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A History of the Slave South


As a sixth generation Mississippian trying to understand the past, this course was a Godsend. Dr. McCurry's lectures were structured in a way to make us think, to help us understand the history that shaped our country and in many ways still shapes our country.


I was intrigued to read of William Byrd and his indentured servants -- in checking my family history I was excited to learn that one of those servants was the original Maxey-- Edward Maxey -- who arrived in Virginia (some time in the 1690s). The original manifest listing him as an indentured servant to William Byrd is here.  


In explaining this to my young son, his reaction was, "So, Dad, our ancestors were slaves?" I had to explain, well kind of. But after taking this course I can explain that the economics of indentured servants as longevity increased the demand for permanent slaves. Africans were sought after for the slave trade.


Economics, especially plantation economics and most especially cotton created the perfect storm for a great increase in the demand and value of slaves. While cotton itself created market systems that are the ancestors of our world financial system today. Cotton also fueled the industrial revolution and was viewed by the South as invincible.Economics made slavery incredibly valuable to the slave holding elite. And this elite segment of the population (only 30% of the South held slaves and less than 5% were in the planter class of 20 or more slaves) was able to create one of the most historically significant cultural hegemony strategies.


The issue that was preached to the masses was one of freedom and protection from the oppression of the majority. Slavery was only mentioned as a proxy indicator of that freedom. The majority of white poor male voters accepted this "values" approach and sided with the elite in protecting slavery at all costs.Ironically, the lack of democracy (white women and slaves were disenfranchised) that allowed the hegemony to be successful in a secession movement was a detriment to the war effort when everyone was needed to fight for the South -- women in a support role and slaves in both a support role and later in their potential use in military units. Women and slaves created issues for the Confederate government as the war entered the latter stages.


The unintended consequences of Secession which had been instigated to create a loose confederation of sovereign states resulted in a strong federal government that was in many ways more demanding and oppressive than the North had been to the South. It became a government that in the end hunted and tortured its own people as it tried to maintain soldiers in the Confederate army.


All in all, we learned the complicated nature of slavery, what it did to the South, and what happened to create our modern nation. Lessons abound that should be heeded today regarding cultural hegemony of a values based politics that tends to serves the needs of the elite while using proxy indicators of religious rights, pro-life policies, protection of marriage, etc. -- but the most pressing actions when the elite are in power are not the values issues but instead focus on financial protection of the affluent (de-regulation of financial markets, tightening of bankruptcy laws, re-writing of credit card regulations to favor banks, etc.). The other major lesson is the need to be alert to radical movements -- to get involved politically to counter them -- the secessionists were able to power through their agenda and it was an incredibly radical move. A moderate middle was not allowed or chose not to speak out and catastrophe followed.

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