturer who lived in South Carolina. According to the 1860 census, he owned 63 black slaves, making him the largest of the 171 black slaveholders in South Carolina. Ellison was known to have made a large proportion of his money as a “slave breeder.” Breeding slaves was illegal in many Southern states, but Ellison secretly sold almost all females born, keeping a select few for future breeding. He kept many of the young males, as they were considered useful on his plantation. Ellison was known to be a harsh master, and his slaves were almost starved and extremely poorly clothed. He kept a windowless building on his property for the specific purpose of chaining and whipping his misbehaving slaves.

But let’s not stop there. Dilsey Pope was born a free black woman, and when she was older, she bought the man she loved in order to marry him. Many state laws at the time would not allow slaves to be emancipated, so it was common for family or spouses to technically own their family. Dilsey owned her own house and land, and she also hired her husband out as labor. What makes this particular situation unique is that, when Dilsey and her husband had a fight, Dilsey sold him to her white neighbor out of spite.

Justus Angel and Mistress L. Horry were wealthy black landowners who each owned 84 slaves, or 168 together. They were located in Colleton District (now Charleston County) in South Carolina in 1830. Because most slave owners only had a handful of slaves, Angel and Horry were considered economic elite and were called slave magnates. Slaves were simply labor to Angel and Horry, and they considered them property, hunting down runaway slaves and punishing misbehaving ones.

C. Richards and her son P.C. Richards together owned more slaves than all other black slave owners in Louisiana in 1860, topping off at 152 slaves.

Marie Metoyer was a black woman originally from the Kingdom of Kongo and after moving to Louisiana and living there for many years, started a plantation that initially dealt in tobacco. Under Marie’s leadership, the Metoyer family prospered, and the plantation grew. Eventually, they owned more slaves than any other family in their county, with the number being reported at 287 by 1830.

There isn’t much evidence of harsh treatment to their own slaves, but the Metoyers were notorious for buying extra slaves to do the hardest tasks on the plantation and then returning them after the work was finished. This prevented them from having their own slaves do the dirty work or “wear out” as Ms. Metoyer told her friends.

In fact, the 1830 U.S. Census shows there were 319,599 free blacks in the United States that year and 3,775 of them owned a total of 12,760 slaves! 

Indeed, Halliburton has found that free black slaveholders could be found at one time or another “in each of the thirteen original states and later in every state that countenanced slavery.”

Surely, the descendants of these slave-holding blacks should not benefit from reparations, right?

About 12.5 million slaves were shipped from Africa, but only a little more than 300,000 slaves came to the United States. The majority of enslaved Africans went to Brazil, followed by the Caribbean. To put this in perspective, those 300,000 slaves in America made up only 2%-3% of the 12.5 million slaves sent across North, Central, and South America.

Slavery was eliminated in America via the efforts of people of various ethnicities, mostly Caucasians, but also others who took up the banner of the abolitionist movement. The names of the white leaders of that movement tend to be better known than those of the black leaders, among whom were David Walker, Frederick Douglass, Dred Scott, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Nat Turner. When Congress passed (and the states ratified) the 13th Amendment in 1865, it was the culmination of many years of work by that multi-racial movement, though mostly credited to Republican President Abraham Lincoln, who led the way to abolish slavery.

Slavery existed in the United States for 246 years. Blacks have been free for a little over 150 years, which means that most Americans are only two to four generations away from slavery. This is not that long ago.

Recall that there were about 300,000 slaves brought from Africa to the United States and 12.2 million were sold into Central and South America. While 12.5 million is a huge number of people, would it surprise you to learn that today there are far more slaves in the world? In fact, 40 million people are in some form of slavery today. That’s 40,000,000 today!

The elephant that sits at the center of our history is coming into focus. American slavery happened – it wasn’t as widespread as many believe and it wasn’t just white people that owned slaves –but we are still living with its consequences. Are we finally ready to face it, learn about it, and acknowledge its significance in our nation’s history?

Apparently not, because the Antifa fanatics and other turgid goons who are rampaging in our streets looking to raze monuments and obliterate our history are too stupid to grasp the fact that this country is the only one that fought a bloody and divisive civil war in order to end slavery.

But let’s not stop there. There’s also the dicey issue of Native Americans who owned slaves. After all, Elizabeth Warren is advocating reparations for Native Americans — but what if they owned slaves? Fear not; some did.

RELATED: Bob Ehrlich: There’s Still Hope for Race Relations in America

According to historian Tiya Miles, the number of slaves held by Cherokees was about 600 at the start of the 19th century and grew to about 1,500 at the time of government-mandated westward removal in 1838-1839 — otherwise known as the “Trail of Tears.” Miles writes, “Slavery inched its way slowly into Cherokee life…. and when a white man moved into a Native location, usually to work as a trader or as an Indian agent, he would own black slaves. If such a person also had a child with a native woman, as was not uncommon, the half-European, half-Native child would inherit the enslaved people (and their children) under white law, as well as the right to use tribal lands under tribal law.” It was a combination that put Cherokee slaveholders in a position to expand their wealth, eventually operating large farms and plantations.

In addition, Miles writes that as the 19th century began, Creeks, Choctaws and Chickasaws held some 3,500 slaves.

But what about other groups that suffered the loss of various rights throughout American history? There were Irish slaves.

Authors Don Jordan and Michael Walsh in “White Cargo,” have investigated the Irish slave trade and determined that between “1600 unto 1699, there were many more Irish sold as slaves than African. There are records of Irish slaves well into the 18th century .. Irish slaves were less expensive than Africans, and treated with more cruelty.” Should we set up a fund to pay all Irish-Americans?

What about women? They were not allowed to vote until 1920 so they were deprived of this basic right for the first 100 years of America.

Chinese laborers were forced to build many of the first railroads in conditions that were slave-like. Should their relatives receive reparations?

Poor whites in Appalachia suffered all kinds of discrimination; should we pay their descendants?

What about all the Italian-American, German-American, and Japanese-Americans who were placed into internment camps during WWII?

Should all these groups receive funds?

Actually, Japanese-Americans did indeed receive reparations when in 1988 President Reagan authorized the payments of $20,000 to each Japanese still living who had been interned in camps during WWII. The U.S. government eventually paid over $1.6 billion in reparations to 82,219 Japanese-Americans.

                                            Japanese-American internees during WW II

But this is very different from today’s reparations proposals. These reparations were paid to genuine Japanese-Americans who experienced life in the camps and who lost both their freedom and property as a result. To compare this to paying reparations to descendants of enslaved black Americans from 156 years ago is nonsensical, given the complications we have already detailed.

Then there’s the issue of who should pay? All Americans? If all Americans end up paying reparations via a federal budget expenditure, then won’t we be forcing the black descendants of slaves to pay for the sin of slavery through the taxes they pay? If the left tries to limit those who must pay to whites, a host of other problems arise, aside from such a proposal likely being ruled unconstitutional. Which whites would pay? If one’s forebears were active in the abolition movement, would they have to pay? What about the descendants of whites who died in the Civil War fighting the Confederacy?

Should the descendants of white slaves pay reparations? Authors Jordan and Walsh in “White Cargo,” discovered that 300,000 whites were shipped to America as slaves. Most were urchins swept up from London’s streets and shipped to America to work on tobacco farms. The authors write, “The first slaves imported into the American colonies were 100 white children in 1619, four months before the arrival of the first shipment of black slaves.”

Indeed, most whites of that era did not own slaves. Slavery was mostly engaged in by the wealthy plantation class and some factory owners. Without doing an in-depth genealogical study, it is likely the majority of non-blacks alive today in America can be traced to those who took no part in slavery or who immigrated to America after the Civil War.

What about those of mixed race? Unless the proponents are advocating the government spend billions in genealogical researching tracking down the living descendants of slave owners, there is no logical way to hold responsible for slavery anyone alive today.

Moreover, the reparations ideology assumes America did nothing to stop slavery or address how blacks were treated in the years since the end of slavery. Do the deaths of 364,5111 Union soldiers who gave their lives in the Civil War not count? What about all the civil rights acts supported and passed by the GOP in the 1960s? Let’s not forget such legislation was opposed by almost all Democrats at the time.

Indeed, the KKK was a Democratic Party creation as were Jim Crow laws and the segregation movement in general.

The Republican Party was founded to oppose slavery; the Democratic Party was founded to defend slavery. It would be easier and perhaps more accurate to assess all Democrats a reparations fee for their history of support for slavery and subsequently blocking the passage of civil rights laws. If the GOP wanted to use this issue to educate Americans about the true history of the Democratic Party, they should amend the reparations bill to do just that.

And then kill the bill.

We also should be concerned about the precedent this silly idea would create.

If the government actually starts paying reparations to descendants of people who may or may not have been enslaved, other groups will soon line up at the trough. It will never end.

William A. Jacobson of Cornell Law School sums up the argument perfectly: “If you can’t answer the question of why a Vietnamese boat person has to pay reparations for the conduct of white plantation owners more than a century earlier, then you can’t make the argument. If you can’t answer the question of why two successful black doctors living in a fashionable suburb should get reparations paid for by the white children of Appalachia, then you can’t make the argument.”

Reparations ideology is an insult to individual accountability and to the Western notion of justice. Rather, it is a system based upon the concept of identity politics whereby Americans are broken into groups and pitted against one another.

Indeed, it is ironic that the left is pushing reparations at a time when leftist demagogues sermonize about racial healing. But rather than heal, the reparations issue will likely increase racial division.

Forcing all Americans to pay for something that affected no one alive today is neither just nor moral. The reparations movement is just another scam by race hustlers who see billions, if not trillions of dollars, flowing into some giant reparations fund that they can manipulate and control in perpetuity.

But that won’t dissuade the author of the reparations bill from using this bill to divide Americans; After all, Jackson Lee is one of the most race-obsessed members of Congress. She once stated that Republicans invented some diseases to “kill black people,” and that the names given to hurricanes by meteorologists are racist.

During a hearing involving NASA, she asked, “Will the Mars rover be able to show the flag the astronauts planted before?” When others corrected her publicly, her staff denounced them as “racists.” She also refers to herself as a “freed slave” and claims the Tea Party is a KKK group.

In other words, she’s obsessed with racial hatred — and therefore the perfect person to author a reparations bill.

Steve Baldwin is a former California Assemblyman where he served as the Minority Whip and as Chairman of the Education Committee. He also served as Executive Director of the Council for National Policy. He is the author of the book, From Crayons to Condoms, The Ugly Truth About America’s Public Schools. 


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