Slavery has a long, long, long reach. Its reach is so long, it stretches across years, generations, and centuries. It not only reaches and touches, but grabs and holds. Let’s look at a few examples from the Alabama Slave Code to see the codified sources.
Slavery has a long, long, long reach. It grabs and holds education. Let’s look at Slave Code #31. It reads as follows: “Anyone who attempts to teach a free person of color or slave to spell, read, or write will be fined between $250 and $500 dollars.” In today’s money, that is between $7,250 and $14,500. Those fines are, by far, the largest in the Slave Code. Alabama was really serious about making certain that Black people, whether free or enslaved, did not learn to spell, read, or write.
Let’s look a little further. Let’s look at Slave Code #32, summarized as follows: Any free person of color who writes a pass or free paper for a slave will receive 39 lashes on the bare back and must leave the State of Alabama. If they are not gone from the state within 30 days, they shall be sold into slavery for ten years. Let’s also look at Slave Code #33. In summary, it states that if any slave writes a pass or a free paper for another slave, that slave shall receive 50 lashes on the bare back the first time and 100 lashes on the bare back the second time. That is the most lashes a person receives for any violation in the Slave Code. Alabama was really serious about Black people not reading or writing. The determination to limit education is reflected in the education challenges facing African Americans to this very day. Higher dropout rates and fewer resources are just two of the many challenges.
Slavery has a long, long, long reach that grabs and holds economics to this day. Let’s look at Alabama Slave Code #12. In summary, it states that no one can buy, sell, or receive any commodity from a slave without permission of the owner. Violators shall pay four times the value of the product and shall be sent to prison if they cannot pay. A slave will also be administered ten lashes on the bare back.
Let’s look at Slave Codes #26, #27, and #29. In summary, they state that free Negroes and mulattoes are prohibited from selling any liquor, directly or indirectly. Violators will be fined $10, which amounts to $290 in today’s money, for the first violation and up to 25 lashes on the bare back for the second violation. For buying anything from an enslaved person, Whites could be fined $10 to $100, which amounts to $290 to $2,900 in today’s money. Free Negroes and persons of color could not buy or sell anything to or from any enslaved person without written permission from the master. An enslaved person could get 39 lashes on the bare back for each violation.
The legacy of slavery affects the African American economy to this day as reflected in the limited number of businesses, in the limited family wealth, in the limited economic opportunities, and in the limited time each dollar stays in the community. African American families have wealth of $1,700 on average compared to $116,000 on average for White families. Only two percent of every dollar spent by African Americans is spent with Black-owned businesses. The estimated time that dollars stay in various ethnic communities is 28 days for Asians, 20 days for Jews, and 6 hours for African Americans.
Slavery has a long, long, long reach. It grabs and holds law enforcement and criminal prosecution to this day. Let’s look at Slave Code #4, which states that slaves can never serve as witnesses in a trial unless they are giving evidence for or against another slave. Let’s look at Slave Code #20, which states that a slave found to have conspired in any way to rebel or murder another person shall be put to death. Let’s look at Slave Code #21, which states that any trial of a slave accused of a felony must have at least five slave owners on the jury. Let’s look at Slave Code #38, which makes it the duty of all patrols and officers to break up gatherings of slaves, with violators being given ten lashes the first time and 39 lashes the second time. The legacy of slavery manifests itself to this day in the death penalty, police brutality, high levels of incarceration, the striking of African Americans from juries, African Americans getting pulled over while driving at much higher rates, and more.
Slavery has a long, long, long reach that grabs and holds so many other things including the culture of guns, violence, and religion. Let’s leave Alabama for the moment and go to Virginia, South Carolina, and Louisiana for various examples from their Slave Codes. All persons, except African American slaves, shall be provided with arms and ammunition or be fined. All servants imported into this country who were not Christians in their native country shall be slaves. If any slave resists his master and shall be killed in the process of resisting, the master shall be free from punishment. A slave who strikes his master or mistress or their children shall be put to death. All Whites were forced to have guns to keep enslaved people in check. It took tremendous amounts of violence to implement and maintain slavery. Religion was key in implementing and maintaining slavery.
Slavery has a long, long, long reach. Its reach is so long, it stretches across years, generations, and centuries. It not only reaches and touches, but grabs and holds.
EPILOGUE – So many things impact us that we don’t even know exist. Because we don’t know they exist, we don’t know their source. The role of slavery in our history is such a thing.