Over the weekend, during our discussion over the Black Confederates, a couple of commenters objected to the tone I took in my post. I work hard to steer away from personally attacking people but at the same time it's extremely important to me that I convey to you some of the angst, urgency and, yes, anger that I feel when grappling with the legacy and the Civil War.
I think this portion of Blight's lecture might help clarify things:
By the 1830s, 1840s, there were over 100 men in Charleston, South Carolina alone, making their livings full-time as slave traders. Their ads were in the newspapers every day. Many of them owned their own shops and their own -- in effect -- jails where they housed people. Other cities became major ports or places of deportation, for the domestic slave trade. Richmond, Virginia, for example, became a huge slave-trading center by the 1840s and 1850s. It had two -- depending on when you look -- to three dozen major full-time slave traders.One of the richest was a man named Hector Davis. Hector Davis owned a two-story slave auction house and jail on 14th and Franklin Streets, just two blocks down the hill from Thomas Jefferson's glorious capitol building of the State of Virginia. Just two blocks down the hill from that great equestrian statue of George Washington, the Founder, you could find a huge slave jail owned by Hector Davis. Hector Davis kept tremendous records, he kept account books, huge account books. And one of those account books ended up in the Chicago Historical Society after the Civil War because it was confiscated by an Illinois regiment that took it home.And I worked with that account book, because one of the two slaves I write about in this new book called A Slave No More -- I publish their two narratives -- was indeed a young 14-year-old teenager, sold out of North Carolina -- from Snow Hill, North Carolina, he was sold in 1860 to Hector Davis in Richmond. Hector Davis purchased him for $900.00. For about six months Wallace Turnage worked in Hector Davis's slave auction house helping organize the auctions every day. And one day, Wallace was told, "Today, boy, you're in the auction."And he was sold for $1000.00 to an Alabama cotton planter who came up to Richmond twice a year to buy slaves. And 72 hours by train he found himself on a huge cotton plantation, near Pickensville, Alabama, on the -- in west central Alabama, on the Mississippi border, at 14-years-old...I calculated in Hector Davis's account book that the biggest week he had -- and he had some big weeks -- but he had a week in 1859 where he made a cool, approximately, $120,000.00 in profit, just from selling slaves.I mean, the equivalent of a healthy teenage male slave, if you could sell him for $1000.00 in 1860 -- it's about the same price of a good Toyota Camry today... For slave children -- one other little point about this, so we can get a sense of this system that is now about to be justified and defended -- for slave children, between 1820 and 1860, living in the Upper South or the Eastern Seaboard, they had approximately a thirty percent chance of being sold outright away from their parents before they were ten.
Forgive the long quote. The last part is really the point. Think of it like this: If you were born, during those years on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, like my maternal American ancestors, there was a thirty percent chance that you would be parted from your parents before you hit puberty. If you were an adult there, and you fell in love, and had a child, there was a one in three chance you would live to see that child sold. Given the fertility rates at the time, it's highly likely that one of your children would be sold. To my eyes, that is little more than systemic, state-sanctioned child abuse.
On some level, I'm hoping to stimulate an intellectual conversation about American History. But on another level, I am hoping to make this portion of our history more concrete, and less abstract. I believe the discussion should be respectful. I do not believe it should be antiseptic or dispassionate.
When we talk about the Confederacy, we should always be clear that we are talking about a rebellion incited for the purpose of purchasing and selling children. When we talk about Pickett's Charge, Robert E. Lee, or whatever, we should always remember that it was valor in the service of trafficking. Perhaps that sounds too harsh. I don't know. I don't really want to be emotionally distant from this..
Pick up a copy of A Slave No More to get more of Wallace Turnage's epic journey, recorded by his own hand and edited by Blight.