(Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of Ben Kinchlow’s series on the history of black America. Read Part 1 here.)
To pick up where we left off, let me reiterate: The first blacks did not come to America as slaves.
In point of fact, according to British law, every Christian was equal before the law, and judgments were based upon being Christian or non-Christian, not race. If blacks served out their indentured periods or became Christians, they were, as other Europeans, granted their freedom.
According to the historical records, the aforementioned Anthony Johnson family settled on the eastern shore of Virginia and prospered for almost 40 years. As was the custom, he indentured both black and whites. As there are conflicting reports as to the origin of the following, we will cut to the chase. One of Johnson’s indentured servants would cause a seismic shift in the relationships between blacks and whites that would last centuries.
This indentured servant, named John Casor, was black and apparently convinced a white neighbor that he was being illegally detained. Long story short, the case ended up in court.
Johnson sued – not to have Casor fulfill a debt of servitude (five to seven years) – but he insisted he had bought Casor as a slave and “hee had ye Negro for life.” Johnson was claiming that Casor, who had committed no crime, belonged to him as a slave for the rest of his life.
Despite the fact that two influential white landowners sided with Casor, the court ruled for Johnson: “… be it therefore ye judgement of ye court & ordered that sd (said) Jno. Casor, negro, shall forthwith bee turned into ye service of his sd master Anthony Johnson …”
For the record, this is the first legal sanction of slavery (not for a crime) in America. According to historical records, Anthony Johnson must be recognized as the nation’s first official slaveholder. Johnson had been previously captured in Angola and brought to America as an indentured servant in exchange for 50 acres.
Here is where my mouth fell open: Anthony Johnson was black. The father of legalized slavery in America was a black man!
Whoa! This cannot be! How could a brother do that to another bro? How could a black man take away the freedom of another black? This threw me over. I mean, “everybody knows” whites had been the one who put us in chains. And now I discover that not only was the first slave owner black, but the first anti-slavery protest came from whites! This had to be an aberration. Black people could not possibly possess the inhuman traits of the “white monsters.” No way blacks were going to enslave their own people. Could it be? Naaah!
Wait! Suppose this aberration did occur; surely that’s what it was. There could not possibly be another such case, could there? After all, if there were others, wouldn’t black slavers be headline news?
Not according to professor John Russell, PhD. In those days, “free blacks owning black slaves was so common as to pass unnoticed, except in the case of court records.” Apparently, blacks owning blacks was a relatively common occurrence. The official U.S. Census of 1830 indicates 3,775 free blacks owned 12,740 black slaves, which brings up an interesting point.
As Einstein said, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot.” Most of us have heard of something called “reparations” (the descendants of slaves being compensated for the wrongs of slavery). According to the official 1830 U.S. Census, of the 3,775 negro slave owners in New Orleans, most were light-skinned negroes; mulattoes (half black), quadroons (one-quarter black), octoroons (one-eighth black) and quintroons (one-sixteenth black). So, since light-skinned blacks owned dark-skinned blacks, should light-skinned negroes pay reparations to dark-skinned negroes?
Brudders were doing brudders in back in the day just as brothers are doing in brothers today.
Now I am certain that some of my brothers will attempt to do me in with vitriolic distain for this feeble attempt to get the white man off the hook by blaming slavery on ourselves with, “Well, blacks did it, too.” Lest I be misinterpreted, the above information is in no way to be misconstrued as justification for institutionalized slavery. I offer this merely as evidence that injustice is – as justice should be – colorblind.