Slavery went against the basis of what the American country was founded on; democracy. There were incidences of conflict between the states regarding the slavery issue, prior the civil war. The southern states were for slavery but the northern states opposed slavery. During this time, Africans were brought from Africa to work in the fields of the white man. While working there, they were subjected to forced labor and denied freedom.
The initial Africans who were brought to America were treated as indentured servants, whereby they were set free after a couple of years. This form of treatment was similar to other European immigrants who came to America, and they had to work for their shipping fee. Later, Africans status changed from a servant to a slave. John Casor was the first African American to be officially regarded as a slave; he was made a slave for the rest of his life.
By 1789, thousands of African Americans were slaves working in plantations especially in the southern states (Horton and Horton, 105-110). This paper will trace some of the outstanding individuals during the fight for freedom. It will find out what they did and the effect of their action. In the end the paper will prove the thesis that; one person can bring about great change.
The laws that were passed regarding the Africans stole their freedom and their spirit to live. Obviously the slaves opposed this system but they were met with cruel punishment from their masters. Breach of any of the slave codes was punishable by death. All of the slaves desired to have freedom, but the means of attaining that was still unknown.
Going against the master would spell disaster, so the easiest way of a slave to be free, was to escape. Escaping on the other hand, came with its own challenges. One had to plan in advance on the meals and the escape root. Also, running away meant that one had to leave his family including children. Worst of all, was getting caught.
A slave would be thoroughly punished, not forgetting that he had been hunted down like an animal. On the brighter side, America had undeveloped sections where nobody lived. These vast woods and wilderness acted as refuge camps for the escapees. In the wilderness, they used to feed on wild fruits and animals. Some of them encountered the Native American Indians and went to settle with them (Hunter, 111-120).
Rebellions led by African Americans against the whites were many. Probably a lot of them never came to be known. Fortunately, some people were able to write down about some of the earliest rebellions. One of the earliest rebel leaders was Gabriel Prosser. He had planned to lead a major rebel movement to free hundreds of slaves by killing the white people.
The movement was postponed due to rain. Some of the slaves reported the plan to their masters who acted swiftly, and arrested a bunch of slaves including Prosser. Prosser was hanged to death together with other 35 slaves. This attempted rebellion only made the rules tighter. For example, movement from one farm to another was restricted, and the freed slaves were not allowed to live in the state; Virginia (Hahn, 58).
Denmark Vesey was already a free man by the beginning of 19th century. He was angry at the slavery regime that he had planned to end it using military force. His intention was to kill all the slave owners in Charleston and free the slaves. He took a couple of years planning it but one of his associate revealed his plan. All those involved in the planning were hanged to death. Southern Carolina too burnt the free African American from staying in the state.
Perhaps the most terrorizing rebellion was led by Nat Turner. He believed that he was special, and he was the one who will save all the blacks from the white man. In 1831, while in the company of 6 slaves, he killed his master together with his family in Virginia.
He did not stop there; he mobilized more slaves and went on a killing spree. In total, they had killed sixty slave masters together with their families. Turner’s mob was encountered by the federal troopers and about 100 slaves were killed on the spot. Turner managed to escape and hid in the swamps. He was captured three months later and hanged to death (Hunter, 298-301).
In the 19th century, all the blacks in the northern part of America were free. They started forming movements which were dubbed as American Anti-Slavery Society. Highly ranked African American leaders and like Fredrick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Robert Purvis and many more were part of this organization.
Surprisingly, the movement also had some white people like Theodore D. Weld, Arthur Tappan and many others. The main aim was to ensure that every single black person in the country was free. They used political and ethical influences to reach their goals, but all that did not seem to work (Hahn, 176).
Since the legal way of freeing the slaves was not working, those who were against the slavery devised a secret plan which included a secret route of escaping.
The name Underground Railroad was the name given to the path which the slaves followed, during their escape. The route included a star on the northern side of the sky which was supposed to be followed at night. In the route, there were houses which could be used to host the running slaves. These houses were called stations. These stations were owned by free blacks and anti-slavery white men.
They used to provide the fleeing slaves with basic needs before moving on. Those who were familiar with the route because they had passed it several times were called conductors. Undoubtedly, the best conductor was Harriet Tubman. Some say that she was able to free close to 350 slaves by just 20 trips. In those trips everybody made it. The railroad operated for about 65 years, and within that time, over 40,000 slaves had used it to escape to Canada (Hunter, 350).
1860 turned out to be quite a significant year in the fight against slavery. That was the year Abraham Lincoln was elected as the 16th president of the United States. The southern states formed a separate union from the north. The president was against slavery and the southerners still regarded the blacks as slaves. Lincoln was determined to unite his country, but the contradicting interest in slavery, made the southern and the northern states go to war.
The northern blacks and the free southern blacks joined the union army as a way of proving that they were equal to white men. In both camps though, there was reluctance in including the blacks into the army. As the war progressed, many slaves took that opportunity to cross to the northern side. Soon, there was need for fighters in the union camp. Lincoln agreed that only the freed slaves could participate in the battle.
The loyalty of the black was put at question in the union camp but after Fort’s glorious moment, all that changed. Fort Wagner was in the 54th Infantry and took charge of the company after its leaders had died. He led the infantry to defeat the 54th Massachusetts volunteer infantry. He received a medal of honor for his bravery; which was a first for a black person. The war later ended in 1865 (Horton and Horton, 499-505).
After the war, the nation needed to be reconstructed. It was now apparent that the African Americans were going to be a part of United States of America. In 1868, a law was passed that allowed African Americans to have full citizenship in America.
In 1870, they were allowed to vote. The short reconstruction era was the first period where real effort was put to ensure that all African Americans achieved their long waited freedom. Afterwards the freedom the blacks were waiting for was halted by Jim Laws. He denied the African Americans equal justice (Hunter, 400).
The men and woman discussed in this paper all did some daring things. Some of the consequences were negative rather than positive. The rebellion of people like Prosser only made the conditions of both the freed and slaved blacks difficult. At first, their actions seemed to have a negative result but in the long run, their efforts provided motivation for others to keep on fighting.
Tubman and Douglass formed groups to free the slaves. Later, only the effort of a few individuals resulted to some of the slaves being freed. From the accounts that happened during the struggle for freedom by the African American, it is safe to conclude that a single person can make a difference.
Hahn, Steven. A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration. New York: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005. Print.
Horton, Lois E and James Oliver Horton. Slavery and the Making of America. Oxford University Press: London, 2006. Print.
Hunter, Tera W. To ‘Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War. New York: Harvard University Press, 1998. Print.