I saw this chilling line in the Hidden Pope about Pope John II’s childhood friend Jerzy Kluger. Dr. Kluger fled East from the Nazis to Lvov (Once Polish, now Ukrainian).
He was hiding at a cousin’s house when Soviet soldiers showed up, and one said, “You have no residence here.” Sounds like the beginning of a Boris Karloff or Peter Lorre movie, doesn’t it?
I remembered the statement but thought of it for a different topic. I’m working on a piece about London Mayor Boris Johnson’s book The Dream of Rome. One element I’m covering is Roman vs. United States slavery.
In Roman slavery, the slave had a chance to win his freedom and become a Roman citizen. Rome saw all as potential citizens.
As I performed my research and connected the dots, I came to a conclusion that horrified and disgusted me, about how different slavery in the United States was. I am taking great liberties in this essay with my usual sarcastic silliness.
Read my friend Ronda Racha Penrice’s African-American American History for Dummies. On page 41, she explains how Colonial America looked for labor.
Native Americans: They caught the European diseases too readily, and they could escape into the woods too easily.
European Indentured Servants: They were brought there on contracts, where if they worked the contract, they worked their passage off and were now free. They may also, be inept workers, die and like the Native Americans, escape and blend in.
The solution? Slaves from Sub-Saharan Africa. To be sarcastic, the Arabs had seen the region as a good slave source for centuries.
Having said that, what made the African slave a good fit in North America?
He stood out. He could not easily run away. He was also thousands of miles away from home, across an ocean. Now there is a job description for you. I always asked in job interviews, “What on my resume made you want to interview me?” Here, there wasn’t an interview, but interference in your life. You may have been marched from hundreds of miles inland to the ocean, which you’ve never seen. I used to complain about the constant change in our modern society, but can you imagine all these changes?
Now, you are being taken in a jam packed slave ship, chained next to people, who may have been your enemies back home and dealing with languages you don’t speak? Imagine being chained next to the kid from your childhood or the colleague at work you have had to work next to for years and did not get along.
Then brought to Charleston, South Carolina and sold as a piece of meat. You knew how to be a farmer, but now you were a farmer as someone’s property, and it was permanent. You were not going to have the chance of being freed and a citizen participating in the society.
Blacks in the United States were sometimes freed by their masters, but that did not make them citizens. As a matter of fact, toward the end of the Eighteenth Century, slavery was already becoming economically unfeasible, even in the South.
When, who and why? The when was the year 1793. They who was a man named Eli Whitney. The why was Mr. Whitney’s invention; the Cotton Gin.
Cotton growing before that was limited to the long staple cotton on the Sea Island Barrier, of the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia. The short staple cotton, which grew inland, was slow and hard to pick. The Cotton Gin changed all that. Now, there could be an increase of cotton land, and that meant an expansion of slavery.
If slavery ever ended, well what to do with the former slaves? If slavery had ended in the early Nineteenth Century, the blacks probably would not have been allowed to stay in the United States, no Roman-like solution here. Liberia was founded on the West African coast in 1821. The goal would have been to deport them there. Never mind, most of these people were born in the United States. Well as a Congressional compromise, they got to be three-fifths of a person. How touching.
The sarcastic, caustic side of me asks, “Which parts of the slave’s body gets to be counted amongst the three-fifths?”
I would hazard a guess if Eli Whitney hadn’t invented the Cotton Gin, slavery would have fizzled out in the early Nineteenth Century, and there probably would have been no Civil War. A Cotton Gin is a worthy tool, though. I can’t imagine Eli Whitney, Yankee inventor and a war criminal? – Whitney was from Connecticut, living on a Georgia plantation as a tutor.
(There are people who want to take Andrew Jackson off the twenty dollar bill and designate him as a war criminal, but that’s for another essay).
Then there was the Supreme Court case that made it clear African-Americans could not be citizens. The Dred Scott decision. The simple answer was Scott could not even sue, because, as an African-American, he had no rights as a citizen.
It took the Civil War and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution to make African-Americans citizens. You hear the arguments about “Anchor Babies,” in the 2016 Presidential campaign. Immigrants weren’t what the amendment had in mind.
Many saw President Lincoln as the “Great Emancipator.” Hating slavery did not mean he approved of African-Americans. A History Channel article about how President Lincoln felt.
Bottom line: We made African-Americans citizens, for what could we say? African-American men fought in the Civil War and now you are going to say, “Well thank you for your help, but Liberia with you, for you have no residence here.”
Unlike Rome, we never meant African-Americans to become part of us. Think of what we would have missed as a society.