Why did Americans own slaves?

1865 in the USA : Abolition of Slavery: 150 Year Old Scars

A "moronic boy" offered slave dealer Levi Sudduth in front of the slave market on December 4, 1865 in Paris, Kentucky. Headline of the newspaper advertisement: "Negroes for sale". John, that was the boy's name, was to go to the "lowest bidder". The seller in his idiosyncratic sarcasm probably already suspected that there would not be much to be gained from the once lucrative human trafficking in the southern states of the USA. Three weeks later, on December 18, 1865, one of the darkest chapters of the young United States was over - at least formally.

On that day, President Andrew Johnson signed the 13th Amendment - slavery ended after a bloody civil war between northern and southern states. Johnson's predecessor, Abraham Lincoln, had died in office because of his rejection of slavery.

Lincoln's distant successor, Barack Obama, is the first black President of the United States 150 years later. And he makes it clear how difficult his nation is still struggling with its inglorious heritage. "We would do those who fought against slavery a disservice if we denied that the scars of original sins are still to be seen."

Blacks still had to get up in the 1950s if a white man wanted to sit on the park bench next to them. Blacks were not allowed to drink from public water dispensers. Schools, clinics, buses - the separation of black and white prevailed everywhere - until the 1960s, when President Lyndon Johnson put an end to it with the civil rights law. But even today, there are residential areas in the cities of the United States in which it is difficult to find a white man - and many more areas in which it is practically impossible to see black people.

That's bad enough, but nothing compared to the situation 150 years ago. Bonded in the sweltering heat, on cotton plantations in Mississippi and on tobacco fields in Virginia. Auctioned like cattle in slave markets, tortured by ruthless slave drivers, lashed and mutilated, raped and humiliated: what the English had introduced into their former colony had taken on inhuman traits. In South Carolina at times up to 54 percent of the total population were unfree blacks.

There was torture - but also human slave owners

The history of slavery in the US is also a little homogeneous. Alongside torture and exploitation, there was the more humane side of slavery. "Many farmers had their children raised by older slaves," said James Klotter, Kentucky state historian and history professor at the state's Georgetown University. Often slave children grew up with those of their masters on the idyllic, gentle, green hills of the "Blue Grass", and intimate friendships were formed.

The open-air museum of Camp Nelson near Lexington still shows how tens of thousands of blacks fled into the army of the northern states and fought there against the south. In a war that didn't start because of slavery but continued on its behalf. The slave Josiah Henson, sold from Maryland to Kentucky and later fled to Canada, is said to have provided the template for Harriet Beacher-Stowe's bestseller "Uncle Tom’s Hut". President Lincoln is said to have called the author a "little woman" who "started a great war."

A few months after the war ended, the Union of the United States was saved - and the slaves were formally free. "The previous owners were even seriously surprised that the slaves didn't stay with them," says Klotter. “They had told themselves that they had treated their slaves well.” The blacks preferred to move to so-called “Negro Hamlets”, settlements with their own churches and shops.

In fact, the slaves on the comparatively smaller farms in Kentucky or Maryland were better off than on the large plantations in Mississippi or Alabama. Just because of the proximity to the Ohio River, for the slaves the border into the freedom of the north, the Kentucky farmers had to make concessions in order not to let escape attempts become the norm.

But the farmers in Kentucky did not shy away from particularly vile additional business. In the slave markets of the region, especially in Louisville, they sold slaves to the south, "down the river" as it was called. Some historians even assume that slaves were deliberately encouraged to have children in order to be able to make a profit with the offspring in the human markets. stone blocks on which slaves were offered for sale are among the few surviving memorials from this period, for example in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Soon the black population in Washington will get its own museum with the National Museum of African American History. Investigating the wreckage of slave ships is one of his first major projects. dpa

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