Category Archives: slavery

Confederate Flag Debate Continues

By KurtFF8

Recently, the city of Lexington, Virginia passed an ordinance to prohibit Confederate Flags on city-owned poles.  The debate the emerged during the proposed rule brought up the fact that the debate on the flying of the flag is far from over.  The Sons of Confederate Veterans held a demonstration prior to the vote and, according to the article linked to above, vowed to “challenge the ordinance in court.”

Why is it that over 150 years after the start of the US Civil War that the debate over the Confederate flag is still relevant?  There are a few factors involved.

First and foremost: while the nature of the Confederacy itself is often cited in these debates, the usage of the flag since the end of the war is what drives these “cultural” conflicts.  Most importantly in recent history is the usage in the political movement against desegregation in the South.  The Flag became a symbol of resistance to the move to resist integration and stop “northern dominance” over the South.  This association is difficult to delink from the racist elements and motivations of the flag, considering the most recent historical widespread use of it was this political battle and the racist side that the flag symbolized.

As I have argued elsewhere, the States’ Rights argument that is often appealed to in these cases has historically been an excuse to actually prevent rights from expanding.  In the case of the Civil War: it was the right of states to continue to have the slave system.  In the civil rights era: it was the right of states to continue to segregate.  The Sons of Confederate Veterans argues that the Civil War was a war about freedom for the South.  They conveniently ignore or cease to elaborate for whom in the South that freedom was for.  Considering that the South explicitly seceded to preserve the institution of slavery, it is quite clear that the freedom was a very limited notion of the term.  The fact that the Sons of Confederate Veterans does not quite address this issue is quite telling of the nature of their organization and motivations for promoting symbols like the Confederate flag.

Each era that the flag was widely used (particularly the Civil War itself and the Civil Rights eras), it was a symbol of the oppression of black folks.  It would be a difficult case to make that it has been anything but this without getting into abstract debates about freedom of speech.  That’s not to say that the Sons of Confederate Veterans, or other groups are necessarily trying to promote a specific racist political goal in these cases.  But one thing that is undeniable is that they are attempting to promote the use of a symbol that has been used almost exclusively in history to promote racist political and social policy.

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Filed under African Americans, confederacy, National Oppression, Race, racism, slavery, Southern United States, State's rights, U.S. Civil War, Virginia

Untold story of U.S. slave rebellion retold centuries later

[This article originally appeared on thestar.com]

By Mitch Potter Washington Bureau

DESTREHAN PLANTATION, LA.—A long-lost chapter in American history is being written anew today, as southerners begin to come to terms with the previously untold story of the continent’s largest slave revolt.

And while historians today debate the details, a consensus is forming around just how close New Orleans came to becoming a free black colony precisely 200 years ago when a makeshift army of some 500 slaves, some just a few years out of Africa, rose up in carefully calculated unison with epic consequences.

Here at the pastoral Destrehan Plantation, the aftermath of the January 1811, insurrection was especially brutal — newly unearthed colonial records show the estate was the epicentre for a judicial reckoning, with the white slaveholders ordering as many as 100 ringleaders shot or hanged.

They black rebel leaders then were decapitated, with their heads mounted on stakes in a horrific necklace of retribution stretching 70 kms down the Mississippi, all the way to the gates of what was then America’s most crucial frontier city.“It is one of the most striking moments of amnesia in our national history. What you had in the end were plantation owners sitting down to sumptuous five-course meals as they looked out the window at their own beheaded slaves,” said historian Daniel Rasmussen, who began his investigation as an undergraduate student at Harvard.

“The planters were outnumbered and terrified. They thought of their slaves as sub-human they saw ritual beheading as a prime way to get their message across.

“And what followed this gruesome display was a concerted attempt to write it out of the history books. The southern newspapers suppressed the story, either refusing to publish or delaying for months. Only a few papers much further north published small paragraphs condemning the savagery of the planters.”

Tulane University, the African American Museum in Treme and Destrehan Plantation all are filling in the blanks with the launch of a yearlong look at the 1811 uprising.

But it is Rasmussen’s riveting new book, American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt, that is turning the most heads, in academia and beyond.

Collating clues from dust-encrusted plantation ledgers, colonial court records, obscure snippets of antebellum correspondence and the oral memory of slave descendents, Rasmussen’s study recreates the intense planning and careful timing that underpinned the audacious bid for freedom involving slaves from a dozen plantations along the river.

Two Asante warriors, Kook and Quamana, likely battle-hardened from wars in Africa, conspired with Charles Deslondes, a mulatto slave-driver of mixed parentage, who Rasmussen describes as “the ultimate sleeper cell.”

All had, in one way or another, been “sold down the river” — a cliché that first conceived to describe the especially horrific nature of slavery at southernmost end of the Mississippi, where extreme violence underpinned the extreme wealth of the lucrative French sugar plantations.

Spiked collars were the norm for the uncooperative — the spikes pointing inward to prevent sleep. Deslondes, working on behalf of his plantation owner, was responsible for administering punishment, including the lash for those who would dare refuse the backbreaking labours of harvesting, beating, boiling and refining the sugar cane.

Haiti was also a factor. The slave revolution of 1791 was, in its own way, a shot heard round the slave world, as French colonial refugees and their slaves washed into New Orleans. It remains unclear whether Deslondes came from Haiti.

Louisiana was vital American territory 200 years ago, but just barely — Napoleon had sold France’s claim to the vast Mississippi watershed to the United States a few years earlier for a paltry $15 million, a gift that would ultimately open the drive to the Pacific. But Louisiana’s French colonial class had nothing but contempt for its new American overseers, who were in January 1811, preoccupied in battles with the Spanish to secure a tract of west Florida. New Orleans was nearly defenceless.

“The attack came at just the right moment — the Americans were fighting the Spanish and with the harvest completed, the French planters were focused on the month-long series of lavish carnival balls and all-night parties leading up to Mardi Gras. And several days of steady rains had turned the road to mud, impeding any counterattack. Their guard was down,” Rasmussen said in an interview with the Toronto Star.

“Scarcely a resident in New Orleans had a musket. The city had a weak detachment of 68 troops.”

The rebels rose first at André Plantation after sunset on Jan. 8, 1811. And within hours, they were on the march to New Orleans. A ragtag army, perhaps, but one that marched in uniform, having seized militia clothing and weapons from plantation armories. Their numbers grew as the march advanced and as rumor of the uprising swept down the river road, the ruling class fled for the safety of the city.

“The planters couldn’t understand it — the idea that the slaves were not just savages, but that this was something planned. You had an army marching in military formation, wearing military uniforms, carrying flags and banners and chanting, “Freedom or death,” said Rasmussen.

New Orleans was on the edge of chaos — not least because its own population was 75 per cent black, awakening the fears of a second front rising up within the town itself. The city would order its taverns closed, imposed a curfew on all black males and summoned able-bodied whites to arms. Simultaneously, fleeing French planters regrouped on the West Bank of the Miscopy upstream from the city.

The two forces, American regulars and French planter militia, ultimately were able to confront the freedom fighters from both sides in a series of pitched battles beyond the city gates in the days that followed. Surviving slaves fled to the swamps and manhunts ensued, with dozens rounded up for the rough justice to come.

In the end, 21 slaves were interviewed by their colonial overseers in a bid to piece together the roots of the conspiracy and assign criminal blame. Elements of the story, says Rasmussen, survive in the oral histories of slave descendents, passed down and told “even to the present day at family reunions.” But the main snippets are to be found, refracted through the writings of the white ruling class, which show extent of fears never before told.

“They were sitting on a powder keg and when it exploded and was put down, everything changed. Instead of a mini-Haiti, Louisiana society became militarized. The revolt pushed this old aristocratic society into the hands of the American government,” said Rasmussen.

“What you see is that the foundations of American power in this part of the deep South were built upon the commitment to restore and uphold slavery. Essentially, the French planters decided to cling to the United States as an ark of safety.”

As for Kook, Quamana, and Charles Deslondes, only now are historians weighing how to elevate them alongside the likes of far better known revolutionaries like Nat Turner and John Brown as major figures in the American struggle for emancipation.

“None of this has ever been taught in American schools and the hope now is that these men who were executed for the strongest ideals will take their rightful place in history,” said Rasmussen.

“They were political revolutionaries, they deserve a place in the national memory and there is a sense now that they are getting it. We need to wrestle with this history if we are ever to truly understand it.”

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Filed under African Americans, class struggle, Gulf States, Louisiana, New Orleans, Race, racism, slavery, workers

Anniversary of Secession: What it means today

By KurtFF8

Today is the anniversary of the declaration of Secession by South Carolina from the United States in 1860.  This lead to the founding of the Confederacy and lead the  nation on a path to a long bloody conflict that cost the lives of countless people on both sides.  What does this anniversary mean for 2010 though?  For the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Confederate Heritage Trust: it means it’s time to throw a party.

The Secession Ball

Tonight, the two groups mentioned above will be throwing what they are calling “The Secession Ball” what is according to the website is “Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of South Carolina’s Secession.” They claim to even have the President Pro-Tempore of the SC Senate planning on attending the ball.  The Sons of Confederate Veterans officials condemns slavery and their spokesperson for the event claims that they are not celebrating the war, but instead just the courage of those who decided to sign the secession statement, while the NAACP has planed a march to protest the event tonight.

So if they are not celebrating the war or slavery, why the event?  Many organizations and individuals who attempt to defend things like the foundation of the Confederate States tend to appeal to notions of States’ Rights and of “Heritage” (“not hate”).  But it doesn’t take much to demonstrate how secession and the creation of the Confederacy were explicitly about preserving slavery and that the specific rights sought out in trying to defend “States Rights” in this particular case were the rights of the state to keep Slavery a legal institution.

So the courage to stand up to the Union ought to be seen as the “courage to defend slavery.”

Causes of the Civil War

 

John Brown is often portrayed as "insane" for his radical anti-slavery actions, and was even executed for them

Slavery was the base of the economic power for the Southern elite in the pre-Civil War South.  After decades of complicated power struggles and debates about expanding the institution to new American states, the Southern elite was threatened and to use a phrase Marx used, launched a “Slave owner rebellion.”  As I noted above, they made their reasons for secession quite clear: to preserve slavery.  While other factors, such as “taxes and tariffs,” are sometimes pointed to as causes for the war, these factors existed in so far as they interfered with the source of the wealth that was being harmed: the institution of slavery!

This is of course a long historical debate, but the arguments for Southern Secession tend to be red herrings when it comes to slavery.  Even these groups putting on the “Secession Ball” make sure to note that they are opposed to slavery and the Civil War’s bloody toll.  Yet they defend the event that is noted for its strong defense of slavery and for starting that very war.

States’ Rights

When “States’ Rights” is appealed to as the reason for the South’s actions, what rights those States were looking to protect are often ignored.  This is because it was the right to own slavery by the Southern elite.  Yet the argument over States’ Rights was not resolved at the end of the War.

After the Civil War ended and what is often referred to as “radical reconstruction” was abandoned to an extent, the newer elites in the South instituted “Jim Crow Laws.”  It was the “Jim Crow South” that was responsible for racial segregation that wasn’t to be fully broken until the civil rights movement exploded in the 1960s.  The arguments for maintaining these laws often appealed to the same thing: States’ Rights.

We can also see a similar kind of rhetoric of States’ Rights in the opposition to the moderate attempt at health care reform over the past few years.  It’s rare in the history of the South that these concept is appealed to actually expand the rights of the majority of the people, but instead States’ Rights are often appealed to for the strengthening of the elite.

We need to be clear about the nature of celebrating the Confederacy in any way: It was a reactionary attempt to preserve slavery in the South, and its’ defeat needs to be celebrated, not its’ founding.

 

Further Reading:

150 Years Ago: Marx & Engels on the War Against Slavery

Collection of Marx and Engels writings on the Civil War

Huffington Post Article

Guardian Article

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Filed under African Americans, class struggle, confederacy, Demonstration Announcements, Gulf States, Human Rights, Leftists in the U.S. South, Liberalism, slavery, Solidarity, Southern Identity, Southern Strategy, Southern United States, State's rights, U.S. Civil War, United States