As you perhaps know, I was born a slave, a slave for life, right here in Maryland. I was born in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore about 100 miles due east from Prince George’s county. I don’t rightly know the year, but my best estimate is that it was in the winter of 1817. You ought to also know that when I was twenty years old, I ran away from my Master, and that much later my friends bought my freedom.
So you see I am a graduate of the American Institution of Chattel Negro Slavery, and my certificate of graduation is written on the flesh of my back by the carvings and scars placed there from the slaver’s lash.
What I have to say to you this morning is premised on most of you, having an understanding of the basic rudimentary characteristics of “Chattel Negro Slavery.” But for fear that many of you may not have a basic understanding of the rudimentary characteristics of Chattel Negro Slavery, I will quickly review just three basic characteristics with you. Please bear in mind that I do not intend to talk to you about the details of the institution of slavery itself.
1. You should know that by law and custom, the slave was considered to be property, the same as a swine, or a wagon or a horse. You should know that such property could be sold, traded, hired out or disposed of at the whim of the slaveholder and in certain instances the slave may be killed with impunity.
But today, we shall not discuss the details of the selling and buying of slaves and the accompanying inhumanity, horrors, and harshness of the frequent public slave auctions were slaves were placed on an auction block, inspected like cattle, and sold to the highest bidder. No, no we’re not going there today.
2. You should know that slavery was a big multi-million dollar business back in the 1800s. Slavery formed the backbone of the plantation economy of the southern states and as such, it was imperative that slaveholders develop “slave-controlling strategies” to motivate slaves to produce (work), and to ensure slavery’s profitability, reliability, and predictability.
However, today, we shall not describe the details of these slave controlling strategies which included: “before sun up to after sun down” work requirements, and the use of certain obedience tools such as: the bloody whip, the gag, the thumbscrew, the cat-o-nine tails, the dungeon, the bloodhounds, and of course chains and branding irons. But we’re not going to discuss these strategies today.
3.You should also know that the “field slave” was fed, clothed, and housed only to the extent necessary to keep him or her alive so that the slave-holder might realize a profit, a pleasure, or a privilege.
4. You should also know that anything that the slave acquired that would allow the slave to begin to feel or think that he was a something other than “property” had to be diligently and systematically wrestled away from him by what I call mind impoverishing practices.