Saturday, January 31, 2015

‘The Half Has Never Been Told’ Comment Five


WE CONTINUE our read through ‘THE HALF HAS NEVER BEEN TOLD,’ the illuminating story of slavery and capitalism. ‘Breath’ is the title of chapter six, and again has a double meaning. It begins as awakening, as in the growing consciousness of how the enslaved in developing their common language, came to understand themselves. One word, ‘Stole,’ came to sum it up, as in ‘we were stole from Africa,’ or ‘my Daddy was stole down to Georgia by the traders,’ or ‘I was stole from the auction block by a new master.’

The slaves had great clarity on the core theft that formed capitalism’s primitive accumulation. It was stolen, labor from black skins, land to put it to work from red skins, then the repeated stealing as both slaves and the product of their unpaid labor cycled over and over.

It posed a conflict in the thinking of the rest of the country, especially as it was swept by a new period of religious awakening, or ‘breath’ as the rise of spirit, as the spirit of the times. First was the religion of Nat Turner, who practiced an Old Testament-inspired sense of justice and wreaking vengeance by slaying one’s oppressors. The shock waves saw the rise of abolitionism first among the Quakers. Benjamin Lundy of Ohio started publishing ‘The Emancipator,’ moving it to Baltimore, where he was helped by a young assistant, William Lloyd Garrison. At the other extreme, the slave master first denied religion to Blacks, claiming ‘they had no souls.’ When that ploy quickly failed, they developed their own version of ‘Christianity’ that enforced slavery on every point, even as they made it a crime to teach slaves to read, lest they read the Bible for themselves. The vast waves of new Methodists and Baptists in the North were somewhere in between, trying to distance themselves from it all.

Meanwhile slavery surged onward, ever more cruel and more efficient. One small example. In the Southeast, at first slaves were sold on ‘exceptional days,’ such as the beginning of a new year, or at market fairs held at crossroads. But now, especially in the ‘Southwest,’ meaning Mississippi, they were sold every day and everywhere, as the sources of great wealth. More to come.

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