African-American History the Reconstruction Era Term Paper

  • Length: 10 pages
  • Subject: Family and Marriage
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #39383402

Excerpt from Term Paper :

130). Although their white masters generally exposed them to Christianity, enslaved people adopted only parts of the white religion and mixed it with elements of their own beliefs.

Even though the family was not generally a legally sanctioned unit on plantations, the basic roles of mothers, fathers, and grandparents in rearing children did exist. Families could be severed and separated at the whim and desire of the slave owners, but families did often manage to stay together and develop tight bonds. "However frequently the family was broken, it was primarily responsible for the slave's ability to survive on the plantation without becoming totally dependent on and submissive to his master. The important thing was not that the family was not recognized legally or that masters frequently encouraged monogamous mating arrangements in the quarters only when it was convenient to do so, but rather that some form of family life did exist among slaves" (Blassingame, 1972, p.151).

Folktales and songs were also an important part of the culture that enslaved Africans developed. "Like other African peoples, the slaves used proverbs to teach the young and as commentaries on life. The African element appears in about 30 per cent of the slave proverbs" (Blassingame, 1972, p.114). The songs and tales were a way for the elders of the culture to pass on their wisdom and experience to the younger people and to forge ties between people and generations.

The development of a common culture was important to the enslaved Africans from many nations because the unity it fostered helped them to survive physically and emotionally. Because they were an oppressed group, the development of their culture was especially important. It is ironic that their experience mirrors the majority of the white population of the United States. A common culture was formed out of the belief that they were being oppressed by European nations, religions, and governments. Many different cultures became the "melting pot" that is so famous a part of American assimilation. The national motto, e pluribus unum, means "out of many, one." Interestingly, out of many African nations, the enslaved people of the south created one slave culture. Although many other cultures have melted into the pot of current American society, the black and white races still possess largely different cultures and have not unified. Perhaps the beginnings in enslavement are too much to overcome.

2) Slave resistance took many forms including forces inside and outside of slavery. The outside force of resistance came in the form of Northern abolitionists and writers who made fiery appeals to end the institution of slavery that they found so objectionable on moral and philosophical grounds. Inside forces of slavery came from the slaves themselves in the form of passive and active resistance. Passive resistance appeared in songs and stories that the enslaved people used to mentally resist the dehumanizing force of slavery. Active resistance was embodied by slaves who chose to runaway or help others to escape, and also by bold people like Nat Turner who led violent rebellions in order to punish the white perpetrators of slavery.

The Northern abolitionists felt they had morality on their side. Writers like William Lloyd Garrison and Harriet Beecher Stowe stirred public sentiment against the institution of slavery by reminding people of the brutal and dehumanizing effect on both the enslaver and the enslaved. "The opponents of slavery charged that it was a tyrannical institution, the existence of which frustrated the American dream as manifested in the Declaration of Independence, with its flaming words on human equality" (Smelser & Gundersen, 1978, p.94). Frederick Douglas himself used the same argument in his famous Narrative of the Life of a Slave in which he delineated his treatment as a slave, the inhuman behavior of some of his enslavers, and his eventual path to freedom. The abolitionists, obviously, found a much broader audience in the North than in the South, and their cause gained ground slowly in the years preceding the Civil War. Clandestine organizations such as the Underground Railroad helped channel fugitives to free areas and were a way for Northerners to act concretely to help the enslaved.

Among the enslaved people, emotional resistance appeared in the form of songs and folk tales that used undercover terms and metaphors to express their dissatisfaction with enslavement and their yearning for freedom. "Relying heavily on circumlocution, metaphor, and innuendo, the slaves often referred to fear, infidelity, love, hard times, work, slave coffles, conjuration, food, drinking, sex, and freedom in their songs. When away from whites, however, the slaves frequently dropped the metaphors. Freedom was a major motif in party songs" (Blassingame, 1972, pp.121-122). Often changed when the ears of white people were around, these songs and stories also mocked the white owners and suggested means of reprieve or escape.

After a particularly unpleasant whipping or episode of mistreatment, many slaves made a bold attempt to run away from their plantation. Such episodes often ended in being tracked down and returned to an owner for punishment and continual enslavement. On rarer occasions, fugitives were able to escape dogs and prying white men in order to make it to a free place.

It is not surprising that the misery and violence of enslavement should lead to violence. Slave rebellions and revolts did occur and get large amounts of attention. Nat Turner's famous raid of 1831 that terrorized whites as his band of nearly 60 rebels killed nearly the same number of whites is an example of such active resistance (Blassingame, 1972, pp.217-221). Although he was captured and executed in prison, his intelligence and zeal was an inspiration to others and a sign that such a system could not long endure.

3) The period of the American Revolutionary War saw the United States exert its independence from the oppressive British regime of King George III. Such a rebellion was caused by financial reasons such as taxation and the general use of the colonies for their raw goods. The colonies also felt put upon by the lack of representation in government, and so they chose to leave and create their own country where freedom was the rule of thumb. This leave-taking included all kinds of words about liberty and freedom. The Declaration of Independence also included the bold words "all men are created equal" and have the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Given the emotional and philosophical climate of this time period, it follows that the question of slavery and enslavement should be widely disputed. If the new nation was to be a sanctuary for freedom, why did such a condition of freedom exclude the slaves who were being held widely in the South?

The adoption of the Declaration of Independence and the debate surrounding its signing shows clearly that freedom for all was not a goal all the drafters shared. Southern states' agricultural economy depended largely on the use of slave labor in order to be profitable, and that dependence would only continue to grow for at least the next half century. These Southern farmers did not want to admit and legislate the inherent freedom of their workers, so the arguments in Philadelphia hinged on the removal of an item suggesting the slaves be free. Thomas Jefferson clearly did not believe in the morality of slavery, but he did own slaves and was willing to strike the anti-slavery language from the Declaration. His reason for doing so was for the greater good in order to establish the freedom of the United States. Such an argument about the greater good and unity of the country continued to prevail and weigh upon discussions until the Civil War.

While the Revolutionary period addressed the issue of slavery by arguing about and then setting aside the question, it could not remain a silent concern for long. The period between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars saw great expansion of the United States. As new states were admitted to the Union as states or territories, the question of whether they would be slave or free states loomed. The Constitution vaguely addressed the issue with the Missouri Compromise and the rule that the importing of slaves would be illegal after 1808, but much debate was still possible and necessary when it came to the admission of new states. The balance of slave and free states underscored a balance of power between the two philosophies that brought many small confrontations and compromises before the great divide of the Civil War. "California drafted a constitution prohibiting slavery and applied for admission as a free state in 1850. At the time of this application there were fifteen slave and fifteen free states" (Smelser & Gundersen, 1978, p. 103). Clearly, the issue of slavery was a delicate balance between North and South and now East and West.

As America expanded and prospered, the Southern economy continued to be more dependent on the work…

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