Friday, February 8, 2008

Slavery, Civil War and Reconstruction

Can acceptance of cultural inferiority be overcome? Compare the examples that Zinn cites with other examples of justification for racist attitudes and behavior that you have encountered.
How can the reality of slavery (as it was to a human being who lived inside it) ever really be described? Are the conditions of slavery as important as the existence of slavery?

26 comments:

ian said...

Zinn's textbook is based more on the perspective of common people and those who experienced the events rather than those who sat by and watched them or heard of them. As he states, it's almost impossible to describe how awful slavery truly was but capturing it from the slave's perspective is the closest way to truly understand how badly neglected slaves were and what a dehumanizing thing it truly is. To understand slavery's conditions is to understand why it should be abolished. As for justifying cultural inferiority and racism, it just can't be done. It seemed to be supported back then because of slavery's massive impact on the economy. How though do you racism can be justified or stopped? Will it end up being that there's basically no point but to accept and ignore it?

Zinn quote-"But can statistics record what it meant for families to be torn apart, when a master, for profit, sold a husband or a wife, a son or a daughter?"

Ali said...

I agree with Ian that the true horrors of slavery will only truly be known by those who experienced it. For example, "Economists or cliometricians (statistical historians) have tried to assess slavery by estimating how much money was spent on slaves for food and medical care. But can this described the reality of slavery as it was to a human being who lived inside it?" (Zinn Chapter 9). People have tried to evaluate the intensity of the slave experience by numerical or quantitative means, which doesn't even measure up to the full impact of the psychological effects on the human beings who were slaves. No matter what the numbers are involving number of slaves bought or number of slaves whipped, there is no tool that can act as a yardstick to measure the internal effects of slavery on the slaves themselves.

In perspective, the conditions of slavery are not as important as the existence of slavery. If slavery exists, it is abhorrent and destructive of every respect of the slaves. The conditions are just nuances of the existence of slavery. The slave owners could be extremely nice or extremely mean - therefore the conditions in which the slave is living being different - and it would not measure up to the fact that a human being is property of another. It's not only physical conditions that are not as important as the existence of slavery (such as place), but the mental conditions of the slave as well. If slavery exists, then the mental conditions of the slaves will be impacted greatly. How would you feel if you were suddenly told you were not equal to another and in servitude to them for no pay? In addition, families were torn apart and caused emotional distress, therefore effecting the mental conditions of the slaves. The existence of slavery is the trunk of the tree in which the branches of the conditions of slavery branch off.

To overcome the acceptance of cultural inferiority, the cycle of everyone in that same mindset needs to be broken. The clearest way to break the cycle is from an outside source; it's hard to change unless there is an outside force and perspective. For example, the South was stuck in the cycle of supporting racial inferiority and the North had to intervene and fight with the South in order to overcome the institution of slavery and cultural inferiority, but not the mindset. The more difficult task that Martin Luther King Jr. had many years later was to break the cycle of the mindset of cultural inferiority. He used nonviolent means versus force of the Civil War to try to win over the racism issues that people held personally in the North and South. In the case of the Civil War, the force of the soldiers once withdrawn back to the North left the South to stay racist and in effect, re-institute not slavery, but repression of the blacks. To overcome this cultural inferiority, more effective nonviolent actions were taken many years later.

Chris said...

The south had to face the fact the their culture will be considered inferior to the culture of the north. I think that the purpose of the war can be summed up by Zinn's comment in the Reconstruction Portion of the Slave chapter. Zinn quotes, "The American government had set out to fight the slave states in 1861, not to end slavery, but to retain the enormous national territory and market and resources. Yet, victory required a crusade, and the momentum of that crusade brought new forces into national politics.." This shows just how meaningless that the black people were to the northerners and the southerners. Although people seem to believe that the war was fought about slavery, it was more about land and power to the northerners. I think that the fact that Lincoln said that he didn't consider African Americans his equal shows this. he freed the slaves, but, he was more interested in power and the expansion of the Northern culture.

matt said...

I agree with some of what chris said such as the comments on how Lincoln did not view African Americans as his equals and how the Civil War was more about land and power for the Northerners as well as a somewhat attempt to keep the States together. However, I do not agree with chris when he says that the African American people were useless to the northerners and southerners. If the slaves and freed African Americans were so useless to both sides, why did the South actually have them in the first place? Zinn quotes "Greeley appealed to the practical need of winning the war. 'We must have scouts, guides, spies, cooks, teamsters, diggers and choppers from the blacks of the South, whether we allow them to fight for us or not.... I entreat you to render a hearty and unequivocal obedience to the law of the land.'" Greeley was a senator from New York who thought that the African AMericans would be helpful in the fight against the south. Greeley is telling Lincoln that the blacks that were either freed to the north or escaped slaves must be used in someway to fight the war. He believes that if the Northern Army uses these African Americans even as diggers, choppers, or guides that they will be helpful. The more African American people the North uses the more soldiers from the North will be able to fight, since the other jobs will be taken care of by the North. The slaves of the South were also helpful because they were used to manufacture the goods needed in the war. without the African Americans in the Civil War, both sides would have had more trouble winning. As you can see, the slaves turned out to be very helpful.
I also somewhat disagree with the statement that Lincoln was more concerned with power and expansion of the Northern culture. As Zinn quotes Lincoln in his response to the letter from horace Greeley, "Dear Sir: ... I have not meant to leave any one in doubt. .. . My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy Slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about Slavery and the colored race, I do because it helps to save this Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. . .. I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty, and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men, everywhere, could be free. Yours. A. Lincoln." Lincoln is explaining to Greeley that he is more interested in keeping the union in tact. he states that if the abolishment of slavery keeps the union together than so be it, he will go down that road, but if he can keep the Union together without doing anything about the issue of slavery, and allow the south to keep their slaves than he will do that as well. he states that no matter what, the union must stay together based on the decision he has to make about slavery.

Laura said...

I agree with Ali's earlier post, that the intensity of slavery could never be measured or described. People can never understand the brutality and pain the blacks endured during slavery. Not just the physical abuse, but the mental abuse as well. Zinn includes a slave's poem by Lawerence Levine which says, "We back de bread, Dey gib us de crust...An say dat's good enough for nigger." The mental state of the slaves can never be explained or put into words. People are only given a glimpse into the constant pain and ridicule they endured. The verbal abuse was bad enough, but the blacks were manipulated as well. Zinn quotes a book which many farmers used called Cotton Plantation Record and Account Book which said, “You will find that an hour devoted every Sabbath morning to their moral and religious instruction would prove a great aid to you in the brining about a better state of things amongst the Negroes.” Religion which should be a freedom for many people was not controlled and manipulated by the plantation owners for the slaves. How can we, people in today’s society, possibly relate to this sort of manipulation and control by the authorities, when we are so liberated and free?
I would also like to build off of what Matt just said about how the Slaves were actually extremely useful to the northern and southerners. Southerners were benefiting from the slaves because the South got all of the manual labor jobs done and did not have to spend any money. Zinn says, “With billions of dollars’ worth of slaves gone, the wealth of the old South was wiped out.” The south was making an extremely large profit on the workings of the slaves. On top of this, the North could then buy things from the South at a much lower price. The slaves were not only useful to the North and the South, but they saved each side loads of money.

Dan said...

I agree with what Ali said about quantification of Slavery. Saying that a certain percent of slaves were in horrible conditions and the rest were only in awful conditions is impossible, and irrelevant. The problem was that a human being was being owned by another human being, and their rights were being stripped of them.

How is it that a human being can justify himself in owning another human being? I think it's important to try and understand where racist attitudes come from.

Like Chris said, Lincoln didn't consider slaves his equal.
Zinn talks about how blacks even had to "struggle constantly with the unconscious racism of white abolitionists"

There was a feeling that whites were just better people than blacks, and this made it impossible for any progress.

This also brings it back to the argument of whether or not the slaves were the ones that needed to rebel or not. While they were the ones being oppressed, it was also near-impossible for them to stand up for themselves without being killed. Zinn quotes a plantation owner:
"some negroes are determined never to let a white man whip them and will resist you, when you attempt it; of course you must kill them in that case."

Can slaves be responsible at all for how long slavery went on?

Cameron said...

I agree with Dan, but I think there are some points that everyone has been ignoring. From a modern perspective, it's easy to say "slavery is bad" and "how dare they do that?" But back then, it was the belief that these people were not people at all. They were simply creatures, beasts of burden. Imagine that half the country believed that dogs were people, and that the ownership of dogs should be abolished. Is that person crazy? Hard to say, but that is a pretty good representation of the situation at the time. Generation after generation was told this, and I bet it was hard for people to change their opinion after so many years of this belief. Like Dan said, with this belief it's almost impossible to get any sort of work done. Zinn's main goal, in my opinion at least, is to try and point the blame at a different person, but I think it's incredible that there were such things as abolitionists, and I applaud the efforts of people like good 'ol Abe, who did something completeley against the grain for half of the nation. Sure, he still didn't think of Blacks as equals, but given the beliefs of that time period, who can blame him? It's also interesting to note that everyone has said that you can't quantify how bad slavery was unless you were their, and similarly it's hard to state how bigoted and completeley wrong the South was in its beliefs without being in that similar situation. Let's try and follow our own advice here.

Natasha Gabbay said...

I completely agree with the points Chris made. Slavery may be the general cause of the war, but when looking deeper it is clear that the abolition of slavery was used as an excuse for the North to grow and prosper.
The issue of slaves may have sparked the war when southern states felt their states' rights were being violated, but Lincoln clearly makes the point that slavery would only end when "required by the political and economic needs of the business elite of the North" (Zinn Chapter 9).
If the southern states had never proposed succession, there is a good chance that Lincoln who, "not now, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races" in one speech and wanted to "discard all these things, and unite as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal," in another speech, would have never truly been inspired to take a firm position on slavery.
The matter of the Civil war solely came down to the fact the south wanted to leave the union and the North wasn't willing to lose the valuable and cheap resources of the south. This can be seen at the end of the Civil War when the North didn't even bother to drastically change the culture of the South. There was no "radical reconstruction, but a safe one- in fact, a profitable one" (Zinn Chapter 9). The North barely focused on the change of society in the south, but was able to put an even firmer grip on the South's business giving them even better deals on resources.
My question is, did the south have a legitimate reason to feel that their states' rights were being violated? Did their fear bring on a war that wouldn't have occurred otherwise? Essentially did the South bring the abolition of slavery upon themselves by threatening the economy of the North?

Jordan said...

I absolutely agree with all the points that Chris made. I think that many people just assume that the civil war was completely about the fight of whether or not slavery should be abolished. In addition I think that many people believe that Lincoln was completely for ending slavery. However, Lincoln never actually intended on ending slavery. He was just trying to bring the south that had seceeded back onto the union. The end of slavery might have come along the way but he didn't really care about whether or not it ended; and he certainly didn't ever intend on viewing blacks as equals. Lincoln says and I quote, " I will say, then, that I am not, nor have I ever been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races(applause)...there must be the position of superior and inferior, and just as much as any other man an in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race"(Zinn Chapter 9). Reading this I was almost shocked because I had always thought that Lincoln was the "good guy" who was always against slavery and wanting to help the blacks. This was far from the truth. Lincoln's only true goal was to bring the South back into the union in order to gain power and Land. It really proves how much both the northerners and southerners viewed blacks as meaningless pieces of property. They didn't even view them as human, just as an objet that they had the right to take anywhere like a car.

Jenny said...

What Jordan says is completely true, but thinking of strategy in war, was it wrong? Slavery can not be measured, as Ali stated earlier, there is absolutely no way of explaining the pain and suffering a race of people had to endure. The fact of the matter was that the nation had begun to split with the naming of slave states and free states. The leaders of our nation tried to work with the feelings of the state and federal government, but really arent they not politicians? As quoted from Chapter 9, "Lincoln refused to denounce the Fugitive Slave Law publicly. He wrote to a friend: 'I confess T hate to see the poor creatures hunted down . .. but I bite my lips and keep quiet.' " Lincoln could not even refer to them as human beings, rather he choose the word "creatures" to describe the pons in his political game. the north had a growing number of abolitionists, eager to spread their feelings and beliefs, doesnt this sound perfect for a political leader to latch on to for support? Another quote from Chapter 9 explains "He would keep the abolition of slavery not at the top of his list of priorities, but close enough to the top so it could be pushed there temporarily by abolitionist pressures and by practical political advantage." It was political advantage. Completely inhumane and wrong, but Lincoln found a foot hole in the north which appealed to an industrial nation. There was no consideration of feelings, the feelings of freeing a race from the chains of the south, but really as he said, political advantage.

Melanie said...

Just like Jenny, I agree that Lincoln did not have an feelings of freeing the African American race, but rather it seemed to him to just be a political advantage. In Chapter 9, Zinn states that Lincoln "would keep the abolition of slavery not at the top of his list of priorities, but close enough to the top so it could be pushed there temporarily by abolitionist pressures and by practical political advantage" This quote shows Lincoln's lack of "actual feelings" for the African American race, and his need and desire "political[ly] advance. After reading Chapter 9 and discussing the Civil War and Reconstruction in class, I am still amazed with Lincoln. I believe that he was able to offer support to both sides in America - the North and the South. In Chapter 9, Zinn states that "Lincoln could skillfully blend the interests of the very rich and the interests of the black at a moment in history when these interests met." For instance, when Lincoln proposed a resolution to abolish slavery in 1849, "he accompanied this with a section requiring local authorities to arrest and return fugitive slaves coming into Washington." By doing this, he was able to meet the demands of both the North and the South. Do you think it was this quality of Lincoln that elected him into office as president in 1860? What other qualities and events helped him win the election?

Jenny said...

I'm pretty sure this relates, but not a hundred percent sure. But, it was extremely interesting so i thought i would share. I came home and my dad was watching the history channel. There was a special entitled "Sherman's March". I had talked to me dad earlier in the week about how we were studying reconstruction and the civil war in US so he told me to come watch. What i learned was deeply upsetting and yet another piece of evidence as to how ruthless BOTH sides were and how racism was in prominent even in the leaders of the union. After watching i went online to go research more and this is what i found...

As they moved on toward Savannah, the outlandish behavior continued, but an unexpected complication turned into a problem for Sherman. Wherever the troops marched, they liberated the Africans who had been enslaved on the plantations in their path. Without money or education, these freedmen didn't know what to do. Many of them decided to follow along with their "redeemers" as they headed for the sea. Thousands of ex-slaves joined the march, and although he offered labor jobs to some of them, Sherman pleaded with most of them "to remain where they were and not load us down with useless mouths, which would eat up the food needed for our fighting men." Still, with nowhere else to turn, they marched on, infuriating some of Sherman's generals with their slow pace. Their presence turned into a tragedy when a battalion of men led by Union general Jeff Davis (not the confederate president, just a mean guy with the same name) reached Ebenezer Creek. In order to cross the icy, swollen river, Davis' men constructed pontoon bridges from bank to bank. Then came the horrifying part. After all of his soldiers had safely crossed, Davis ordered the ropes to be cut and the bridge to be removed, leaving around 5,000 women, children and elderly men stranded on the other side. With the confederate army close behind these desperate people, Davis' men watched as the former slaves "rushed by hundreds into the turbid stream and many were drowned before our eyes." The others who remained on land where either shot or slashed to death by the Confederate troops, or returned to slavery beneath their masters' whips. Unbelievable! Although Sherman knew nothing of the incident at the time, he later defended Davis' actions as a "military necessity," and Davis was never reprimanded or brought to trial for this crime.

They left them there to die, stringing them along and allowing them to follow them to safety then at the last moment, leaving them. This proves that the existence of slavery and racist feelings can not be overcome

Shannon Walsh said...

In responding in general to everything everyone has said about Lincoln and slavery, I think there are a few more things (that some people touched upon) that we need to take into consideration. First of all, we need to take into consideration that the election was very important, especially for Lincoln. Put yourself in his shoes, I, personally, would be willing to do anything to win the election if it were that important to me, even if that meant being hypocritical. If I wanted to win, I would tell people what they wanted to hear, and that is what Lincoln did, even though he was contradicting himself. I know this quote was said before, but it is a perfect example of Lincoln in a nutshell: "Lincoln would skillfully blend the interests of the very rich and the interests of the black at a moment in history when these interests met. And he could link these two with a growing section of Americans, the white, up and coming, economically ambitious, politically active middle class." He was an expert at being sly and telling people what they wanted to hear, and so he used his expertise to the best of his ability.
Melanie asked, "do you think it was this quality (please read her entry to know what quality I'm talking about) that elected him into office."
I, personally, believe that this quality was only one aspect of Lincoln that caused him to be favored among the crowd. Not only did people hear what they wanted to hear, but they believed that he would do what he needed to for the people. Sure, Lincoln wasn't exactly the biggest anti-slavery politician out there, but he still passed Emancipation Proclomation. He did what he had to, and that comforted the public. You guys can add on to that because I'm sure everyone feels differently about this subject.

Laura said...

I would like to respond to Melanie’s question she posed, “Do you think it was this quality of Lincoln that elected him into office as president in 1860?”(meaning his talent of pleasing his audience, and so forth – read her post) I definitely feel that Lincoln’s ability to not only please his audience, but to make them believe he was all about their ideas totally won him the presidency. Zinn discusses Lincoln when he says, “He would keep the abolition of slavery not at the top of his list of priorities, but close enough to the top(ch.9)” This not only satisfied the North, but it also gave the slaves hope that they might have a fighting chance if the president is already thinking about it. Zinn says, “It was Abraham Lincoln who combined perfectly the needs of business, the political ambition of the new Republic party, and the rhetoric of humanitarianism.”(chapter 9) I’d especially like to focus on the “needs of business”. Businesses needed slaves. Whether it was in the North or in the South – slavery was extremely helpful for the economy because it allowed the South to not spend money on workers and it allowed the North to buy the items cheaper from the South. Although the North thought they wanted to end slavery, the other side of it was they didn’t want to spend more money than they already had to. Lincoln also had to talk, and please the republicans because not only did that party elect him, but it was the North which were strong believers in him. I did some additional research online and found that, “Lincoln's victory over Stephen A. Douglas, John C. Breckinridge, and John Bell was the signal for the secession of the Southern states, and the Civil War followed.” Lincoln knew that he had to please the north by talking to them as if he was for ending slavery because they had been so supportive through his elections. However, at the same time he still had to work for the approval of the South. I think that Lincoln, without a doubt, would talk and say things that would please his audience because he was the president at a time when everyone was divided. He had to say things to please his audience, otherwise he probably would not have become president.

Dan said...

I have some responses on the debate of Lincoln's ethics in terms of changing his mind in order to win the favor of the voters (in answer to melanie's post)

To be honest with you guys, this is very common. Even today, political candidates have the tendency to change positions on issues (or say that they've changed their mind). Again, there is that quote that says he doesn't consider African Americans his equal. However, like someone brought up earlier, there was the Emancipation Proclamation, so at least that's a step in the right direction. After all, like Cameron said, considering African Americans as equals was probably like saying that Dogs should be our equal (or something along those lines).

I want to bring it back to the topic question a little bit. We've only touched upon whether or not cultural inferiority can be overcome. I think it would be interesting to discuss HOW it was possible for blacks to be given literacy tests and have their rights terminated which such loopholes (that might belong in the reconstruction thread more).

Does anyone know of any sources of whites commenting on their innate racism?

Kat said...

In response to the overall slavery talk, another big part of it, was the movement in the north for abolition. I have a very difficult time understanding how nobody in the south saw these extreme violations of civil rights to be a huge issue, just as these people are finding in regard to the genocides in Darfur, and although there have been no major actions from our country there has been so much talk of stopping the genocide. I dont know if I truly believe that people couldn't see the blaring civil rights violations with owning other people. Do you think that this lack of actions was due to their ignorance to the problems with their way of life, or were they so selfish that they would torture people just to avoid making a change to their entire way of life. And I do understand that it was so much more complicated than making a change, but I dont understand how the people before this time didnt realize the horrors of what they were doing.

Another important point that affects this aspect of abolishing slavery, was as Frederick Douglass pointed out, that just because the south were the ones that held the slaves, they were not the only ones to blame, and that the northerners who were also greatly at fault. Douglass addresses this idea in a speech made on the forth of July. He points out that America as a whole, is the most complicit in allowing slavery. He points out that no matter where in the world you looked, you wont find people who treat slaves or anyone worse. "Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival... ."

I think it is very interesting after learning this, that as a kid in middle school I was taught about the civil war being caused by the South's desire for slavery, but truly, many people in the north were as racist as those in the south, and only didnt care about slavery, because factory workers had no money or use for a slave.

One final aspect of the freedom of slaves that Zinn points out it that the slaves themselves were not looking for the freedom they desired, they were relying on others to get it for them. Douglass states, ". . . it is emphatically our battle; no one else can fight it for us. . . . Our relations to the Anti-Slavery movement must be and are changed. Instead of depending upon it we must lead it.", which is essentially saying, that if his fellow African Americans didn't take insentive to change, and stopped relying on the northerners to make the change, that it would get done. This comes back to the problem itself, because by not trying to make the change, the blacks are putting themselves in a place of inferiority? Do you think that the blacks thought of themselves as inferior? And if so, how can the problem ever truly be changed?

Chris said...

In response to what Dan asked, we did have that quote from lincoln. He said that he did not nor will he ever consider blacks his equal. This tells alot because he obviously didn't free them because he thought that they deserved equal rights. I think that they wouldn't comment on racism because they knew they were being racist. But, because they didn't think of blacks as their equals, they wouldn't actually admit that they were racists. Because of this, there became a very big gap in equality between the powerful whites and the freed black slaves. but, at the same time the equality was dividing between the powerful and the poor white people. Eventually, the black and poor white people began to look out for each other. this is when the black people started to gain some power and equality. In a part of the Zinn chapter he writes, "I have just received information that three white persons are concerned in the plot; and they have arms and ammunition concealed under their houses, and were to give aid when the negroes should begin." One of the conspiring slaves said that it was "the common run of poor white people" who were involved." This is a news report where white and black people are helping eachother. I would bet that after this, there were more and more of these types of poor white and black people helping eachother.

Does anyone know of any other instances?

Casey said...

In response to the question are the conditions of slavery as important as the existence of slavery and to Ali’s post stating “The conditions are just nuances of the existence of slavery. The slave owners could be extremely nice or extremely mean - therefore the conditions in which the slave is living being different - and it would not measure up to the fact that a human being is property of another.”
Without the horrible conditions for slaves that were present, the controversy surrounding slavery would not exist, so I think that they are both equally important.
Zinn says, “The southern white oligarchy used its economic power to organize the Ku Klux Klan and other terrorist groups. . . It was only a matter of time before blacks would be reduced once again to conditions not far from slavery.” By mentioning the “conditions not far from slavery” Zinn acknowledges that the conditions were of great importance to the controversy surrounding slavery.

Alan said...

Chapter 9 of Zinn's book mainly focuses on this topic. After the Civil War, the 13th Amendment ended slavery, the 14th gave blacks the right to citizenship, and the 15th gave them the right to vote. Although these were passed by the federal government, the south did not fully acknowledge these laws after the north took their troops out of the south. Groups like the KKK reduced the hope that racial intolerance could be overcome, but besides this, I think people can be racially tolerant.

As stated in Zinn, poor whites and blacks were on a similar level. They could feel for eachother and even helped eachother out in same situations. In this case, racial intolerance was easily overcome. For example, in Zinn, "Herbert Aptheker quotes a report to the governor of Virginia on a slave conspiracy in 1802: "I have just received information that three white persons are concerned in the plot; and they have arms and ammunition concealed under their houses, and were to give aid when the negroes should begin." One of the conspiring slaves said that it was "the common run of poor white people" who were involved." Whites and blacks could help eachohter out and were not always bound to a hatred of eachother.

Another examples is another quote in Zinn that states, "In return, blacks helped whites in need. One black runaway told of a slave woman who had received fifty lashes of the whip for giving food to a white neighbor who was poor and sick." Blacks and whites both risked their health to help eachother, ultimately fighting a common enemy, rich whites.

Aaron said...

It's certainly a good thing that some poor whites helped blacks. There are many instances as Alan stated where this was evident. Let's be honest though; this did not make an immense difference. Racism was clearly everywhere, and whites were still mistreating blacks. In the first sentence of Zinn's section which discusses poor whites and slaves, he says, "The instances where poor whites helped slaves were not frequent, but sufficient to show the need for setting one group against the other." While Zinn acknowledges that both sides did help and poor whites were seperated from rich whites, help was not that frequent. Racism was still deeply embedded in society.


Even if every poor white helped in aiding blacks, the fact remains that "the common enmey" among the two people is indeed rich whites. The problem here is that the rich whites had all the power. The rich whites were the educated politicans, lawyers, doctors, etc. who had all the wealth and influence. The rich are always the most powerful in any world. Without swaying rich whites, the work of poor whites is almost futile. Society has a hard time changing when those in power do not want it to do so.

A person needs to be President such as Ulysses S. Grant who obviously has a lot of power as president but who fights for civil rights and equal rights for both blacks and whites. He may not be considered a good president by many, but he still tried and partially succeeded in supressing the KKK for a time. With someone in power such as Andrew Johnson who is racist, nothing can be done in Reconstruction to help race relations. Zinn describes Johnson's reign as President. "Johnson vetoed bills to help Negroes; he made it easy for Confederate states to come back into the Union without guaranteeing equal rights to blacks." Clearly, this does not help blacks.

I guess my point is that the people at the "top of the food chain," who in this instance happen to be rich whites, need to be involved in trying to move forward through Reconstruction. They need to help with race relations and aiding blacks. They need to help bring the North and South together. A president needed to be in place who can help accomplish this. The work of a few poor whites, while noble, is frankly not enough.

Maddie said...

Yeah, I agree; I think that social class was definitely a factor when it came to the ending of the war. Racism was inevitable (and still is today, years later). As mentioned before, most whites were not willing to help, and the president was a racist. The poor whites who did help were a minority. If the wealthy white president had the most power, how could things have ended? Money equals power and power is everything. In this case, the power belonged to the wealthy white people.

We can't expect results without cooperation from the people with power. The people with power were supporting slavery. Even if there were more poor people than rich people, it did not make a difference. As Aaron said, it was nice of some white people to try to help, but there were not enough of them willing to help and it did not make a difference in the long run.

PimpMasterFlex said...

I believe that slavery can never be swept under the rug. It is a major part of our history that should not we cannot hide from. We must face it and deal with racism and perceptions of inferiority that still exist today, as maddie said. It is a problem and may always be a problem, however it definitely gets better as the years have gone on. Whether it be walking down a street and moving to the other side when a black is coming from the other direction or a women securing her purse against herself when a black walks into a store, racism still exists and is a problem this country still fights.

In regards to understanding slavery, the best way is definitely through slaves themselves. It goes back to the old saying of not judging someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes. No one will ever be able to understand the state in which slaves lived. It is a scar on our history that can only be slowly healed through understanding and education of what really happened. Racism can be halted so long as each new generation understands slavery and how it progressed.

Natalie said...

I totally agree with everything pimpmasterflex is saying. It isn't something that can be forgotten. It's not one of those things where now that it's over, it's over. It is too big and terrible of a part of our history to simply put aside. Especially when racism still exists today. America is definitey one of the best countries with accepting different people and giving everyone equality, however it is not perfect and we still have our problems, something that will never completely change, because there is no such thing as a perfect country or a perfect world. We still have many racists, and even some of us who don't think we are, can be. Like in the last post when they talked about being scared of anyone black. That is still racist. And in the south, considering there are still people flying the confederate flag, there must be some people who still feel strongly against blacks and wouldn't have a problem putting them through slavery again. But our country had definitely made much improvement. But, how far has our country really come since slavery, and can we come even further? How close to completely overcoming it and getting past racism can we really come?

As to describing the realities of slavery, as pimpmasterflex said, you must have been a slave yourself. Nobody can possibly fully understand the harsh realities unless they were there living it. It isn't something you can read up in a book and know exactly what went down and how those slaves felt. Books, and even more so primary sources can help a lot and give people an understanding of it all, but nothing can let anyone know completely but living slavery for real.

I do believe that the conditions of slavery are as bad as slavery itself, because if it weren't for the terrible conditions it wouldn't be look on as something as bad as it was. If slaves were payed at all and provided fair homes and fair working conditions, people would not have seen it as such a problem. It is the terrible conditions that made it the slavery we know, so the conditions are just as bad.

derek kahn zwyer said...

I would like to respond to the comments regarding slavery and racism that were said in a lot of posts, but most recently by Natalie and PMF. I agree with a few things you said but there are also a number of things I disagree with.
First, it is important to understand that slavery and racism are very different things. Slavery was done of course out of the thought that black people were an inferior race, however, slavery existed also very much as an economically beneficial way to get work done. I don't believe that slave owners always necessarily made the choice to own slaves because they hated black people. I think it was very much because they were greedy and saw a very easy way to get a lot of work done for almost no price at all. (They had to house and feed the slaves, otherwise, no price.) Now what do I mean by all of this? I mean that slavery is in the past, and i do not at all think it is important to still think about today as a few posts have mentioned. "It isn't something that can be forgotten." I have to disagree. The race issues being faced today are predicated on racism, not slavery. I do not believe that the hate that exists today has anything to do with slavery. I think it is better to race todays problems with solutions that have to do with the source of the hate. Essentially, what I'm saying is that the hate today does not stem from slavery, so thinking about slavery will not help solve these problems.

I would like to dedicate my second extended paragraph to the question of, 'Who needs to be involved for reconstruction to occur?' This has been addressed beautifully in many posts, but I feel I can add to it. Lets talk about present day. Imagine us in need of a reconstruction period, because say, the south split off and we need to form a union so we can be a united nation again. This is unrealistic, I don't see this happening, but....IMAGINE! Anyways, who could convince the country to form together again? Say we all disagree with each other, south hate north and north hate south. Who could convince the south to rejoin? The president? What do you think? A celebrity? Maybe. No, but seriously, how would a reconstruction take place in this day and age, if it was needed as badly as it was in post-civil war time. Could the common people band together? Please answer, I'd love to see your response. Your's specifically. Thanks for reading.
-Derek

Jupican said...

Inferiority is a big issue. To get over an inferiority complex is not just a method of positive thinking, it is a problem deeply rooted in the psyche that starts developing at a young and impressionable age. Inferiority is groomed upon the person so that the thinking is habitual and natural. The way the parents were raised definitely affects how they raised the child to their idea of how their race should act in society. The whites, in this case, of course played significant roles because they were the slave masters. They had constant control and influence over the slaves. From Howard Zinn's chapter on reconstruction it is quoted, "A black skin means membership in a race of men which has never itself succeeded in subjecting passion to reason; has never, therefore, created civilization of any kind". The white people had no hope and didn't believe in the brains of their slaves. They thought that it was impossible to have a smart and educated African-American. With oppression on self esteem and self worth by both parent and public, there is no way one could overcome inferiority to such a point that an act of eating or being with a white man could have felt naturally the same. Though, with a lot of support and encouragement from self and important people to help with ideas of good self worth, a whole culture could in fact, over generations, overcome inferiority.

Meg said...

I agree with Derek’s views to a certain extent. I definitely do not think that slavery and racism are the same thing. I went and looked it up and according to dictionary.com “slavery” is defined as “ the condition of being a person who is the property of and wholly subject to another; a bond servant” and “racism” is defined as a ”belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others”. Clearly these two things are not the same. Slavery could almost be described as an extreme effect of racism because it is what can come of being racist.

However, because of this I disagree with Derek’s statement that slavery is in the past and thus is not something that is applicable to race issues today. Forgetting about slavery would be a huge mistake. While racism still exists today, America has come so far in changing the mentality that blacks are not equal to whites. People like Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Act have helped to achieve this new mentality. But if we were to forget about slavery we would forget about a time where many white American’s took away blacks’ right to life. According to Zinn “A record of deaths kept in a plantation journal (now in the University of North Carolina Archives) lists the ages and cause of death of all those who died on the plantation between 1850 and 1855. Of the thirty-two who died in that period, only four reached the age of sixty, four reached the age of fifty, seven died in their forties, seven died in their twenties or thirties, and nine died before they were five years old.” If we were to forget about how cruel the different races were to each other we would have a much larger chance of reverting back to the old ways of extreme racism and perhaps even get to the extent where slavery was once again instituted. Because of this, racism cannot be forgotten.