The mid-17th century marked the time when people were enslaved based on their race. In the United States, the slavery mainly took place in North America and was subjected to the African Americans living there. The experiences that they began to witness in these new lands would shape their entire perception of life and that of the generations that followed them. Just like any other significant change, slavery in relation to race took place gradually, proceeding slowly and growing over the decades. Before 1650, many people had experienced enslavement while much more would escape from the winds of the same.
The change was experienced differently all over the country, and within no time the transformation became significant. The event of slavery was not natural, and it was pushed by competitive governments that spread their influence all over the Atlantic world. It was sooner than later that the legal status of individuals would inevitably rely on their racial background. From the time enslavements started, it would be passed down from the masters (parents) to their children (Bertocchi and Dimico 201). Many factors played a role in igniting this realization, and from the 1650s, different events took place and they promoted slavery and ensured that people of a specific race suffered because of their background. However, throughout the years, notably in 1865, slavery took a unique turn and influenced a remarkable revolution.
Hereditary enslavement, which was practiced in regards to color and not religion was well practiced in Catholic colonies by 1650s. In the Latin America and the Caribbean, for almost a century, the Portuguese and Spanish colonizers began the enslavement of Africans and first Indians (Cooper, Holt, and Scott 33). In the beginning, the enslavers relied on the justification that people, who had a different religion or those who were captured during wars, were viable for enslavement for life. However, within this notion was a hidden tradition because whoever converted to Christianity would gain freedom. With this idea, wealthy planters were afraid that the cheap labor that they were getting would be lost because of this notion. Therefore, they changed the reasoning behind the idea to exploit the people as slaves. Even the individuals, who could not ascertain that they were Catholics or they were not captured during the war, were still enslaved. Thus by branding color as the main reason for enslavement, people with dark skin who came from Africa would continue to work on sugar plantations and silver mines for the rest of their life. Without question, the servitude would inevitably become hereditary and passed from generation to generations.
With every big change, there must be change that overturns the events in favor of the oppressed. In regards to slavery, the big evolution took place when Abraham Lincoln became president and foresaw the Emancipation Proclamation that led to salves gaining freedom in 1865; meaning that the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified to facilitate this significant move in history. Some of the other legislations that took place during this period were the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act enacted in 1866; together they contributed to black becoming full citizens of the United States (Cooper, Holt, and Scott). Also, the Fifteenth Amendment gave black men gained the right to vote and Congress was given the power to come up with laws that would ensure the protection of the right. In 1870, an amazing event took place as a black man (Hiram Revels) was elected as a senator. Also, thousands of men and women of color went to Mississippi to claim and clear land in the bottomlands that were undeveloped along the river (Cooper, Holt, and Scott 61). Such were among the most transformative events that marked the evolution of slavery and race.
Evolution of slavery also occurred in the South. Some strides were made during the Reconstruction period to ensure equality prevailed in the South. There were troops stationed there to ensure the rights of freedmen were upheld. People of color were given the opportunity to run for office and vote for their favorite candidate. Additionally, there was the establishment of public school systems in many states in the Southern region (Cooper, Holt, and Scott 66). However, it was difficult for them to find funding. Black people came up with their own businesses, churches, towns, and businesses. However, most of the whites did not recognize black people as their equals. Irrespective of the lack of recognition, people of color were making remarkable steps out to free themselves from slavery.
Several theories contributed to the emancipation of black people and the end of slavery. Among those theories was coined by Charles Darwin; a well-known biologist who cleverly wrote about the evolution of man. In his theory he stated that man came from a single ancestor and comparing this notion with the idea of slavery; all men are equals. Therefore no man should become a slave. However, other people look at the account of Adam and Eve and believe that this creation story led to the existence of Whites, while other races came to exist as a result of inferior forms of creations. However, interpreting Darwin’s theory leads one to understand that Blacks are the same as Whites since they hail from a single ancestor (Desmond and Moore 42). Concurrently, this is one of the parts of the evolution theory that concur with the creation account as it is told in the Bible. The theory made significant trends in the abolition of slavery. Most historians agree that Darwin’s theory played a critical role in igniting the events that transformed slavery.
In conclusion, it is evident that race and slavery were two interconnected issues. People of color, especially the blacks, were viewed as tools of labor. However, numerous transformative events that occurred from the 17th century onwards eased the slavery. People of color resisted slavery while important legislations helped them to have representation in Congress and gave them rights to vote and work in offices. Although historians have discussed the issue in depth and length, it will continue attracting attention from scholars even in the future.
- Bertocchi, Graziella, and Arcangelo Dimico. “Slavery, education, and inequality.” European Economic Review 70 (2014): 197-209.
- Cooper, Frederick, Thomas Cleveland Holt, and Rebecca J. Scott. Beyond slavery: Explorations of race, labor, and citizenship in postemancipation societies. UNC Press Books, 2014.
- Desmond, Adrian, and James Moore. Darwin’s sacred cause: How a hatred of slavery shaped Darwin’s views on human evolution. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.