In 1865 the thirteenth amendment was signed into the constitution eradicating the institution of slavery and therefore granting rights and freedom to black slaves in the United States of America. Since the Great Emancipation and the signing of the amendment, racial tensions have continued to plague the nation. The legacy of slavery to this day continues to affect the attitudes and feelings that both whites and blacks feel towards the treatment of African Americans. In order to understand why race continues to be an issue in America one must first look to the past and discover where the problem began. The purpose of this paper is to examine the history of slavery and the profound legacy it has left on America by using the slaver era, the Jim Crow era, and today to understand why this legacy lives on.
It is important to note that African enslavement in its most early stages was not a result of the ideology of a superior race; slavery in the mid-fifteen hundreds was purely an enterprise driven by profit. This cruel enterprise was fueled due to the European demand for sugar and tobacco that was cultivated in the New World (Heuman 64-66). Native Americans were also victims of slavery but due to their lack of resistance towards Old World diseases many died in the fields making them an invaluable “tool” for Europeans (Heuman 67). Free labor ensured European plantation owners a hundred percent profit margin while African free laborers provided the owners with workers that were strong and could resist European diseases (Heuman 64-66). It was when slavery became a problem of morality that race started to become an immense factor in everyday thinking. It was in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century that the issue of race would emerge and change the path of history.
The issue of the morality of slavery arose in the seventeenth century when English lawyers began to question the vitality of enslavement under English Common Law. It was unclear for the English where slavery stood because the English Common Law “favored personal liberty” and to strip someone of their freedom would mean that that person was no longer a human and could be considered a beast. To solve their dilemma the English did just that, they dehumanized West Africans and the dehumanizing of their West African slaves would not only solve their morality issue but it would ensure that no slave owner was in fact breaking the law (Heuman 69). Europeans justified their cruel actions against their fellow man by setting themselves apart from the Africans. Their most effective strategy in removing Africans from being thought of as human was to attack their most obvious difference, the color of their skin. Europeans would begin to harbor stereotypes about Africans skin color claiming that their “blackness...represented evil, sin, dirtiness, danger, and the Devil himself” (Heuman 69). Seventeenth century Europeans would even use the God and the bible to justify their acts. The negative image of Africans would be explained by contemporary thinkers who argued that if “all of humanity derived from a single source, Adam and Eve, held to white-skinned” then that the only explanation for the blackness of Africans was that “ Africans were part of a common creation, but were descendants of Ham, whose curse by his father Noah was not only that he should be ugly and dark- skinned, but also that he would become the servant of servants” (Heuman 70). Whites would use their differences in color from the Africans and their interpretations of the bible to moralize their treatment of Africans. This act of separating themselves from their darker-skinned counterpart continued into the Jim Crow era and as many scholars argue, continues to this very day. The idea of “us against them” became an idea embedded into theirs of all whites that the lasting effects are still seen as will be discuss later in the paper.
As previously discussed,...