“Well-Fed Slaves…”

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Imam Zaid Shakir


Posted Posted on 2016-07-28

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Bill O’Reilly, ignited a firestorm, when commenting on Michelle Obama’s speech at the DNC, stated: “Slaves that worked there [constructing the White House] were well fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government, which stopped hiring slave labor in 1802.” The allegation that chattel slavery in the American South really wasn’t so bad is an old one. O’Reilly’s claim that the slaves who worked constructing the White House were “well-fed” is refuted by Abigail Adams, the wife of the second American president, John Adams. She was there and she describes the condition of the slaves working on the project in the following words: “…but it is true Republicanism that drive the Slaves half fed, and destitute of cloathing, ... to labour, whilst the owner waches about Idle, tho his one Slave is all the property he can boast.”

The full brutality of the system Mr. O’Reilly so glibly glosses over is captured in the following passage from Sylviane Diouf’s important book, Servants of Allah, African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas: “The average life of a slave was fifteen years, no more than six in harsh climates. Planters worked their slaves to death because it made more sense financially, they reasoned, to buy full-grown men and women to replace deceased slaves than to have to care for them, even in a limited way, for the rest of their lives. The French writer Mederic Louis Elie Moreau de Saint Mery, who visited the United States at the end of the eighteenth century, informed his readers that a slave brought about $257 a year to his owner, whereas his upkeep was only $13.48.”

This vicious system of exploitation is condemnable and to try to dismiss it to an increasingly gullible public is not journalism, it is an example of yet another obstacle being placed in the path of a serious effort to bridge the racial divide that threatens to tear this country apart.


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