What An Honor…..
Yesterday I sat on the sun porch where most certainly Thomas Jefferson sat those many years ago at his home in Monticello.
I took the above picture while sitting in a chair pretending I was on a personal visit with Mr Jefferson. Maybe Sally Hemings was there, and maybe one of the slaves brought me, Mr Jefferson and Ms Hemings a glass of ice tea and we all sat together admiring the beautiful landscape of the home he called Monticello.
Before I rode the bus over to the homeplace of Jefferson, I sat through a 20 minute movie that tells about Jefferson, and as always the subject of his disdain for slavery is covered. DNA tests were conducted a few years ago on one of his descendants (actually one of his uncle’s descendants) and on a descendant of a son of Sally Hemings, one of Jefferson’s slaves. The tests say there’s about a 99 percent probability that Tom fathered Sally’s son.
That in itself is not evidence that Thomas Jefferson wanted to end slavery, testing for and finding evidence that slave owners fathered children with slaves was common. It was what slave owners did. What he wrote about ending slavery is another part of his story, one that has deep implications and was never taken lightly.
Jefferson spoke out against slavery in his only book, Notes on the State of Virginia.
Notes on the State of Virginia, 1784
There must doubtless be an unhappy influence on the manners of our people produced by the existence of slavery among us. The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of…the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submission on the other…The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals undepraved by such circumstances. And with what execration should the statesman be loaded, who [permits] one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other….Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever…
I must wonder how well Jefferson slept, for surely his conscious must have stung him endlessly. Buried deep in the hearts of most men and women lies a seed of innocence that yearns to find truth. Jefferson’s truth must have swallowed him up. His need for the institution of slavery, pinned against the knowledge he held and openly spoke about regarding the rights of all men was a brutal thorn for him to bear.
Farming at Monticello
I walked along the field this hot Virginia day in May, I was reminded of the many long days that the small town of slaves toiled over these very rows of cultivated plants. With homemade tools at hand, these gentlemen and women spent many a long day in those hot beds. Jefferson would say, if I were to let my slaves free, what kind of work would they find? How are they equipped to survive in world of such unknown to them.
“No defender of slavery, I concede that it has its benevolent aspects in lifting the Negro from savagery and helping prepare him for that eventual freedom which is surely written in the Book of Fate” Thomas Jefferson
Was this benevolence or addiction, which Jefferson alluded to? In his defense, and from most of what I know from his writings, he was a man of his word and honestly believed in the integrity of mankind. But, here is where I kind of go off into a bit of different viewpoint. I think he was in denial of a condition which he and many of his counterparts suffered and that was they were addicted to the ownership of slavery.
Addiction is never a easy word to use, nor is it one that someone who is held captive to such a disparaging plight much appreciated. Being called an addict carries with it a kind of back alley, fringe of society that none of us want to bear. But just think, addicted to slavery is kind of like today living in America, where we are addicted to oil. At first you may say, but of course it is different, as the oil is not a person, and slaves are people. I then would say; think of the huge population of workers here in america working in chemical plants along a corridor of our southern part of the us called cancer alley.
It can be ascertained, by simply understanding that hundreds of toxic sites located on a historically predominate black region, that environmental discrimination is constantly at work. The African-American population that inhabits the area known as “cancer alley” has been home for this minority for centuries. It is no coincidence that the powers that be place the largest cluster of toxic facilities in one of the most predominately black and low-income places of the United States.  Several local and non-local groups have risen up to acknowledge and fight against this disaster zone. Greenpeace is one of those organizations. A local group calling themselves, “St. James Citizens for Jobs and the Environment,” gathers petitions against new and harmful proposed development sites for toxic facilities. Grassroots movements like this are about all that can fight the large corporations that are driven so forcefully by the economics of energy.  The grassroots activism in this area has greatly increased over the past two decades. Activists have started to better organize and empower themselves to make action against environmental injustice. They have attempted to fight the way government and big industry can implement discriminatory and unhealthy, to people and the environment, practices. Environmentalism is now an umbrella that covers social justice and the civil rights of people. Cancer Alley is a prime example of how industry, with the support of the government, can perpetuate modern racism, poverty, and death.
Have things changed THAT MUCH?
I grew up in the South, I have spend my entire life living below the mason dixon line, and I can say first hand that slavery mentality continues today. Sure, the population today is free to travel and no one is forcing anyone to live and raise their families in such dire surroundings, but this culture of citizenship did not crop up out of no where, this is the residual consequences of the slavery that existed back during Jefferson’s times.
One room that stands out above the rest on the Monticello tour is called the Cooks room.
another view of same room
Imagine living in this small space? Even me, who lives in basically one room here at the House, yet the size of my room plus extra closet space and large bathroom certainly offer much more square footage than the privileged cook’s quarters did at Jefferson’s mansion. The living quarters for the cook were placed under the home of Jefferson, and separated from the rest of the (approx) 200 slaves living in surrounding quarters. The cook’s quarters are also regarded as premier lodging, but the thing that gets me, that even as premier as they may have been, did you know that that small room held the cook, his wife and three small children. When I inquired more about this arrangement, I was quickly reminded that even though the room seems small that all they did was come home from 10 to 18 hours of work, eat and sleep. Imagine again, no tv, no internet, no phone calls, even the bed was considered a luxury, the bed was used by the parents,the children slept on mats on the floor. But still this was quite deluxe, the floor was not dirt, the walls concrete, offering more insulation. The slave quarters did not have any beds and floors were dirt.
oil vs slaves
Did slavery economy end and oil economy begin or did they overlap? The 1860 census says there were 4 million slaves in the US (wikipedia)
White people of that time feared that emancipation of black slaves would have more harmful social and economic consequences than the continuation of slavery. In 1820, Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, wrote in a letter that with slavery:” We have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other” (wikipedia)
The thirteenth amendment, abolishing slavery, was passed by the Senate in April 1864, and by the House of Representatives in January 1865, by a vote of 119 to 56.
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
—Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution ( wikipedia)
I cannot and will not propose to be able to cover the entire history of oil and slavery in america in this blog, goodness, it certainly was never my intention, however this topic is gaining on me like a landslide. I do see some need to back up my assertions with some level of fact/sources, but I don’t intend on this become a book.
Slavery ended on the books in 1865, but as I have stated it has never completely been erased from our culture. Thus the after effects remain today in every aspect of our lives. True, we have a black man in the white house, but that too has shown even more how much racism exist today in our culture, which is a residue of the slave culture in america. My family had black cooks, my grandparents had black cooks and hired help, their pay was so below the minimum wage that it horrors me. I am not really sure how much we paid our “help” during my youth, my guess was no more than $1. a day. That would have meant a monthly income for the black lady who cooked, cleaned, ironed for us, was making about 20.00 a month. I did find this earlier information regarding education in Mississippi, the one state in the south that has always fallen below arkansas, my home state.
On those rare occasions when public money filtered down, it was quickly siphoned off for white use. For 1928–29 Bolivar County received $99,368.24 from the state school fund, earmarked for the county’s Negro children. A hungry board of education quickly diverted $50,562.60 of this amount to white schools instead, then added all the available local tax money. In the end Bolivar spent $45.55 per white child, $1.08 per Negro. At that, neither got much of an education—during the same period California’s rate was $115 per child.
Basically, that sounds about right for Arkansas during that period also, the “separate but equal” charade we tried to keep going long after slavery had been supposedly ended.
In order to tie together the addiction to slavery to the today’s addiction to oi is just taking loose ends and going with it. If we made a promise today in america that we would no longer use oil for anything, it would be about as successful as the 13th amendment back in 1865. Things would appear on paper to have been settled, but just as today with our present race relations, we would still have hundreds of years to solve problems with no longer using oil.
Our economy would not survive, we would still have so much to contend with in our day to day living, heck I would not even be using this computer, it is made of plastic. Just like Jefferson who knew the pitfalls of the institution of slavery and new it’s time would run it course in America, I believe that our current addiction to oil to be the same, how will this eventually play out, probably in many ways similar to our complexity of race relations in America, not too great. But doing nothing will not solve the problems, and pretending that things can always stay the same will eventually be brought out in the light of day. It is easy to look back and ask the hard questions, but how easy is it to fine the answers to our vast problems of the day. Maybe things really haven’t changed that much. With all the technology we have developed in our world, we cannot stop a gas leak in our precious ocean, one that killing and destroying vast areas of land, water and life.
After looking at the list above, there will not be anytime soon we can give up our addiction to oil, nor will we solve the legacy left by our forefathers regarding their addiction to slavery. But one thing I know, if we don’t start trying to improve our relationships with all people and this planet, nothing is ever going to improve, it just going to continue to get worse. Think about it?
That is what I got from my recent visit to Monticello.