Monday, October 14, 2013

Our Freedom Belongs to Us!

Kareem Joseph                                                                                                       October 14, 2013

Never did I look at freedom (or my personal freedom) as something to be procured, or acquired as if attaining that freedom was an achievement.  Freedom, for me, was as customary as writing my name on paper.  For freedom to be looked upon as something to be owned as opposed to essential was ludicrous. In my studies I observed that the quest for personal freedom among African slaves in colonial America served as the primary narrative for most. Now, what that freedom meant had very different meanings depending on the region, and the circumstantial and implemented socioeconomic factors implemented.
            In Colonial America- economics controlled social circumstance.  In Ira Berlin's Many Thousands Gone Berlin debunks the contemporary notion of slavery and its practices as being uniform throughout its entire time of existence- a notion that slavery was strictly chattel bondage and anyone who was black were unequivocally subjugated to the trappings of chattel slavery.  Berlin breaks up Colonial America in to two generations: the charter generation and the plantation generation.  Being a person of color during either of these generations imposed (depending on time period) very distinct definitions of what it was to be black in those particular socioeconomic structures.  According to Berlin, the first African slaves to arrive on the North American mainland, specifically the Chesapeake region spoke the language of their enslaver, were knowledgeable in law, practiced Christianity, and had the ability to trade in goods to a acquire funds for their manumission (Berlin, 1998).   This was allowable, even tolerated in the early and mid-seventeenth century Charter generation.  During this period African slaves were able to exist in a social construct that allowed them the mobility to find a place within the custom to have some sense of freedom.

            A sense of freedom that was only allowed by its surrounding socioeconomic conditions,  The first African Slave population in early seventeenth century Chesapeake only constituted five percent of the region’s population (Berlin, 1998).  “When labor became available, planters gained few benefits from large units of production and other economies of scale, as good tobacco land occurred in small, noncontinuous patches (Berlin, 1998, location 379).” The production of tobacco on a large scale in the Chesapeake was not advisable as opposed to sugar in the West Indies around the same time.  The demand for a large workforce in the Chesapeake was not needed early on.  During the first fifty years of the Chesapeake’s settlement, black and white indentured servant worked and lived together (Berlin, 1998).  The combination of patchy land and the presence of white workers explain the minuscule representation of African slaves in early colonial Chesapeake population.  There was not a need, socially and economically, for the africanization of African slaves at this time.
            “The great Barbadian sugar boom of the 1640’s, financed in large part by London merchants, changed all that.  By the 1650’s England was importing about five thousand tons of Barbadian sugar annually (Mernard, 2007, p. 310).”  Making its way to North America, it spawned the plantation era which promoted the degradation of black life in the mainland. This onset of an extremely different social organization and commercial production was controlled by a new class of men whose appetite for labor was nearly insatiable (Berlin, 1998).  In class we have discussed how this insatiable demand for labor began and how the trappings attached to it began to define Blackness.  Those who were once able to procure their freedom could not.  Those who were once able to practice Christianity in order to ingratiate themselves in to society could not.  To simply move about the land freely was no longer afforded to them.  This was a small part of the social constraints that African slaves were bound to that began to shape and solidify the concept of race and define Black in a way that would be advantageous to subsistence and profitability of slavery.Those constraint ultimately led to the complete garnishing of freedom and mobility for Blacks.  Here is the link to a YouTube video that explains the horrid experience of The Black slave as a result of africanization.   
However, when I used to think of race, I simply related it to the color of my skin. It was not up until I started attending college and took classes like this when I made the connection of race with my personal freedom and how I exercised that freedom.  So I can relate to that one African slave who tries to galvanize solidarity to start an insurrection.  And in modern times,  I can certainly identify with the image of a group of Black Cornell University students on campus with guns fighting for their identity to be served within the curriculum.  And now race persists mostly as a sociopolitical ploy to sway opinions and attribute stereotypes.  But I say it is up to the person in that specific time and social atmosphere to dictate how their race and practice of freedom are expressed because our freedom belongs to us.
(Starr, 1969)

Berlin, I. (1998) Many Thousands gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery In North                                     America (ebook.).  Cambridge, Massachusetts,. London, England:  The Belknap Press of Harvard              University Press.
Russell R. Menard Agricultural History , Vol. 81, No. 3 (2007), pp. 310 Published by: Agricultural                   History Society Article Stable URL: 
Starr, S.  (1969)  Armed African-American Student exit Straight Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
           (Online Image).  Retrieved October 14, 2013                                                                                              from


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