The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Ramsdell's observations on the Negro

(Hey, that's his term; don't flame me for it...)

Ramsdell explains around page 50 what Juneteenth actually meant. Slavery is a simple concept; master is in his house and he tells the field slaves what to do, and in return the slaves get to live in a cabin and get Single Payer Health Care. When it ends, the master is still in his house and the slave is still in his cabin. The master no longer has responsibility for his charges. So now what?

Here, we have a control set for Ramsdell's claims: slave narratives. For these I use Andrew Ward in The Slaves' War chapters 28-31, 254-97, outside Texas; and DC: US Library of Congress, 1936-38 for inside.

Ramsdell notes much white trickery - like masters just not telling their blacks that they were free, or whites indulging in terrorism. In South Carolina, Lorenzo Ezell saw whites dress up as ghosts, to frighten them back on the job (this then became the Klan, preceding Ezell into Texas). Another dodge was to pay the freedmen in Jeffy-Dollars (Ward, 273; also, Anderson Edwards' narrative in Texas). I suspect that this was less to cheat the freedmen (outright) and more to force him to stay inside the ex-Confederate economy.

Past that, planters and freedmen stumbled into a different model. That was for the former master to bind the former slave to his original occupation by way of contract. The planter told the freedman: if you stay here for three weeks, you will get paid. The freedman told the planter: well, I can't say exactly, because this is a family blog.

Yeah, many freedmen just broke their contracts. Ramsdell 49-50 cites several July-September newspapers observing that. This has backup from slave narratives too. In Ward, we read of Harry Bridges's mother: 264-5. Also, page 275.

Meanwhile, while the crop wasn't being picked up and sold off, the money wasn't coming in, and Texas went further into a financial hole.

By the way where did these ex servitors head off to? The US military sure as hell didn't want the bother. Here is Ramsdell 71:

Throughout the summer months they [freedmen] had slipped away from the plantations as opportunity offered or whim suggested, and despite the military regulations to the contrary, large numbers collected around the towns where, luxuriating in idleness and heedless of the next winter, they eked out a meagre subsistence by petty thieving, begging, or doing occasional off jobs. Crowded together indiscriminately in small huts, they rapidly fell victims to disease and vices of all sorts.

Ramsdell cites the Southern Intelligencer in Austin, 29 September; "all newspapers of the late summer bear evidence to this effect". The slave narratives back this up, too; for instance, Ward page 275 already noted. Many freedmen just died, or starved, or begged for their old jobs back.

Ramsdell 67-68 makes additional mention of petty and not-so-petty criminality. (He is fair enough to note that a lot of white mobbery was going on as well. He can hardly take back what he'd just said about those d-mob'ed Confederate soldiers, after all.) One Texan freedman, William Hamilton, thought he had a handle on why the coloured folks were getting into trouble, and reported in this narrative:

De cullud folks has lots of trouble after de war, 'cause dey am ir'rant niggers and gits foolishment in de head. They gits de idea de white folks should give dem land and mules and sich. Over in de valley, Massa Moses owns lots of land and fifty nigger families, and he gives each family a deed to 'bout fifty acres. Some dem cullud folks grandchillen still on dat land, too, de Parkers and Farrows and Nelsons and some others. Den all de other niggers thinks dey should git land, too, but dey don't, and it make dem git foolishment and git in trouble.

What did the North expect would happen?

Sadly, Ramsdell doesn't help his case with loaded words like "luxuriating"; and there's a lot more whence that came, like in p. 50 when he calls the freedman "child-like, concerned only with his immediate present". This sort of thing would fly in 1909 but in 2011, it's just embarrassing.

posted by Zimri on 14:58 | link | 0 comments

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