Who benefited from slavery?

By | July 23, 2023

The Washington Post reports:

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is intensifying his efforts to de-emphasize racism in his state’s public school curriculum by arguing that some Black people benefited from being enslaved and defending his state’s new African American history standards that civil rights leaders and scholars say misrepresents centuries of U.S. reality.

“They’re probably going to show that some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later in life,” DeSantis said on Friday in response to reporters’ questions while standing in front of a nearly all-White crowd of supporters. [Continue reading…]

Tampa Bay Times reports:

The Florida Department of Education faced angry reaction from across the nation this week to new African American history standards suggesting some slaves benefited from skills they learned while enslaved.

Responding to mounting criticism, the department issued a statement Thursday offering 16 examples of historic figures it said fit that description. That they developed highly specialized abilities that helped them later in life is “factual and well documented,” the department stated.

Asked for more information on Friday, Florida’s Department of Education cited as references “The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution,” an 1895 book by William Cooper Nell, and “Encyclopedia of African American History 1619-1895,″ a 2006 book edited by Paul Finkelman.

Alex Lanfranconi, a spokesperson for the department, said the experts stand behind their examples. Frances Presley Rice, a co-founder of the Yocum African American History Association and chairperson of the National Black Republican Association, provided the information to the department.

But other sources offer conflicting descriptions of the 16 historic figures, and critics came forward to attack the department’s claims. Among the problems: Historic sources show several of the 16 individuals were never even slaves. [Continue reading…]

Sidney Holmes provides some historical background which indicates why DeSantis’s characterization of slavery is not only grossly offensive but also, pointedly, a reversal of the actual transfer of skills:

The story of blacksmithing in New Orleans begins with the founding of the city over 300 years ago. French settlers made plans to turn the piece of land on the banks of the Mississippi River into a sprawling community, but they didn’t have the manpower or skills to do it themselves.

So they turned to African slaves.

Europeans knew that Africans had a history with ironworking and a deep understanding of the skills. Dating back to the early fifteenth century, Portuguese explorers saw blacksmiths’ art at the mouth of the Congo River.

Because of their established knowledge of metal work, the French brought over slaves from west Africa and west-central Africa to support a rapidly growing need for metal work in their American colonies in the early 18th century.

The number of skilled craftspeople continued to grow in the latter half of the century when tens of thousands of free people of color found refuge in New Orleans and cities on the East Coast of the United States following revolutions in Haiti and Cuba. This surge of craftspeople in New Orleans helped to restore the architecture after two fires nearly destroyed the city in 1788 and 1794.

The work of blacksmiths in New Orleans was an integral part of daily life, like in other emerging American cities. Their services included everything from making doors and locks to forging tools to shoeing horses. Because of this, blacksmith shops were spread out every few blocks in the city.

“You couldn’t have a town without a blacksmith. You couldn’t have a town without a doctor, and a lot of times the doctor and the blacksmith were the same person,” Reeves joked.

Black communities in New Orleans heralded blacksmiths as leaders, both because of their physical strength and cultural capital. These blacksmiths were often at the forefront of rebellions in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Despite their perceived value, blacksmiths of color were forced to participate in the suppression of their own people by having to make handcuffs, shackles and jail bars for prisoners and the enslaved.

In the new world, Black blacksmiths in New Orleans found a way to secretly resist their oppressors by honoring their own histories and spiritual practices through their craft.

Iron pieces created by blacksmiths of color in the 18th and 19th centuries are covered with symbols from their home countries. Circular patterns that signify the regeneration of life, Ghanian adinkra symbols and Haitian vévés were forged into the craftsmen’s work as a way of covertly speaking to their people.

“People look at [wrought iron], and they see nice designs, but a lot of those designs mean something, and it’s a language that they brought from West Africa,” Reeves says. [Continue reading…]

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