Apr 4, 2007

Book thoughts: Slaves in the Family

I've recently finished reading Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball. Following are some of my thoughts on that book.

1- The book is about the history of the slave-owning Ball family and the lives of their slaves, from the creation of the Charleston British colony in South Carolina all the way to the 20th century.

2- I've read American history from different points of view before, but I've never seen something like this. This book provides a personal-history of the US, how ordinary people perceived and dealt with state-level events and wars.

3- Apparently, during the American revolution, England promised "freedom" to slaves who joined the English army. Many slaves escaped their plantations and went to Canada or South America. Of those who were not captured back or got killed, a good number ended up going back to Africa and starting a new city, deservedly named "Freetown".

4- Some of the ex-slaves at Freetown sat down and wrote their memoirs, how they were captured from Africa, all the way to how they made it back. I'm sure these books show the amazing power of the human will. I'm looking forward to reading some of them.

5- The book shows the very-long-process of abolishing race-inequality in the US (which is still going on). Many of us, new 'visitors' to the US, think that slavery & race-inequality were old issues that were solved long time ago, and we wonder why some make a big deal of it. We think that race-problems here are just like Jordan's north vs. south or Irbid vs. Sarih or even Palestinian vs. Jordanian thing.This book shocked me that it's actually way way worst!

6- Quick history of the slavery question (very good article about UK here and generally here):
  1. The question of the "legality" of slavery goes back to 1772, when English court ruled that James Somerset, a black slave, should be free.
  2. UK started a gradual abolition movement until 1833, the time of the Emancipation Bill. On the way, they used "freed slaves" as a bargain method against the Americans during the revolutionary wars.
  3. USA, on the other hand took much longer. They started by "prohibiting the slavery trade" in 1792. South Carolina, out of all states, voted to allow it. This went on until the US isseud a Federal Act to stop it completely in 1830. In reality, slaves kept being smuggled into the country, but at much lesser numbers.
  4. In 1850, a freed black slave (look for his name) was taken as a slave again. He went to court to request his freedom. The case went all the way to the Supreme-court, where they decided "The constitution grants rights to 'free white men', and since he's a slave, he does not even have the right to file a lawsuit"!! Thus, he was kept a slave. This cuased a great uproar and mini-slave uprising that killed around 200 white men. The army interfered and killed and tortured many of the involved slaves.
  5. North & South were divided about slavery. civil war took place. North won.
  6. Slavery was abolished, and so did much of southern states economy that depended on them. Freed people migrated to northern cities, where a new age of city-race-discrimination has started.
  7. Race segregation was made into law. (separate and equal slogan).
  8. African Americans got organized in many movements to change the situation: some political, some internal, some on the verge of violence. People usually point to Matrin Luther King Jr as the peaceful and Malcolm X as violent. I think they were both political. There were other more radical movements.
  9. In the 60s & 70s, the civil rights movement took place and removed the segregation laws. Discrimination still exist, but at least it's not explicit in the laws anymore.

Towards the end of the book, the writer flies to west africa, and looks for the city from which many of his family's slaves came. He looked for the sons of the black warlords who sold other blacks into slavery. He convinced them to do a collective apology to the spirits of the many vanished slaves. A hollywood-style ending for the book.

Apparently, in Africa, sending people to slavery was one of the tribal punishments. For example, if you kill somebody, you are sold into slavery.
Some warlords looked at it as protecting their own tribes. Their way of subsisting in poor land was to invade other tribes, sell them to slavery, and try to save and free their own tribesmen from slavery. Apparently, until today, some of the local 'african heroes' are those who were abel to free their kensmen from slavery on the expense of other tribes.

The book also talks about the different 'types' of slaves. Apparently, the best strongest slaves came from east africa. Some of the worst (somewhere on the west coast) were bad because they would commit mass-suicide by jumping off the slavery ships instead of being sold. Pretty much, slave 'hunters' stopped getting those tribes because they were not worth the "investment".


(drafted 6/5/06)

1 comment:

  1. Hello There!

    I have not completed reading this book. Once I started reading I stumbled on a link for a Rhett family ancestor (former slave: George Barnwell Rhett) and got sidetracked to inform my Rhett family clients of my find.

    I appreciate the effort that Edward Ball has made to seek out and acknowledge the African-Americans connected to his ancestors. Bravo Edward Ball! I wish more slaveowner families would step up to the plate and follow suit. This would make genealogical research on the African diaspora so much easier.

    This is a very well written book!

    BL Hudson