African Americans: How and Why They Came
Skin color was an instrument of justifying slavery in the Americas. The Portuguese and the Spanish were among the first to bring African slaves to the Americas. In 1542, the enslaving of Indigenous peoples in its New World territories was made illegal by the government of Spain, an action that greatly expanded and facilitated the primary use of Africans in the trans-Atlantic slave trade in North America. As David Brion Davis (2008) stated, “It was not until the seventeenth century that...New World slavery began to be overwhelmingly associated with people of Black African descent.” According to Nathan Rutstein (1997), “In all of the original 13 colonies, there was the prevailing belief among whites that the Caucasian race was not only superior to the African races, but that Africans were part of a lower species, something between the ape and the human.”
It is perhaps difficult to comprehend how the United States, founded on the principles of liberty, democracy and Christian values, could establish a system as inhumane as slavery. It becomes more understandable with the historical context that Black skin and slavery were considered to be a curse from God. Although slavery was driven by economic need, race and theology were used to justify it. According to Goldenberg (2017), the Bible was used as justification for slavery: “...the Bible...consigned Blacks to everlasting servitude...[and] provided biblical validation for sustaining the slave system.” David Brion Davis (2008)has written extensively about the impact of the Curse of Ham on slavery and attitudes toward African Americans in the antebellum era. He stated that “the ‘Curse of Ham’ was repeatedly used as the most authoritative justification for ‘Negro slavery’ by nineteenth-century Southern Christians, by many Northern Christians, and even by a few Jews” (Davis, 2008).
This section licensed CC BY-NC. Attribution: Slavery to Liberation: The African American Experience (Encompass) (CC BY-NC 4.0)
The Migrating U.S. Black Population
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Content on this page has multiple licenses. Everything is CC BY-SA other than Justification for African Slavery which is CC BY-NC.