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How white women’s “investment” in slavery has shaped Amerika today

A group of enslaved women and a man sit on the steps of the Florida Club in St. Augustine, Florida, mid 19th Century. A white woman, possibly a manager or overseer, stands behind them. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

White women are sometimes seen as bystanders to slavery. A historian explains why that’s wrong.

In the American South before the Civil War, white women couldn’t vote. They couldn’t hold office. When they married, their property technically belonged to their husbands.

But, as historian Stephanie Jones-Rogers notes, there was one thing they could do, just as white men could: They could buy, sell, and own enslaved people.

In her recent book, They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American SouthJones-Rogers makes the case that white women were far from passive bystanders in the business of slavery, as previous historians argued. Rather, they were active participants, shoring up their own economic power through ownership of the enslaved.

In the past, historians had often based their conclusions about white women’s role in slavery on the writings of a small subset of white Southern women. But Jones-Rogers, an associate professor of history at the University of California Berkeley, drew on a different source: interviews with formerly enslaved people conducted during the Great Depression as part of the Federal Writers’ Project, an arm of the Works Progress Administration. These interviews, Jones-Rogers writes, show that white girls were trained in slave ownership, discipline, and mastery sometimes from birth, even being given enslaved people as gifts when they were as young as nine months old.

The result was a deep investment by white women in slavery, and its echoes continue to be felt today. As the New York Times and others commemorate the date, 400 years ago, when enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia, Vox reached out to Jones-Rogers to talk about the history of white, slaveholding women in the South and what that history says about race, gender, wealth, and power in America in 2019. Our conversation has been condensed and edited.

Anna North

Can you talk a little about how this book came about?

Stephanie Jones-Rogers

When I was in graduate school, I was taking all these different courses and reading all these books on African American history but also on women’s and gender history. I was particularly interested in what these two subfields of history had to say about white women’s economic investments in the institution of slavery. What struck me is that they seemed to be in direct contradiction to each other, in many respects.

Those historians who explored the experiences of white Southern women would often argue that while women had access to enslaved people that male kin or their spouses may have owned, they were not directly involved in the buying and selling of enslaved people — particularly married women weren’t.

Conversely, those individuals who explored the enslaving of African Americans would often, in fact, say that a formerly enslaved person talked about having a female owner or talked about being bought or sold by a woman. And so I asked myself, what’s the real story here?

Were white women — particularly married white women — economically invested in the institution of slavery? Meaning, did they buy and sell enslaved people?

I looked to traditional sources where we might think to find those answers: a white woman’s diary, a white woman’s letters and correspondence between family members, et cetera. They mentioned very sporadically issues related to answering this question, but there was not this kind of sustained conversation. So, I said, African Americans are talking about this. Formerly enslaved people are talking about this. So, let me look to the interviews that they granted to these Federal Writers in the 1930s and 1940s. And so when I look to those interviews, formerly enslaved people were talking about white women’s economic investments in a variety of ways consistently, constantly, routinely.

Portrait photograph of Stephanie Jones-Rogers, author of “They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South”
Stephanie Jones-Rogers, author of They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South. 
Lily Cummings

Anna North

The historians you mention who didn’t see white women as economically invested in slavery — what sources were they drawing on and why is there such a disconnect between those sources and the interviews with formerly enslaved people that did really delve into these economic questions?

Stephanie Jones-Rogers

I tried to focus primarily on married slave-owned women in this book, in large part because those are the women who many historians of slaveowners say did not have a direct impact on the economic institution of slavery. And they say that, in large part, because of this legal doctrine called coverture. Essentially, this doctrine says that when a woman who owns property or earns wages, or has any assets, gets married, those assets, those wages, that wealth, immediately becomes her husband’s — their identities are subsumed into one.

Many historians have looked into this legal doctrine of coverture and seen it as all-encompassing. [But] scholars who have made this argument have essentially not examined the voluminous evidence that appeared in the testimonies of formerly enslaved people.

They also looked to a very small subset of women: highly literate, very elite white women who had the time to sit down and jot down their thoughts about the day. And so they’re missing the vast majority of those women who owned slaves.

The vast majority of women who owned slaves owned less than 20. And often, the women that I talk about in the book owned one or two, no more than five. So these are the women that were probably not literate, and if they were literate, they didn’t have enough time to sit down and write down what was going on in their day. The vast majority of the women who owned slaves are missing from the analyses, in large part because they did not leave documents behind to tell us how they felt about these things, to tell us how they were investing in the institution.

Formerly enslaved people’s testimonies about these women are, in many respects, the only surviving record to document exactly that.

Anna North

So in looking at those testimonies, what did you find in terms of the roles that white women and girls had in slavery, and the way that they formed their identities through their involvement in slavery?

Stephanie Jones-Rogers

What I thought was really interesting as I read much of the scholarship on white slave-owning women is that so much of it starts when women are adults. One really wonderful thing about the interviews of formerly enslaved people is they talk about white girls. They talk about white infants, female infants, and female adolescents.

So we are allowed into several phases of white female life through these interviews that have heretofore been obscured or kind of left out of the picture. I decided, in order for the second half of this story, the story of women, to make sense, I have to start the story at the very beginning, in the early years.

So I start the book by talking about how white slave-holding parents trained their daughters how to be slaveowners. They give them lessons in slave discipline and slave management. Some even allow for their daughters to mete out physical punishments.

Slave-holding parents and slave-holding family members gave girls enslaved people as gifts — for Christmas sometimes, when they turned 16 or when they turned 21.

There are even accounts of slave-holding parents and family members giving white female infants enslaved people as their own. There is one particular instance of a case, in a court record, where a woman talks about how her grandfather gave her an enslaved person as her own when she was 9 months old.

An enslaved woman holds a white child circa 1855 in Arkansas.
 Library of Congress

When you think about the fact that their relationship to slavery, to slave ownership in particular, begins in infancy, in girlhood, what you begin to realize is that their very identities as white girls, as white Southerners, as white women, is intricately tied to not only ownership of enslaved people but also the control of enslaved people, the management of enslaved people.

The other really important lesson that their parents, their family members, and even their girlfriends, cousins, female cousins, and so forth are also teaching them along the way is that the way the law is set up, you have this property. And when you get married, it will, if we don’t do anything about it, become your husband’s. And, if he is a loser, you’re going to lose. So, they essentially say, we have to make sure that does not happen.

So before these young women get married, their parents and sometimes female kin and friends will encourage them to develop legal instruments, protective measures to ensure that they don’t lose all of their property to their husbands. These legal instruments that they develop are very much like prenuptial agreements today. They’re called marriage settlements back then, or marital contracts, which essentially detail not only what property they’re bringing into the marriage but what kind of control their husbands can or cannot have over it.

These women are not stupid. They’re like, I’m about to get married, the law says that everything I have is going to be my husband’s. I don’t want that to happen. What can I do to prevent that from happening?

They are prepared, they are knowledgeable, and they work with parents and others who are willing to assist them to develop protective measures to ensure that the relinquishment of all of their property wealth and assets doesn’t happen once they get married.

Anna North

Going along with that, can you talk about the ways in which slavery benefited white women and girls, both economically and socially?

Stephanie Jones-Rogers

Women cannot do many of the things that men can do in this period of time. One thing that they are allowed to do by law, and this is particularly the case in the South, is invest in slavery.

And that’s exactly what they do. Not only do they inherit enslaved people, but they also go into slave markets. They buy enslaved people. They’ll hire them out and they’ll collect their wages. Then they use those wages to buy more slaves.

They open businesses, and they employ those enslaved people in their businesses, those businesses make a profit, they use those profits to buy more slaves. So they are investing in the institution of slavery in the same ways as white men are.

The other really interesting thing that I observed in the interviews with formerly enslaved people is that white women often owned twice as many female slaves as they did male slaves. When I would talk about this with scholars in the field, some of them would remark, “Oh, that makes sense, because if women are in the house, they need more female help.”

I said, “Okay, yes, that would be practical,” but what has also been important to recognize is that these women understood the law. There are laws on the books, during this period that ensure whenever a person owns an enslaved woman, if that woman gave birth, that person also legally owned her children.

And so owning an enslaved woman means that you’re not only reaping the benefits of this woman’s productive labor but also her reproductive labor.

Anna North

Was that true of white men, too? Did they have more female than male slaves?

Stephanie Jones-Rogers

Much of what I’m describing was also true for white boys and white men. [But] during this period of time, there was the development of the domestic slave trade, which essentially was the purchase of enslaved people in the upper South, in places like Virginia and Maryland, and then their transport into the lower South and into the Southwest when the country expanded during the 1800s.

In these sales, if an enslaved woman had a child, that child was seen as a liability to the slave trader. There are accounts that I talk about in the book where these slave traders are willing to just toss away the baby. But, there was this [white] woman in one particular case who would go to state auctions, and if there were babies there that were not sold along with the mother, she would ask for those babies to be given to her. She would keep the babies for free.

In those respects, there were instances in which white men saw enslaved children as liabilities, and white women saw them as long-term investments.

This 1849 document is a receipt for sale of a woman named Jane, age 18, and her son, Henry, age 1, and all future children in Eufaula, Alabama.
 Library of Congress

Anna North

You talk in the book about how white women were able to achieve economic and social empowerment through ownership of enslaved people, essentially gaining some status in a patriarchal society through dominance over black people. I’m curious if we see echoes of this today when we look at white women gaining economic empowerment under capitalism?

Stephanie Jones-Rogers

There is a certain kind of power that comes with wealth. Enslaved people were wealth, their bodies held value on a real market, within a capitalist market. White women understood it.

But in order to sustain this system, white men realize that white women must be a part of that system. They must support it, they must see the value in it for themselves, not simply for their husbands or their children. They need to understand that this system benefits them personally and directly. The only way they can do that is to allow for them to invest in the system and to participate in the system.

And they are, in fact, invested in this system; they participate in the system. They benefit from this system, in every single way that white men do. And that is key to the longevity of, the perpetuation of the system. I think that is the same for capitalism — when you tell a woman, “You might not make as much as a man for doing the same work, but if you can get your hands on these funds, nobody can deny you.”

Slavery was a regime based on human bondage, [but] it was also an economic regime, one that was funding the national economy. When those white women are invested, it’s not very different from them being invested in capitalism today. It’s just a different commodity. It’s just a different source of wealth.

Anna North

In thinking about the 1619 commemoration, I was thinking about the part of your book where you look at the way white women wrote about slavery after emancipation. In your epilogue, you write that they portrayed themselves as “forever sacrificing women who had played purely benevolent roles within a nurturing system.” And you quote a white woman who wrote that maybe the descendants of enslaved people should even consider creating an “anniversary to celebrate ‘the landing of their fathers on the shores of America,’ when they were bought and domiciled in American homes.”

Can you talk a little bit about how white women remembered their role in slavery after the fact and how we actually ought to remember it today?

Stephanie Jones-Rogers

When I think about that part of the book, I also think about what is happening today. The erasure of certain elements of horror and the darkness of [white women’s] investment and involvement in the history of slavery are very much why we’re shocked to see the way that some white women respond to interactions with black people today.

You can also see that in the “send her back” chants — the idea that black people have never been citizens and they never belonged. I think there are parallels to what this woman said in the early 1900s and what white women are saying today about African-descended people, whether they be congresswomen or just average black folk on the street.

It’s very much like, you should be grateful because you’re here now and stop complaining, because look what we’ve done for you. I think there are many parallels between that kind of language now, and the argument that she made back in the early 1900s.


150 years since ‘Bloody Kansas’/The legacy of John Brown


May 9 marks the 220th anniversary of this great abolitionist’s birth. This article was originally published in Workers World on Sept. 14, 2006.

Many historians agree that the Civil War really started on a flat patch of land known as “Bloody Kansas” 150 years ago, in the spring, summer and on into the autumn of 1856.

This area of land covering some 82,000 square miles now sits at the geographic center of the continental United States. It rarely gets national attention these days, and when it does it’s usually for reactionary developments, ike the effort to ban evolution from the public schools’ science curriculum.

Yet this was once the hub of the most important political conflict of its day, indeed of all U.S. history: the struggle over slavery. This was where diametrically opposed forces — abolitionists and pro-slavers — clashed.

When 1856 began, the pro-slavery forces had looked to be ascendant. Congress had passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act on May 30, 1854. The law provided for popular sovereignty — voting by white male landowners, that is — to decide whether Kansas and Nebraska would be free or slave states. Kansas had since been the scene of a violent terror campaign, based across the border in Missouri.

Death squads, known as Border Ruffians, aiuadsed to kill or drive out those who opposed the spread of slavery to Kansas, and to flood the territory with their own numbers. Jesse and Frank James, glorified as “rebellious” outlaws in the movies and folklore, were the most well-known of these ruffians.

The Border Ruffians hunted down and murdered African Americans who had escaped slavery and were heading north to Canada. They brazenly assassinated Underground Railway station operators and anti-slavery newspaper editors.

It had started to seem like a foregone conclusion that Kansas would enter the union as a slave state. Then John Brown arrived.

With a small, brave band of stalwarts, he took on the slave owners’ death squads in direct combat, and bested them. He revived and rallied the anti-slavery forces.

At the Battle of Osawatomie, on Aug. 30, 1856, his brilliant tactical maneuvers led to the defeat of a pro-slavery force of 300 soldiers by his group of under 20 — and from then on he was affectionately known as “Old Osawatomie” by admirers around the country.

In Lawrence, Kanasas, in the first two weeks of September, he led the military defense of the state capital against a pro-slavery assault — and ever after was respectfully called “Captain Brown” by those who fought alongside him.

But before Osawatomie, before Lawrence, John Brown had already become a legend. That happened at Pottawatomie Creek.

A daring raid

At Pottawatomie on the night of May 24-25, 1856, John Brown led an armed band in a lightning raid against an encampment where he knew he’d find several of the worst of the Border Ruffians who were terrorizing the territory.

When Brown and company rode off, they left the dead bodies of five racist thugs. The criminals Brown and his band killed had been responsible for many assaults and murders; they were also known for capturing Native women and forcing them into prostitution and sexually assaulting Free State women.

Until Brown acted, the slaveocracy had been waging an undeclared war with what seemed like impunity. And not just in the fields and towns of Kansas. On May 22, two days before Brown rode to Pottawatomie, Preston Brooks, a member of Congress from South Carolina, had strode onto the floor of the U.S. Senate and beaten anti-slavery Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts nearly to death as retaliation for Sumner’s speech “The Crime against Kansas.”

After Pottawatomie, all this changed. The slaveocracy did not surrender — it would take the Civil War for that. But from Pottawatomie word went out.

No longer would the racist death squads have free reign in Kansas. A new force, a force for freedom, was fighting back.

For years afterward, in fact to this very day, bourgeois historians have misrepresented what happened at Pottawatomie. It has been portrayed as an insane, isolated event, as a senseless, inexplicable act of violence — and its perpetrator as a wild-eyed, crazed, fanatical maniac. The official bourgeois version removes the Pottawatomie raid from its historic context — the bloody terrorist war the Border Ruffians were waging — and omits the fact that the men Brown’s troops killed were racist murderers.

John Brown was no lunatic. He was a hero. By first frost in the fall of 1856, he had accomplished what six months earlier no one thought possible. The territory had been secured. Kansas would enter the union as a free state.

The victory came at a high personal cost for Brown. His son Frederick died at the Battle of Osawatomie. Another son, John Brown Jr., was captured by the pro-slavery forces and tortured horribly while held prisoner, which led to many years of illness and anguish.

Brown himself was now a wanted man. A price on his head, he went underground, leaving Kansas. He headed toward the Northeast.

There he would spend the next three years raising funds, recruiting troops, writing, speaking and planning. His goal was nothing less than to launch a guerrilla war, whose leadership would be taken up by African Americans, to end slavery and establish full freedom and equality for all.

On to Harpers Ferry

Before, during and after his time in Kansas, John Brown was keen to learn how to wage the kind of guerrilla warfare he believed would be necessary to destroy slavery. To whom did he look as his teachers?

To Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey and other enslaved African American leaders of U.S. slave revolts; to the Seminole nation that had resisted domination by colonial settlers; to the Maroons of the South and of Jamaica and Surinam, escaped slaves who fought the settler state’s forces in daring raids from bases in the hills and mountains; and to Toussaint L’Ouverture, one of the great liberators of Haiti.

Most well-meaning whites, including abolitionists, were under the sway of racism to varying degrees. In contrast, Brown not only admired but sought to learn from and emulate Black and Native leaders. He was that free of the taint of racism.

In Kansas, Brown worked closely with a Native ally, Ottawa Jones, who sheltered, fed and helped arm Brown’s group at several points during the months of conflict. Although he himself was a fiercely devout Christian, Brown counted Jews and atheists among his troops.

For three years after leaving Kansas, Brown was based in North Elba, N.Y. [in upstate New York].There he established a cooperative farming community, the first ever where Black and white families lived and worked as equals.

Along with farming and guiding escaped slaves along an Underground Railroad route across the border to Canada, Brown would spend those three years preparing for the action he was determined would give rise to a generalized mass uprising by enslaved Black people. He would write a new constitution for the United States which first and foremost proclaimed race and sex equality.

He would travel to Canada and recruit several African Americans, including Osborne P. Anderson, who would fight alongside Brown at Harpers Ferry, Va. (now W.Va.), and live to write about it. He would meet often with the great organizer and orator, Frederick Douglass, and the two would become close friends. Douglass had escaped from slavery as a young man.

He would confer with the “Moses” of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, whom he always respectfully referred to as “Gen. Tubman.” Some believe that Tubman helped plan the raid on the U.S. Army arsenal at Harpers Ferry and would have taken part in it had she not fallen ill.

African-American freedom fighters Dangerfield Newby, Lewis S. Leary, John Brown’s sons Watson and Oliver, and six others of their number would die at Harpers Ferry in October 1859. Five would escape and survive. Seven, including John Brown, would be captured and hanged.

Gen. Robert E. Lee, who scant months later would lead the secessionist Confederate army, led the opposing force that captured John Brown at Harpers Ferry. John Wilkes Booth, who would assassinate President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, was among the troops guarding the scaffolding on the day they hanged John Brown.

On that day, Dec. 2, 1859, just before they led him from his cell to the gallows, this great soldier for human liberation would write, “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.” Brown was buried in the majority Black cemetery in North Elba, a fitting tribute indeed.

In April 1861 the Civil War would begin.


The Roots of Anti-Racist, Anti-Fascist Resistance in the US

The Roots of Anti-Racist, Anti-Fascist Resistance in the US The Roots of Anti-Racist, Anti-Fascist Resistance in the US

The militant white supremacists of the current generation are either products of, or influenced by, the “third Klan” of the 1970s and 1980s.

The Klan’s resurrection was a reaction to the radical insurgencies of the era.”

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

“No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA!” has been a popular protest chant since the New York real-estate mogul and former reality TV star became the 45th president of the United States. This was no mere rhetorical flourish. We saw a surge in the ranks of white nationalists and the “alt-right,” an escalation of domestic terrorist attacks on Black and Brown people, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, and the LGBTQ community. The road to a “Fascist USA” took a deadly turn after Trump indirectly condoned the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which an assembly of Klansmen, “alt Knights,” neo-Nazis, and white nationalist militias inspired one of their number to mow down anti-racist protesters with his car.

A consensus took hold that Trump’s election, along with the campaign to remove Confederate monuments following the 2015 massacre of nine Black worshippers in a Charleston, South Carolina, church, had emboldened militant white supremacists. Books, articles, and blog posts linked Trump’s ascendance directly to white nationalism, even reminding readers of his daddy’s ties to the Klan.

A fair share of liberal intellectuals and pundits set about explaining the roots of contemporary white supremacy by tracing the events in Charlottesville to the history of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. This is understandable. The “second Klan” enjoyed a high degree of legitimacy, and its xenophobic slogans—“America First” and “100% Americanism”—were echoed by the Trump administration. Besides, most of the recent scholarship on the Klan focuses on the 1920s, precisely because, in spite of its virulence, its values and ideology were not far from the American mainstream.

“The ‘second Klan’ xenophobic slogans—‘America First’ and ‘100% Americanism’—were echoed by the Trump administration.”

But why go back to the 1920s when the militant white supremacists of current generation are either products of, or influenced by, the “third Klan” of the 1970s and 1980s? Between 1974 and 1981, Klan membership grew from about 1,500 to more than 10,000In the course of a decade, a resurgent Klan formed paramilitary units, burned crosses, organized rallies in cities such as Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Meriden, Connecticut, and prepared to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border as an auxiliary to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Their leaders also attained enough legitimacy to enter mainstream politics and run for public office. In 1980, Tom Metzger, the “Grand Dragon” of the Ku Klux Klan, garnered enough votes to win the Democratic primary in Southern California’s 43rd Congressional district. Similarly, in 1989 David Duke, former Klansman and founder of the National Association for the Advancement of White People, was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives.

The spectacular rise of the Klan, the American Nazi Party, skinheads, and various white Christian nationalist militias opened the floodgates for a reign of terror by adherents and lone wolves targeting African Americans, Jews, and Mexican and Vietnamese immigrants. Homes, churches, synagogues, and schools across the country were firebombed. Between 1979 and 1980, two dozen Black people and two white women in interracial relationships were murdered in seven different cities. In Buffalo, New York, two Black taxi drivers were found dead with their hearts cut out, and two weeks later in that same city a white sniper took the lives of four African Americans. Meanwhile, between 1979 and 1981, twenty-eight children, adolescents, and adults were mysteriously murdered in Atlanta. Other murders were not so mysterious. In Mobile, Alabama, in 1981, members of the United Klans of America kidnapped, tortured, and hanged a Black teenager named Michael Donald.

“Between 1979 and 1980, two dozen Black people and two white women in interracial relationships were murdered in seven different cities.”

Why, in an effort to understand the Trump era, have the pundits, the press, even some of our finest historians ignored this crucial period of white racist violence? Why do most Americans believe that such virulent expressions of white supremacy died with Jim Crow, leaving in its wake more indirect or benign forms of racism—employment and housing discrimination, a biased criminal justice system, the dismantling of affirmative action, and the like?

One recent exception that has garnered significant attention is Spike Lee’s Oscar-nominated BlacKKKlansman, based on the true story of how a Black undercover cop, Ron Stallworth, infiltrated the Klan in Colorado Springs in 1978. But Lee’s film elides the fact that Stallworth also infiltrated the Klan’s chief opposition, the International Committee Against Racism, a mass organization formed by the Progressive Labor Party. By transforming an undercover cop into a Black freedom fighter and presenting the police as the first line of defense against white nationalists, BlacKKKlansman fundamentally distorts the history of the Klan, the police, and the period.

Neither the soft power of historical revision and erasure nor the hard power of lynch law could keep Black people down.

Fortunately for us, Hilary Moore and James Tracy have written a magnificent book that not only corrects the record but helps explain the mercurial rise of white supremacist organizations in the 1970s, how the Klan was (temporarily) defeated, and why this period has been largely ignored. No Fascist USA! is not a history of the Klan, per se, but rather a history of anti-racist, anti-fascist resistance in the United States, from the post-1968 insurgencies through the Reagan-era counterrevolution. We learn that opposition to the Klan was militant, uncompromising, and effective, mobilizing more white people to confront violent white supremacist organizations than at any other time in history. And, contrary to popular stereotypes, the Klan was no joke. Its members were not poor, frustrated, ignorant outcasts out of step with modernity but often men and women of standing who held positions of power and authority in state institutions—police forces, prisons, jails, and local government.

“Opposition to the Klan was militant, uncompromising, and effective.”

No Fascist USA! radically shifts our perspective, challenging the prevailing wisdom that racist terrorism rises in response to economic downturns, because of white downward mobility, or in a vacuum created by a lack of progressive alternatives. On the contrary, the Klan’s resurrection was a reaction to the radical insurgencies of the era: Black and Brown rebellions, struggles for gender equality and sexual freedom, the defeat of U.S. imperialism from Vietnam to Tehran—real movements for democracy and social transformation. The same can be said for the original Klan, formed in 1866 as a reaction to Emancipation and the struggle of formerly enslaved people to establish a real democracy in the South.

With the military defeat of the first Klan in 1871, the Southern Bourbon Democrats reverted to the reign of terror, though it took them another three decades to crush abolition democracy and install the Jim Crow regime. And even then, Black resistance to white supremacy persisted. Indeed, the resurrection of the Klan in 1915 and its growth in the 1920s ought to be seen as a reaction to a new wave of democratic insurgencies—notably Black, immigrant, pro-labor, and feminist.

Its initial inspiration derived from a national campaign to erase the history of Reconstruction. “Colonel” William Joseph Simmons revived the Ku Klux Klan after seeing D.W. Griffith’s 1915 masterwork of racist propaganda, The Birth of a Nation. The film was historical alchemy, turning terrorists into saviors, rapists into chivalrous protectors of white female virtue and racial purity, and courageous and visionary Black men and women into idle, irresponsible ignoramuses, rapists, jezebels, and sexually depraved mulattoes. By circulating old racial fabulations and new fictions in the service of New South capitalism and modern white supremacy, The Birth of a Nation attempted to obliterate all vestiges of the Black struggle for social democracy during Reconstruction. Respectable white supremacist groups such as the Ladies’ Memorial Associations and the United Daughters of the Confederacy waged their own soft power campaign of building Confederate monuments throughout the region and around the nation’s capital. One of the most elaborate statues, erected at Arlington cemetery in 1914, depicted an enslaved Black man marching into battle alongside his master, and a faithful “mammy” caring for her charge as the child’s uniformed father heads off to fight the dreaded Yankees.

“The resurrection of the Klan in 1915 and its growth in the 1920s ought to be seen as a reaction to a new wave of democratic insurgencies.”

In a particularly ironic twist, the myth of “mammy” was weaponized by the federal government to buttress the hard power of Jim Crow. In 1922, the U.S. Senate approved a monument dedicated to “Mammy” in Washington, D.C., just weeks before allowing a Southern filibuster to defeat an anti-lynching bill. Not surprisingly, Black leaders not only excoriated the Senate’s failure to pass the bill but thoroughly rejected commemorating a stereotype. The Chicago Defender, a Black newspaper, proposed an alternative monument to the “White Daddy” showing an adult Black woman (“mammy”) looking on helplessly as the white master assaults a small child—presumably his child with “mammy,” born of rape.

The truth is, neither the soft power of historical revision and erasure nor the hard power of lynch law could keep Black people down. Despite the Klan’s best efforts, Black people fled the old plantations for the industrial plantations of the urban North. They founded new organizations, exercised the franchise, continued the fight for democracy, and called themselves “New Negroes.” These New Negroes refused Griffith’s racial and national fabulations; fought back with pickets and boycotts, speeches and editorials, scholarship and art, and outright rebellion; called on their country to get out of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, and Mexico; and exposed the United States for what it was—the tyranny of white supremacy masquerading as enlightened democracy.

The new Klan hoped to make America great again by purging it of un-American (read: radical) influences—Negroes, immigrants (except for those of Anglo and Scandinavian stock), Catholics, and Jews. The Klan’s pursuit of severe immigration restriction was driven not only by xenophobia but by anti-communism. Immigrant workers from Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Asia populated the burgeoning socialist, anarchist, and communist organizations and were often outspoken opponents of the First World War. The Second Klan emerged against a backdrop of state and federal anti-sedition laws, the Mexican Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, and a wave of deportations of immigrants accused of subversive activities. In January 1920 alone, some four thousand people were rounded up all over the country, held in seclusion for long periods of time, tried in secret hearings, and deported.

So we should not be surprised that the Third Klan arose at the height of insurgent movements in the United States, when the FBI’s Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) and local police red squads surveilled and jailed key leaders just as prison organizing reached its apex. According to Moore and Tracy, the catalyst for the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee (JBAKC) came from Black activists within the prisons, who warned that the Klan was not only growing but occupied important positions within prison administration. The call to resist the Klan galvanized white radicals on the outside who engaged in prison solidarity work. In other words, the Committee was formed not by naïve do-good liberals but by folks associated with the organized Left. Many of their principal leaders came out of cadre organizations committed to the larger project of socialist revolution and self-determination for oppressed nationalities. They saw themselves as comrades, not allies, in a life-and-death struggle to stop fascism in its tracks.

“The call to resist the Klan galvanized white radicals on the outside who engaged in prison solidarity work.”

The perils of fighting the Klan were made abundantly clear on November 3, 1979, when the members of the Communist Workers Party (CWP) held an anti-Klan march at a predominantly African American housing project in Greensboro, North Carolina. As the demonstration was about the begin, a nine-car caravan pulled up carrying thirty-five armed members of the United Racist Front, an umbrella organization consisting of Klansmen and Nazis. In the space of eighty-eight seconds, they emptied more than twenty rounds of ammunition into the multiracial crowd, wounding a dozen people and killing five of the march leaders: Dr. James Waller, William Sampson, Sandra Smith, Cesar Cauce, and Dr. Michael Nathan. Three of the victims were white men, Cauce was originally a Cuban immigrant, Sandi Smith was an African American woman. All were veterans of the student anti-war and Black liberation movements, and all but Nathan were members of the Communist Workers Party. Despite the fact that a local news station captured the entire ambush on camera, two all-white juries acquitted the Klan-Nazi defendants of criminal charges in the Greensboro murders. In a civil trial in 1985, a third jury held two Greensboro police officers, the Klan–police informant, and four Klan-Nazi gunmen liable for wrongful death. The trials exposed not only the complicity of the local police but the fact that a federal agent of the Bureau Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Bernard Butkovich, who was working undercover in the American Nazi Party, encouraged members to come to the demonstration armed and never informed the police or FBI of their plans. As a consequence of the civil suit, the city of Greensboro paid a paltry $351,000 to Dr. Martha Nathan, widow of Dr. Michael Nathan.

How could this be? Why, as we prepare to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the Greensboro massacre, is this incident not part of our collective memory, our national trauma? For the same reasons that so little is known about the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee. In the political culture of the Cold War, Communists spouting “Death to the Klan” were the principal threat, not armed white supremacists. Indeed, Klan-Nazi defense in the second trial rested on the argument that they were fighting communists, and therefore their actions had no racist intent! Members of the Communist Workers Party, like their counterparts in the John Brown organization, would not play the victim or turn the other cheek. They believed in armed self-defense and famously refused to testify in the first trial out of principled opposition to a criminal justice system that targeted them.

“Two all-white juries acquitted the Klan-Nazi defendants of criminal charges in the Greensboro murders.”

The John Brown Anti-Klan Committee showed unfathomable courage. Their numbers were always small; unlike Antifa and other anti-fascist protesters today, they rarely outnumbered the racists. The Klan and local police could identify them by name, knew where they lived, knew what kind of cars they drove. Committee members endured potentially deadly attacks—cut brake lines, slashed tires, burglaries, rocks thrown, and even gunfire were not uncommon. Moreover, in exposing the depths of the Klan’s paramilitary operations and the level of violence that members of the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee were up against, No Fascist USA! overturns one of the most common narratives of the era: that the Black freedom movement’s presumed shift from nonviolence to violence led to its downfall. Instead, the 1970s and early 1980s were marked by the unabated escalation of violence perpetrated by white supremacists, often with tacit support or indifference from federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities. As No Fascist USA! demonstrates, the police and feds appeared to devote more energy and resources to surveilling and prosecuting anti-Klan activists than to corralling the Klan itself.

Members of the John Brown organization understood this all too well and, like their namesake, recognized that the resurgence of white terrorism was not a regional problem but a national one. Lest we forget, John Brown originally planned to initiate a war against slavery by dispatching guerrilla armies to raid plantations in Virginia and retreat to the hills, freeing slaves and causing havoc until the system was no longer profitable. He assumed that once an armed attack began, enslaved people would join the revolt. But by 1857–58, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Dred Scott convinced Brown to strike the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry instead. Why? Because the Dred Scott decision proved to Brown that while slaveholders were morally accountable for holding human beings in bondage, it was the federal government that sanctioned and sustained the institution of slavery. Slavery was a national crime, and the federal government was slavery’s prime source of authority and protection. We tend to remember one line from Chief Justice Roger Taney’s majority opinion: that Black people “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” But John Brown and his crew understood that what was at stake extended beyond Black citizenship. The ruling effectively rendered the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, opening the door to make slavery legal everywhere in the United States. The majority ruled that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories because it never had the power to govern territories, and that denying the right to own slaves violated the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which declared that no person can be deprived of “life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” John Brown now understood the task ahead as a struggle to remake the country. So in 1858, in preparation for the raid on Harpers Ferry, he drafted “A Declaration of Liberty by the Representatives of the Slave Population of the United States of America” and what he called a “Provisional Constitution and Ordinance for the People of the United States.” Its preamble called slavery “a most barbarous, unprovoked, and unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens upon another portion, the only conditions of which are perpetual imprisonment and hopeless servitude or absolute extermination,” and it declared the newly created body a provisional government committed to the destruction of slavery.

While the prevailing consensus has deemed John Brown’s raid a failure, the attempt, more than any other event, provoked Southern secession and launched the Civil War, which ultimately ended chattel slavery.


source:The Roots of Anti-Racist, Anti-Fascist Resistance in the US 

The Bullet-Dodging Black Lone Ranger History Almost Forgot

He wrangled thousands of criminals, and left a silver dollar as his calling card. Yet despite being one of the most impressive Wild West figures, Bass Reeves was all but forgotten.

Bass Reeves

“This is a black man in America’s legendary Western history who has been totally overlooked.” — Morgan Freeman

Contrary to what classic westerns might have us believe, one in four American cowboys was actually African-American. We don’t necessarily get that reality when the only image we have in our minds is John Wayne or The Lone Ranger.

But, in fact, the true inspiration behind The Lone Ranger (and possibly Django from Django Unchained) was real life US Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves, an African-American who fled the Civil War, befriended the Seminole and Creek Indians, and eventually became one of the greatest lawmen of the Wild West.

From Slave To Black Confederate Soldier

Plantation Slavery

Bass Reeves was born a slave in 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas. Reeves served Arkansas state legislator William S. Reeves, first as a water boy, then as a field hand. When William S. Reeves passed away, his son, George, made Bass Reeves his personal companion and servant. Then, when the Civil War broke out, Reeves went into battle with his master and fought for the Confederacy.

Bass Reeves Flees The War

Confederate Army Campsite

It was during the Civil War that Reeves made his great escape. Some say he left because of a dispute over a card game, wherein Reeves beat up his master and fled to avoid punishment. Others say he had heard that slaves were being freed and simply ran in pursuit of his own freedom.

Whatever the case, Reeves took refuge with the Creek and Seminole Indians in what is now Oklahoma. He learned their languages and customs, and sharpened his skills as an ambidextrous marksman.

Bass Reeves

When all slaves were freed in 1865, Reeves was no longer a fugitive. He then left Indian Territory to farm his own land near Van Buren, Arkansas. A year later he married Nellie Jennie of Texas, with whom he raised five girls and five boys. While a successful farmer, rancher, and father, Reeves occasionally worked as a scout and used his tracking skills to help lawmen find criminals — but his true second act had yet to begin…

From Slave To U.S. Deputy Marshal

Judge Isaac Parker

In 1875, Isaac C. Parker was appointed federal judge of Indian Territory. During the chaos of the Civil War, Indian Territory — where federal and state governments had had virtually no jurisdiction — became the hiding grounds for outlaws.

Parker hired U.S. Marshal James F. Fagan to lead 200 deputies in the pursuit of these outlaws. The stories of Reeves’ familiarity with the land and his own fugitive past got around to Fagan, and Reeves was soon hired on as a U.S. deputy marshal. Reeves, along with the other deputies, was ordered to bring the outlaws back to Parker — dead or alive.

Bass Reeves, The Indomitable Marshal

Shootout In The Wild West

Reeves took his job as a marshal very seriously. Six feet, two inches tall, the slender Reeves rode a large white stallion as he patrolled all 75,000 square miles of Indian Territory. The rough and tough lawman, with his intimidating black hat, two colt .45 Peacemakers strapped at his sides, slick suits, and polished shoes, brought over 3,000 felons to justice.

In the course of doing so, Reeves was involved in his fair share of shootouts. Despite being shot at on multiple occasions, he managed to dodge every bullet, earning him the moniker “The Indomitable Marshal.”

Bass Reeves Sharp Dresser

Dodging bullets was by no means his only skill. Reeves used the fact that he’d never learned how to read or write to his advantage in an inventive and effective way: Before pursuit, he would have someone read him the warrants so he could memorize which was which. Often, he would distract outlaws with this gimmick, asking them to read a piece of the warrant or some other letter for him. In the few moments of their confusion, Reeves would draw his gun.

By all accounts, Reeves was also a master of disguise. He would appear to felons as a cowboy, farmer, or even an outlaw. And when he wasn’t in disguise, he was easily recognized by the silver dollars he left as his calling card.

A Man Of Integrity

Belle Star Horse Thief

However, despite disguises and calling cards, Reeves treated his position with great respect. Even in the face of morally conflicting circumstances, Reeves held the law above all.

In 1902, Bass Reeves’ son, Benny, was charged with the murder of his wife. Reeves, though reluctant to take on the difficult task, took the job when no other deputy dared to. Though shaken by the thought of it, Reeves soon arrested his own son. Benny Reeves served 22 years at Leavenworth prison.

Video Player

Finally, in 1907, law enforcement was put in the hands of state agencies and Reeves, now nearly 70, joined the Muskogee Oklahoma Police Department as a patrolman. However, shortly after, on January 12, 1910, Bass Reeves passed away due to Bright’s disease.

The Lone Ranger Lost To History

Lone Ranger Tonto Silver Stallion

Although Reeves’ accomplishments as a lawman greatly overshadow those of many of his more famous white contemporaries, the legend of Bass Reeves was, for the most part, lost to history.

The Lone Ranger, the iconic character virtually synonymous with the myth of the American west, was played by a white man, even though his character and story were very similar to those of Reeves.

Even now, as movie award show after award show has come under fire for relegating African-Americans, the still whitewashed portrayal of the American west is yet another indicator of the institutional racism at work in both Hollywood and the country as a whole.

How 2,000 Blacks were used as barriers at gunpoint during The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927

Flood, 1927 Mississippi River via

When Hurricane Katrina pounded the southeast of New Orleans on August 29, 2005, the resultant flooding affected Greater New Orleans and claimed some 1,464 lives leaving damage worth $70 billion.The haunting images of Black babies, mothers and males stuck on roof tops and the support services’ poor handling of the coordination and relief effort where Black people were left to drown, starve or die of dehydration or from lack of medical care exposed the U.S. capitalist government’s disregard for Negroid life and the needs of its people.

Tens of thousands of people, mostly Black, lost the little they had. The National Guard when it came was rather keen to criminalize the victims and not to provide relief. At all levels, the government covered up the death toll and other evidence of its culpability.

It’s little wonder then that White New Orleans has recovered from Hurricane Katrina, 14 years on thanks to funding and white privilege.

But if Katrina was a bad dream, there’s a 1927 nightmare many folks are ignorant of also involving a deluge and the U.S. government’s callousness when it comes to African-American people.

Flood, 1927 Mississippi River
via Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad Station, Egremont, Sharkey County, April 2, 1927 (Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Archives and Records Services Division

The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, a series of floods lasting several months – deluged 27,000 square miles in seven states. After months of torrential rain, levees burst from Illinois to Louisiana. An unknown number died—certainly in the thousands. Many were buried beneath tons of river mud or washed out into the Gulf of Mexico. Hundreds of thousands lost their homes; more than 325,000 people, most of them Blacks, lived in Red Cross camps for as long as four months.

Despite chattel slavery being outlawed, Black freedmen were still politically disenfranchised, and a social order based on debt servitude – sharecropping – was established.

John M. Barry’s “Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America” gives better insight into The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and how Black life was foully disregarded.

“Control of the wild waters of the Mississippi is key to the Gulf ports of Louisiana and to commercial river traffic. The river and its tributaries reach into more than 40 percent of the continental United States.”

As Barry documents in his book, the interests of the banks and planters determined “flood control” policies along the Mississippi. Barry also describes engineering decisions that led to the levee system, which only worsened the inevitable natural catastrophe.

Riverfront at Cape Girardeau, Mo., April 20, 1927, during the Mississippi River flood.
Riverfront at Cape Girardeau, Mo., April 20, 1927, during the Mississippi River flood.NOAA

“The black people who built the hundreds of miles of levees were at first slaves, then mainly sharecroppers and convicts. The levee work camps were isolated, barbaric places where the pay was even less than for picking cotton and where white foremen could literally get away with murder. During a flood in 1912, a Mississippi engineer who ran out of sandbags ordered several hundred black convicts to lie down on top of a levee while the water splashed over them. The local press suppressed the story, but the New York Times reported this horror as “brilliant.””

So we become aware that those who built the levees were poorly remunerated and the materials to be used were also in short supply such that Black lives have to be endangered to serve as a barrier.

Barry continues: “In 1927 as the rivers spilled over, black work gangs were rounded up to toil in dangerous and ultimately pointless attempts to stay the water. In Mounds Landing, Mississippi, north of the main Delta town of Greenville, over 2,000 black men were forced at gunpoint to fill and throw sandbags onto the levee. On April 21, the levee was breached, releasing water with a force greater than Niagara Falls. Many in the work gangs who were reinforcing the levee were swept into the torrent. The official account, by a National Guard officer at the site, stated, “No lives were lost among the Guardsmen.”

“The deluge swept away everything in its path. To prevent his tenants from fleeing the desolation, one planter locked them in barns and cotton gin houses. Black people who found shelter in public buildings were driven back into the waters at gunpoint. Thousands of flood victims fled to or were forcibly driven to the narrow crowns of the levees, bringing with them nothing but their debts to the planters. The Percy family, the main planters in Greenville, prevented blacks from boarding barges brought to evacuate the homeless masses for fear of losing their cheap labor force. In the Greenville area alone, 5,000 black people were forced to take shelter in warehouses, stores and similar facilities, while up to 13,000 more lived on an eight-mile-long levee,” Barry records.

Mississippi River flood of 1927: Mounds Landing, Mississippi
Mississippi River flood of 1927: Mounds Landing, MississippiBeginning of the Mounds Landing, Mississippi, levee breach during the Mississippi River flood of 1927. NOAA

In New Orleans, with its crucial banks and port facilities, newspapers refused to print flood warnings. In the end some 10,000 impoverished people—mainly trappers, fishermen and bootleggers—were displaced, and few ever got more than a few dollars of compensation.

To make matters worse, “the federal government didn’t contribute a dime of direct aid to the thousands of flood victims, despite a record budget surplus. The Red Cross established racially segregated camps in the flood zones. Black families lived in floorless tents in the mud without cots, chairs or utensils, eating inferior rationed food. Sometimes forced to work on the levees without pay, black men had to wear tags identifying that they were laborers in order to receive rations, and to show which plantation they “belonged to.” Women with no working husband did not get supplies unless they had a letter from a white man.

“Policing the camps, the National Guard supervised the workers, whipping and beating the men. At least one black woman was gang-raped and killed by Guardsmen. Typhoid, measles, mumps, malaria and venereal diseases ran rampant among destitute tenant farmers and mill workers already weakened from illnesses endemic to poverty, such as tuberculosis and pellagra. The Chicago Defender (4 June 1927) even reported that “those who die are cut open, filled with sand then tossed into the Mississippi River.” Such horrors were stark proof that the poisonous legacy of chattel slavery still infected the land some 60 years after the Civil War.”

Myles McMurchy of Dartmouth College in 2016 using newspaper reports noted that The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 destroyed nearly 100,000 homes and displaced close to 637,000 people in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

While the Act of God namely the flood claimed African-American lives and led to one of the largest fund raising drives in American history, the kicker is what the Calvin Coolidge regime and the Red Cross did against people from that stock.

“The Red Cross, along with Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, deliberately concealed the abuses that black refugees suffered in Red Cross camps in order to obtain donations for the rebuilding effort. Leading black activists sought to expose the abuses but the media campaign led by Hoover and the Red Cross characterized the rebuilding effort as one of racial harmony and triumphant success. Hoover will then use his mobilization effort to earn the presidency a year later.”

The 1927 Mississippi River Flood became not only one of America’s greatest natural disasters, but also one of its greatest cover-ups.

Image result for The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927
Mississippi Flood 1927 Negro refugees From Murphy Mississippi On Their Way To Vicksburg Aboard The Gas Boat Otter At The Time Of The Great Mississippi River Flood 27 April 1927 via

Most hit was Greenville, Mississippi, in which 90 percent of refugees were black. Greenville’s relief camp spawned both the worst of the Red Cross’ abuses and the greatest of Hoover’s media tactics. Even while black flood refugees in Greenville wrote clandestine letters to the Defender detailing the Red Cross’ malpractice, Hoover and the Red Cross told a different story.

In the end, Hoover’s media campaign preserved his humanitarian legacy by hiding Red Cross racism from the nation at large. Despite the Chicago Defender’s relentless efforts to bring attention to the Red Cross abuses, the paper ultimately did little to tarnish Hoover’s reputation.

However, the Great Flood was a turning point in race relations as by revealing that in 1927 slavery remained a threat in Greenville, black residents left the South for northern cities such as Chicago. Northern Blacks also partnered their southern brethren in mass protest resulting in the 1931 Scottsboro Boys trial.



The U.S. (united snakes) Civil War was the ‘unfinished revolution’

The slightly edited two chapters below are from a 1974 essay written by a Workers World Party founding member, Vincent Copeland, who reintroduced the pamphlet, “A Voice from Harper’s Ferry,” by Osborne P. Anderson, a former enslaved Black man, who wrote a firsthand account in 1861 about the raid on Harper’s Ferry, led by John Brown in 1859.  Anderson was one of the few survivors of the raid. Go to to download or to order the 2000 edition of the book.  

Book Cover: A Voice From Harpers Ferry

Much has been written about the Harper’s Ferry raid. But Osborne P. Anderson’s story — in the words of W.E.B. Du Bois, “the most interesting and reliable account of the raid” — has a special significance that has been too long neglected.

First, Anderson was one of the actual participants, and being Black, he might be expected to have a somewhat different view of the affair than even the most inspired white supporters of John Brown.

Second, he apparently wrote the pamphlet with the hope of encouraging a general slave insurrection.

And third, he obviously expected other whites to imitate the action of John Brown and help supply the arms for the insurrection, as well as take up arms themselves.

He was interested, like most other Black and white abolitionists of that very revolutionary period, in continuing the revolution that John Brown’s band had begun. But he seems to have based his optimism upon the possibilities of a slave insurrection, rather more than upon white support, which he must have thought of as an important auxiliary force rather than as the main body of struggle.

He took pains to emphasize the number of slaves who accepted guns the moment guns were offered to them. He pointed out what few subsequent narrators of the event have: namely that of the seventeen revolutionaries who died at Harper’s Ferry (before the legal lynching of Brown and the others after the trial), nine were Black. Eight whites and two Blacks of the original band were killed in the conflict in addition to the hastily armed seven Black slaves. Two other Blacks were executed with Brown.

History has finally given Brown tremendous credit for what was indeed a tremendous feat. But Brown had been planning it for decades and the others in the band had been thinking for months and for years about how to strike this dramatic blow.

What about the seven nameless Black people who died for Black freedom with no prior notice whatever? They, too, no doubt, had thought for years about freedom — their own freedom. They had lacked all possibility, all weapons, all communication for struggle. But confronted with an opportunity given them by strangers, most of whom were of the same race as the hated master class, they gave their lives in a moment and apparently without a qualm.

History, even revolutionary history, treats them as fillers of blank spaces. Did they simply take the guns and shoot and get shot like so many extras in the movies?

Anderson did not think so. Although he does not expand upon the facts when he refers to the number of “colored” men killed, his emphasis upon the number is obviously not due just to his racial pride.

It must always be borne in mind that he was speaking to a generation to which this incident would conjure up an extremely earthshaking perspective. And even the slightest emphasis would go a long way.

A different Civil War

The Civil War may have begun by the time his story was published, but it is clear from the text that it had not begun when he wrote it. It is also clear that he was not thinking of that kind of civil war; he had a different concept of how the war would be fought, who would fight it, and who would lead it.

The war that Anderson had in mind would have required not just a few Black and white guerrillas, no matter how brave and ready to die, but an all-out participation of the slave population, along with fairly massive support from the North. He must have felt — and with good reason — that this would paralyze the U.S. government (which was already divided between “free soil‘‘ and pro-slavery forces) so that especially with Lincoln now president, it would not be able to intervene powerfully on the side of the South, as it had done in the case of Brown’s raid.

What actually happened was that the South seceded before such a war could get started and in effect, started its own counterrevolutionary war. When the fighting erupted, it was counterrevolutionary war.

When the fighting erupted, it seemed at first to have very little to do with slavery. The official battle cry in the North was not “Liberate the Slaves,” but “Preserve the Union.”

Right up until Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, it must have appeared to Anderson (and many thousands of other passionate Black and white abolitionists in the North) that the Northern capitalist government would never fight. Even after Lincoln’s election and even after several states had seceded, it must have appeared that the U.S. government would never wage ruthless war against the slave owners of the South.

The formal Confederacy was already established before Lincoln was inaugurated. And Lincoln waited more than a month before he acted. And even then he acted only under the prod of South Carolina’s provocative attack on Sumter. It was, of course, a war against slavery when it did come, regardless of the will of most of its official leaders.

In spite of its defects, it was a revolution against the slavocracy that had ruled the whole country. It was a revolution that destroyed forever the power of the slave owners as a class and chattel slavery as a system. But it was a revolution most unsatisfactory to the slaves themselves. The ending of slavery as an institution, as is well known, did not lead to any real amelioration of the actual conditions of life, particularly the economic conditions, for the vast majority of Black people at that time.

What would the conclusion have been if the war had been fought as a revolution from start to finish?

First, the slaves would have been freed simply by striking off their own shackles. Second, they would have enforced their freedom by expropriating the plantations of the masters and dividing up the land. The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, if they took that form, would merely have been legal afterthoughts.

The former slaveholders could never have made a comeback of the proportions they actually did, and the whole system of racial inequality that prevails today would have no material basis at all.

We are apt to think of the United States as being the capitalist country, as completely money-oriented, nonfeudal, dynamic, etc. But in the more historical sense, it is not so purely capitalist after all.

Probably no bourgeois revolution in history was a completely “finished” one that definitively settled all questions of bourgeois democracy and made social and political conditions thoroughly consistent with bourgeois revolutionary ideas.

But the Southern United States, and in fact the whole United States, in spite of some small and temporary advances during Reconstruction, is to this day a classical example of the most unfinished of all bourgeois revolutions. And one of the fundamental reasons for this is that there was no general, thoroughgoing slave insurrection, no division of the land.


How 20,000 Blacks died through starvation and overwork in the ‘Devil’s Punchbowl’ labour camp in Mississippi


In America’s chequered history, the South is regarded as the more villainous; on account of their treatment of enslaved blacks and great lengths it went to recapture slaves, who attempted running away to freedom.

But the North proved that on its own account, it was as vile thanks to the fate that befell supposed free Blacks in Natchez, Mississippi in the 1860s.

America, supposed land of the free and great opportunities, had its own concentration camp which some estimate claimed 20,000 Black lives

With Black males being convinced to fight on the North’s behalf against the South with a promise to gain freedom, there was hope that life will get better after the civil war (1861 to 1865) but any such hope soon floundered.

After the Civil War, Natchez Mississippi experienced an enormous influx of former slaves as new inhabitants trooped in but the unenthused locals constructed an ‘encampment’ forcing all former slaves to live there. The area was then walled off with the former enslaved refused the option to leave.

Former Director of the Natchez City Cemetery Don Estes revealed in a news report: “So they decided to build an encampment for ’em at Devil’s Punchbowl which they walled off and wouldn’t let ’em out.”

Estes further added: “Disease broke out among ’em, smallpox being the main one. And thousands and thousands died. They were begging to get out. ‘Turn me loose and I’ll go home back to the plantation! Anywhere but there’.”

Devil’s Punchbowl via

It will take some time for the atrocities meted out to these Blacks to be revealed. Regarding how the camp came by its curious name – ‘Devil’s Punchbowl’ – it was due to how the area is shaped with the camp located at the bottom of a cavernous pit with trees located on the bluffs above.

While a propaganda of the North was that the South’s attempt to secede will break up the union and make the U.S vulnerable, another was that the South’s long slave trading of Blacks was inhumane and had to be stopped. It was on the back of abolishing the war and freeing up the enslaved which gingered many Blacks to fight alongside Union soldiers against the Confederates soldiers of the south but soon after victory, the Union troops showed they didn’t care about the well being of blacks rather to contain the economic advantage of the South made possible by the hard work of enslaved blacks.

Union soldiers unhappy with arce swell in the population of Natchez from 10,000 to 120,000 by freed Blacks recaptured free males and forced them into the labour camps while the women and children were locked behind the concrete walls of the encampment and starved. Within a year, 20,000 freed slaves were killed in the concentration camp.

But what caused such rapid deaths?

The Union Army forbade the removal of dead bodies, instructing them to “bury their dead where they fell.”

Availability of Food and water is key for human survival but at the encampment alias ‘Devils Punchbowl’ lacked fresh food and water and soon enough disease and starvation will combine to claim loved ones rapidly and in astounding numbers.

For southern plantation workers who endured brutal conditions to be so overwhelmed with their Natchez experience to plead with their white guards to let them return to the plantations, underlined the atrocious living conditions.

Aside thousands of men, women, and children perishing because of exhaustion and starvation, there were also disease outbreaks chiefly smallpox.

Watch as “Harriet Tubman Leads an Army of Bad Bitches” in ‘Drunk History’ Episode Starring Octavia Spencer

Harriet Tubman Leads an Army of Bad Bitches” in ‘Drunk History’For the uninitiated… in short, “Drunk History” is a Comedy Central TV series based on an award-winning Funny or Die web series created by Derek Waters and Jeremy Konner, that re-enacts famous events in history as told by inebriated storytellers; hence the title.

It airs on Tuesday nights, on Comedy Central, at 10:30pm.

In the episode that aired last week, which focused on spies, viewers learned all about how Harriet Tubman became a spy for the Union during the Civil War, eventually leading raids on slave owners’ plantations in South Carolina.

Crissle West (our “inebriated storyteller”) narrates Tubman’s tale, as we watch Octavia Spencer play Harriet Tubman, in a piece titled “Harriet Tubman Leads an Army of Bad Bitches.”

By the way, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Viola Davis is developing a Harriet Tubman biopic for HBO which she will star in. But while you wait for that to happen, watch this in the meantime and hopefully be edutained: