The first Africans in America arrived as Indentured Servants via Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. From 1619 to about 1640, Africans could earn their freedom working as laborers and artisans for the European settlers. Africans could become free people and enjoy some of the liberties like other new settlers.
By 1640, Maryland became the first colony to institutionalize slavery. In 1641, Massachusetts, in its written legislative Body of Liberties, stated that “bondage was legal” servitude, at that moment changing the conditions of the African workers – they became chattel slaves who could be bought and solely owned by their masters.
The Portuguese were the first to embark upon the slave trade starting around 1562. The practice of slavery grew to exponential proportions from 1646 up until 1790. A prime area for slaves was on the west coast of Africa called the Sudan. This area was ruled by three major empires Ghana (790-1240), Mali (1240-1600), and Songhai (670-1591). Other smaller nations were also canvassed by slavers along the west coast; they included among them: Benin, Dahomey, and Ashanti. The peoples inhabiting those African nations were known for their skills in agriculture, farming, and mining. The Africans of Ghana were well known for smelting iron ore, and the Benins were famous for their cast bronze art works. African tribal wars produced captives which became a bartering resource in the European slave market. Other slaves were kidnapped by white and black hunters. The main sources of barter used by the Europeans to secure African slaves were glass beads, whiskey, ivory, and guns.
The rising demand for sugar, coffee, cotton, and tobacco created a greater demand for slaves by other slave trading countries. Spain, France, the Dutch, and English were in competition for the cheap labor needed to work their colonial plantation system producing those lucrative goods. The slave trade was so profitable that, by 1672, the Royal African Company chartered by Charles II of England superseded the other traders and became the richest shipper of human slaves to the mainland of the Americas. The slaves were so valuable to the open market – they were eventually called “Black Gold.”Ã‚Â
THE MIDDLE PASSAGE
The Middle Passage has been defined in several ways. Some authors refer to these routes as the “triangle trade” or “circuit trade,” “three cornered,” “round about,” and “transatlantic trade” routes. The typical voyage for slaves taken by the British went south down the coast of Africa into the area adjacent to the Gulf of Guinea. These English slavers brought cargoes of rum, brandy, glass, cloths, beads, guns, and other appealing goods from Europe. They bargained with African traders for their tribal captives. Some slavers entered the shores and kidnapped the unsuspecting natives and took them aboard their slave ships or kept them in waiting areas near the shore called “barracoons” or slave barracks.
When the desired number of African slaves was met for shipping, the voyage of middle passage continued from Africa on the slave ships going across the Atlantic Ocean with a destination in one of several ports in the West Indies and Caribbean (including: Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Santo Domingo, and the islands of St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix, and Barbados). In the West Indies and Caribbean, some slaves were off-loaded and sold to work at the sugar plantations, also called the “Sugar Islands.” The raw molasses was taken aboard the ships; then they sailed up the coast northbound for Newport or Bristol, Rhode Island’s distilleries, to make rum from the molasses. Other stops along the Atlantic coast where slaves were exchanged for goods or cash were Charleston, South Carolina and Boston, Massachusetts. The goods produced by cheap slave labor were loaded aboard the now empty slave ships along with sugar, tobacco, or cotton for the trip back to England. The rum from the rum distillers went directly back to Africa for more slaves, bartering on this, the Triangular Trade Routes.
By 1768, the English slave trade had a figure of 53,000 slaves a year being shipped to the North American continent. Other slave traders included the French at 23,000, the Dutch at 11,000, and the Portuguese at 8,700 slaves being transported yearly from Africa. Estimates of up to 10 million slaves took the Middle Passage Voyage to reach the Americas.
SLAVERY AND RACE
Many Europeans came to America to exercise their God fearing beliefs and to practice religious freedom. Slavery, on the other hand, was a form of persecution which, in the eyes of colonial America, had to be justified.
Therefore, the black slave became an easily identifiable group targeted as being inferior, subhuman, and destined for servitude. The early Christian churches did not take up the cause of eliminating slavery until much later in the century.
The famous Boston theologian, Cotton Mather, in 1693 included in his Rules for the Society of the Negroes the explanation that “Negroes were enslaved because they had sinned against God.” He later included a heavenly plan that “God would prepare a mansion in Heaven,” but little or no way for the end of forced slavery on earth was undertaken by most religious groups.Ã‚Â
SLAVE CODES AND RESISTANCE
The slave codes robbed the Africans of their freedom and will power. Slaves did resist this treatment, therefore strict and cruel punishment was on hand for disobeying their masters. Slaves were forbidden from carrying guns, taking food, striking their masters, and running away. All slaves could be flogged or killed for resisting or breaking the slave codes. Some slave states required both slaves and free blacks to wear metal badges. Those badges were embossed with an ID number and occupation.
Freedom was always on the minds of the enslaved Africans. How to gain that freedom was the big question. American historical records have identified some of those attempts and some of the people involved in the African’s quest for freedom on American soil.
Refusing to obey their masters’ demands created a duel crisis on the part of the resisting slaves and their demanding owners. The most common form of resistance used by the slaves was to run away. To live as a runaway required perfect escape routes and exact timing. Where to hide, finding food, leaving the family and children behind became primary issues for the escaping slaves. Later, the severe punishment had to be faced whenever a hunted slave was caught and returned to bondage.
Many slaves ran off and lived in the woods or vast wilderness in the undeveloped American countryside. This group of slaves were called “maroons,” for they found remote areas in the thick forest and mainly lived off wild fruits and animals as food. Some of these maroons ran off, lived, and even married into segments of the Native American populations. They were later called Black Indians.Ã‚Â
A NATION IN CRISIS:THE SLAVERY TIMELINE
The issue of slavery evolved into a complex problem on American soil from 1800 up until the beginning of 1865. The conditions of servitude and the status of Africans were at stake. Defining the legal grounds of these people of African descent put America in a quandary. Would free Africans be welcomed into this developing Democracy? The next sixty-five years produced a host of mixed events in their quest for freedom. Racial differences and previous conditions of servitude became an issue before the Republic.
Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â * 1800. Gabriel Prosser attempts a slave rebellion in Virginia.
Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â * By 1807, the British Parliament had put a stop to shipping and trading African slaves.
Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â * By 1808, the Congress of the United States made it illegal to bring more slaves into the country. Still, the smuggling of Africans as slaves into the United States continued well into the mid 1800’s. Remember, the Amistad slave incident happened in 1839. Slave trading within the states continued up until the day of Emancipation in 1863.
Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â * By 1812, the British, as a payback to the American colonists, offered the Africans a chance to own land and be free – if they fought on their side during the War of 1812.
Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â * By 1819, the Canadian government refused to cooperate with the American government by not allowing them free access to pursue escaped slaves living in Canada.
Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â * By 1820, the Missouri Compromise was adopted, allowing Missouri to enter the Union as a slaveholding state and Maine as a freebearing state. The Missouri Compromise kept the number of free states and slave states balanced.
Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â * 1822. Denmark Vesey arrested for planning a slave rebellion in South Carolina.
Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â * 1831. Nat Turner leads a slave rebellion in Southampton, Virginia.
Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â * By 1833, the American Anti-Slavery Society was established in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The British Parliament abolished slavery in the entire British Empire during this year.
Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â * 1839. The Amistad Insurrection
Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â * By 1850, the Compromise of 1850 again brought up the issue of slavery. California entered the union as a free state, but the territories of New Mexico, Utah, and Texas were allowed to decide, as individual states, the choice of being a slave state or a free state. 1850 also saw the passage of another much stricter Fugitive Slave Law being put into effect.
Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â * By 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe published her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which became the best selling book and a major influence for the Anti-Slavery Movement.
Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â * 1854. The Dred Scott Case.
Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â * The year of 1857 saw slavery and freedom hanging in the balance.
Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â * 1859. John Brown broke into the Federal Armory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.
Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â * 1860. Abraham Lincoln elected president. South Carolina secedes.
Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â * 1861. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia secede. Formation of the Confederate States of America. Attack on Fort Sumter.
Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â * 1861-1865. The Civil War.
Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â * 1865. Freedom on the Horizon. February 1, 1865, Abraham Lincoln ratified the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawing slavery throughout the whole United States. Lincoln was assassinated two months later by John Wilkes Booth on April 15, 1865.Ã‚Â
OLAUDAH EQUIANO (1745-1801)
ALSO KNOWN AS GUSTAVUS VASSA
Olaudah Equiano’s life as a slave would have never been known to the world, but he survived and learned the English language which helped him to record his horrific experiences under forced servitude. Those words in his biographical memoirs were later published after Equiano secured extra earnings and bought his way out of bondage in the year of 1766. His writings became one of the first of only a few written accounts of slavery written by a slave. That work was entitled, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African, published in 1789. Olaudah Equiano’s account of slavery brought to the eyes of the world community the use of children taken and used as slaves in a practice which was heretofore thought of as only the world of adults living as captives.
Equiano, at age eleven along with his sister, was kidnapped by slave catchers from their Igbo village compound while their parents were working at a distant farm near their home in Essaka, Benin. Equiano told of his attempt to yell out, his being bound, mouth gagged and separated from his sister on his way to the slave trading post. He told of his contact and fear of white Europeans and his anger at them as he was chained together with other Africans on the long voyage to America. He told of the packing of his people in the filth of the ship’s hold, the deaths from diseases, the forced feedings, and cruel treatment. Equiano traced his journey to the slave market and his being sold in Barbados to a plantation owner in Virginia. Equiano talked about his luck at being eventually sold again to a British naval officer, who took him to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and to Falmouth, England in 1757. He told of his master naming him Gustavus Vassa (after a Swedish king). Equiano was eventually bought by a slave holding Quaker named Robert King. King taught Equiano certain skills including a way to the world of free people which he entered by 1766.
Olaudah Equiano’s dignity was captured in an exceptional portrait of him done in the British School around the late 18th century. It is housed in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, England.Ã‚Â
SLAVE REVOLTS AND REBELLIONS
Slave revolts and rebellions were numerous, but most accounts were kept quiet. Historians were able to document several of these violent outbreaks. Among them were:
Gabriel Prosser, in August of 1800, set out to free himself along with about 1,000 other slaves. His plot was to kill most of the white residents and take the town of Richmond, Virginia. It is said that a sudden bad thunderstorm caused the slave revolters to disband. Three other slaves also revealed the plot, and Gabriel Prosser and thirty-six of the slaves were identified, tried, and executed.
Denmark Vesey had obtained his freedom by the year of 1800. He was so disturbed by the whole system of slavery that he wanted to destroy all vestiges of its doing. He wanted a full-fledged war using armed slaves to kill white slave owners in the city of Charleston, South Carolina. By 1822, and after several years of planning, Vesey’s idea to attack and “liberate” the city was revealed. One participant’s forced confession led to Vesey’s and several of his co-conspirators’ arrest. All of them were tried and hung. South Carolina then passed laws to bar free Blacks from entering the state due to Denmark Vesey’s alleged plot.
Nat Turner had a religious zeal and a belief that he was the “chosen one” to free himself and his slave brethren. This 31 year old preacher to the slaves devised a plan of “terror and devastation.”
His organized revolt became America’s most famous and violent act involving slave resistance. On August 21, 1831, Nat Turner and six other slaves killed Turner’s plantation master and his family in Southampton County, Virginia. Turner increased his supporting band of slaves as they went about killing a total of 60 white slave owners, including their wives and children.
Federal and Virginia state troopers encountered the roving band of slaves and killed most of those in rebellion. Other slaves not connected to the rebellion were also killed. An estimate of over 100 slaves were killed, but Nat Turner escaped. He was hunted down as he hid out in the swamps for almost three months. He was finally captured and executed on October 30, 1831.
THE ANTI-SLAVERY MOVEMENT
Other slaves had often heard about the freedom in the north and Canada. Many of the northern states were developing strong coalitions of free Black and White groups in an organization called the American Anti-Slavery Society, established by 1833. Prominent black leaders began to join this organization.
Among them: Frederick Douglass, Highland Garnet, David Walker, James Forten, Sarah Parker Remond, Charles Lenox Remond, Sojourner Truth, William Whipper, Harriet Tubman, David Ruggles, William C. Nell, Robert Purvis, and Martin R. Delany. Among those whites who joined in the cause of the abolitionist movement were: Theodore D. Weld, Lewis Tappan and Arthur Tappan, William Lloyd Garrison, Levi Coffin, Charles G. Finney, Wendell Phillips, Lucretia Mott, James Birney, and James Miller McKim.
The stated goal of the American Anti-Slavery Society was to see the complete abolition of slavery everywhere in the United States. They used every conceivable method, including politics and moral persuasion to achieve their goal.
THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
Many of the abolitionists endorsed a clandestine movement to help the African slave achieve freedom. Some significant clues of the Underground Railroad included well defined hidden routes and following the bright north star during the night, as well as certain “stations” – where a light in the window would be an indicator of a safe home used as a slave hideaway. Some slaves were hidden in barns or behind secret wall passages in these homes.
The leader who knew the way was called the “conductor.” The “station masters” were in most cases free people of color or wealthy white benefactors who provided food, shelter, or money along the way for the escaping runaways. The most profoundly skilled and successful “conductor” of the Underground Railroad was Harriet Tubman.
She was credited with leading over 300 runaways to freedom with a total of 19 trips through the south. It was later stated that she never lost a “passenger” on these risky escape routes. The Underground Railroad, from 1800 up until the end of 1865, assisted more than 40,000 slaves to freedom up north and into Canada. Raymond Bial’s book, The Underground Railroad, published in 1995, depicted the essence both in text and with superb pictures of those mystical hidden passageways which made up the Underground Railroad.Ã‚Â
THE AMISTAD INSURRECTION
This true to life mutiny took place in the year of 1839. The La Amistad, a slave bearing Spanish vessel, was carrying 53 captives (49 men, 1 young girl, and 3 children), all previously taken from the African country of Sierra Leone when the insurrection occurred. They belonged to the Mende village in West Africa. The insurrection started when the ship, La Amistad, was taking the slave captives from Cuba to a slave market in South America.
La Amistad was sailing in the Caribbean when Singbe, a 25 year old African, later given the Spanish name Joseph Cinque, was able to free himself and the other captives from their chains. During the dark night, they went on deck and killed the captain and his cook. Two other crew members were saved and directed by Cinque to turn the ship back toward their homeland of Africa. Instead of going toward Africa, the ship was steered to the shores off Montauk, Long Island. Here the ship docked for food and water, but it was noticed by the American navel ship, U.S.S. Washington. The captain, named Richard Meade, ordered the ship to dock over at New London, Connecticut on August 27, 1839. New York was bypassed as a docking area due to slavery being illegal in the state. Connecticut still had not abolished slavery at that time period.
The importance of the Amistad Insurrection brought the focus of slavery to the attention of many more free Americans. The abolitionists were looking for evidence of cruelty and the evil profiteering involved in slavery. The abolitionists wanted slavery abolished in America. An 18 month legal battle ensued, and the black Africans did not seem to have a chance of gaining their release from prison as the ones accused of murder and mutiny aboard the ship, La Amistad. They were going to be tried by a court of Law and sent back to slavery in Havana, Cuba. The Cubans and the Spanish government were diplomatically trying to force President Martin Van Buren to side step any conflicts between America and Spain, and send the “murderous Africans” back to the slave port in Cuba.
The technicality was that Spanish law “had by 1817 prohibited the importation of slaves into any of its territory, including the colony of Cuba.” This true to life drama escalated into one of America’s most fascinating court cases. Attorney Roger Sherman Baldwin of New Haven, Connecticut was able to secure a translator of the Mende language to help with the actual documentation of Cinque’s journey and the others being kidnapped in Africa where they were put into the hold of the Portuguese Slave ship, the Tecora, and sent via the middle passage to Cuba. The highest point of the Amistad incident came when the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, and the former U.S.
President John Quincy Adams, at 73 and nearly blind, was cajoled into fighting the case. His 8 1/2 hours of astute testimony won the acquittal verdict! “They were illegally enslaved, their papers were forged and they were never Spanish speaking Cuban slaves.” The verdict favored Cinque and the 35 surviving Mende Africans. Before leaving Connecticut, Cinque, with an interpreter, spoke at several abolitionists’ town meetings. Money was raised, and the town’s Congregational Church at Farmington Connecticut helped the Africans on their voyage back to Sierra Leone in the month of November 1841.
The portrait shown here of Joseph Cinque was done by the New Haven Painter, Nathaniel Jocelyn, before the trial ended. The portrait is part of the New Haven Connecticut Historical Society.
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE
Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) did wonders for the Anti-Slavery Movement. Her serialized publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin first appeared in the National Era weekly newspaper, starting June 2, 1851. It became so popular in 1851, she decided to do a completed version as a published book by March, 1852.
The entire printing of 5,000 copies was sold out the first week it appeared in Boston, Massachusetts. The demand suddenly took hold, and, before the summer of 1852 ended, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel had earned her over $10,000 in royalties.
The demand for her book required a production of over 300,000 copies within one year. Several translations were done, and suddenly the world community knew about the cruel and inhuman treatment of enslaved blacks in America.
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was based upon the life in narrative of Josiah Henson, a runaway slave. Ã‚Â
THE DRED SCOTT CASE
By 1854, the Dred Scott Case brought a setback to the Abolitionist Movement. Dred Scott, a slave, was taken by his master into the free states of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
Scott stayed out of Missouri, his slave state, for four years. His claim was that he was an established person on “free soil.” The lower courts ruled against Scott.
The case eventually went to the Supreme Court of the United States. Again the ruling was unfavorable. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, a resident of Maryland, and the other justices ruled that “Dred Scott could not bring suit in federal court because he was a Negro, not just a slave.
No Negro whether slave or free, could ever be considered a citizen of the United States within the meaning of the Constitution.” Thus, Scott’s real problem was not his servitude but his race. This outspoken blow was a positive message for the south in that slavery in America was not going away but was a legal part involved with the American way of life.
RAID ON HARPER’S FERRY
By 1859, an unsettling event happened – John Brown, the dogmatic white abolitionist from Kansas attacked slavery as an issue which he felt could only be resolved using acts of violence.
He sought out justice to the slavery issue using biblical scriptures in the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible. “Without blood there is no remission of sins.”
The Federal Armory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia was the chosen place. The plot was to take the ammunition and weapons and kill all, and free the slaves. October 17, 1859 twenty-two men on foot cut the telegraph wires and broke into the armory. Colonel Robert E. Lee (who later became Confederate General Lee) was summoned to the armory with his troops. The raiders held out for a day and a half. Lee’s troops stormed the armory, and ten raiders were immediately killed.
Two of John Brown’s sons died in this action along with four out of the five black volunteers who took part in the raid (Shields Green, Lewis Leary, John Copeland, Dangerfield Newby). By some fluke, the last black volunteer, Osborne Anderson, escaped and later joined the Union Army during the Civil War (1861-1865).
Four other raiders also escaped. John Brown and six others were captured and hung on December 2, 1859. The John Brown Hanging elevated him as a martyr for the Abolitionist’s cause. During the time of the raid he had grown a long beard; thus he was called the “Moses” of the Abolitionist Movement.Ã‚Â
THE ELECTION OF 1860
1860 was a crucial year in the history of this Republic. Slavery had weakened America’s position as a country established on principles of freedom. This was an election year. Abraham Lincoln (b. Feb. 12, 1809 – d. April 15, 1865) won the nomination for the presidency of the United States representing the Republican Party.
The Democratic Party split up into a Northern Wing with Stephen A. Douglas as its candidate and a Southern Wing with John C. Breckinridge as the other candidate for the presidency of the United States.
The Whig Party was so weak with deserting members that it split up into a conservative Whig Wing, and they aligned with the Know-Nothing Party to form a new party called the Constitutional Union Party with John Bell as their candidate for the presidency of the United States.
Abraham Lincoln won the election easily on November 6, 1860 due to the unity on party issues within the Republican Party. Lincoln became the 16th President of the United States mainly from the votes coming from the north. Lincoln had built a reputation as an opponent of slavery.
The south made it known that this was going to split the United States if Lincoln were elected. Therefore, on December 20, 1860, secession took place with South Carolina taking the lead, followed in January 1861, by the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi. They formed a separate Union within the United States called the Confederate States of America. Before the end of February, five other states joined the Confederacy. They were Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
When Abraham Lincoln took office on March 4, 1861 – the United States was a divided country with slavery as the major issue before the Republic.
The South moved fast and decided to seize U.S. Federal forts within their jurisdiction. Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor was considered a Union stronghold. Lincoln provided stronger protection for Fort Sumter, therefore it had to be taken by force by the Confederates. The firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 was the start of the American Civil War. Abraham Lincoln had been in office only one month.Ã‚Â
THE CIVIL WAR (1861-1865)
It was therefore inevitable that something had to be done in America in order to preserve the Union. The disunity of the states escalated into one of America’s most dreadful and bloody wars. President Abraham Lincoln stated, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Earlier, in 1858, Lincoln had stated that, “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.”
At the outset of the Civil War, both northern Whites and free Blacks came forth to join the Union Army. From the beginning, both black slaves and freeman saw this opportunity to serve in the military as a method for relinquishing their chains and proving their inclusive worthiness to this nation. Some black slaves, for some unknown reasons, remained with their masters and assisted them on the side of the Confederacy during the entire period of the Civil War.
On the whole, there was widespread resistance by whites on both the Union blue and Confederate gray sides in accepting Blacks as part of the military. Lincoln rejected the participation of Blacks at first in the Union Army. He did not want to alienate those border states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri who still owned slaves but were loyal to the Union. West Virginia became a state in 1863 and stayed in the Union.
There were also many anti-abolitionist groups in the North who felt this war should not involve Blacks. The Union Secretary of War issued a statement: “This Department has no intention at the present to call into service of the government any colored soldiers.”
As the bloody war progressed, many slaves “flocked to the Union lines seeking freedom.” These slaves, by the hundreds, were crossing into Union territory, and they were placed in “contraband camps.” The need for able-bodied fighting men soon led individual states to swear into the military separate regiments of all black troops. Other Blacks found acceptance as volunteers in semi-military or military support positions.
Not until August of 1862 did Blacks receive the endorsement of Congress to serve in the Civil War. “Congress revoked the militia laws banning Blacks” from serving in the Union Army. Confusion was all around, but it was not until Abraham Lincoln issued on January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation, “freeing all slaves in areas still in rebellion” that ex-slaves were given the formal right to be received in the U.S. Union Armed Forces. The casualties on both sides of the war were climbing, therefore more soldiers were needed. Lincoln needed a victory, therefore the Emancipation was aimed at getting more recruits. The Emancipation Proclamation only freed those slaves in the states under the jurisdiction of the Confederacy.
The Emancipation Proclamation opened the door full-fledged for Blacks to participate in the Civil War. Among the newly freed slaves out of the Confederate states came thousands of volunteers. On May 1, 1863, the War Department created the Bureau of Colored Troops in order to handle the recruitment and organization of all black regiments. These units were known as the United States Colored Troops, and doubts about their competency, loyalty, and bravery were under close scrutiny. White officers were their commanders, and acceptance of ex-slaves by these commanders was not always willing.
It was with the valor displayed by the 54th All Black Infantry Regiment out of Boston, Massachusetts who charged Fort Wagner did some notable recognition come to these troops. The widespread knowledge about these all black units of the Civil War came about with the popularity of the movie, Glory, starring Denzel Washington.
Based upon the triumphs and defeats of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, a historical moment was captured in the lives of some unknown American freedom fighters. The first African-American medal of Honor was awarded to William Carney of this 54th Infantry Regiment. More than 300 African-Americans died at the Fort Wagner assault.
By the end of the Civil War, over 186,000 men of African decent had served in the U. S. Armed Forces, and over 38,000 died in an effort to be part of America’s inclusive freedom. Twenty-four black soldiers were awarded the meritorious Congressional Medals of Honor. All together, on the Union side about 360,000 troops died in the war. On the Confederate side about 260,000 troops died. The Civil War ended April 9, 1865.Ã‚Â
THE RECONSTRUCTION (1865-1877)
America, including the South, had to be rebuilt, and, despite the South’s hostile resistance, African-Americans were slowly becoming part of this nation’s inclusion. By 1868, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution confirmed the long awaited citizenship for Blacks in America. By 1870, the 15th Amendment was added to the Constitution which made it illegal to deny the right the vote based on race.
The Reconstruction, although short-lived, showed the first real attempts of inclusive freedom for African-Americans. Gains were taking place: Citizenship, Voting, Education, and Politics.
Later that freedom was restricted by Jim Crow Laws, discrimination, and the denial of equal protection by law.
The Journey from Slavery to Freedom only opened the door halfway. 1877 was the beginning of a long journey. That journey was one hundred and twenty-one years ago, and it still goes on.Ã‚Â