#10InterestingInsights from “My Bondage and My Freedom” by Frederick Douglas

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 11.19.49 PMBook: “My Bondage and My Freedom”

Author: Frederick Douglas (Edited by William L. Andrews)

Published: 1987 (originally printed 1855)

Why I Read this Book: After reading “The American Slave Coast”, I really wanted to read some more books that delve deeper into the realities and impacts of slavery in America. One of the people referenced in that book several times is Frederick Douglas, who is known as one of the most prolific writers on the topic of slavery. He was born into slavery in Maryland, lived on a plantation, later lived as a personal slave in Baltimore to a wife and husband, eventually escaped to the North where he lived as a “free” man, travelled to London, and finally was able to purchase his freedom and finish his life in the United States, working tirelessly for the emancipation and elevation of the African American peoples. With such a compelling story, I decided to pick up one of his books, titled “My Bondage and My Freedom”, which is an autobiography of his life detailing his many soul-stirring experiences. Excellent read!

Frederick Douglas was an amazingly inspiring human being and is such an important historical figure in American history! In a time when the common belief was that black slaves were inferior and sub-human to whites, Douglas was a shining example that this way of thinking was utterly erroneous.

In the book’s introduction, James McCune Smith states of Frederick Douglas:

“When a man raises himself from the lowest condition in society to the highest, mankind pays him the tribute of their admiration; when he accomplishes this elevation by native energy, guided by prudence and wisdom, their admiration is increased; but when his course, onward and upward, excellent in itself, furthermore proves a possible, what had hitherto been regarded as an impossible, reform, then he becomes a burning and a shining light on which the aged may look with gladness, the young with hope, and the down-trodden, as a representative of what they may themselves become. To such a man, dear reader, it is my privilege to introduce you.”[1]

And here are some of the concepts that most struck me while reading Douglas’s autobiography…

#10InterestingInsights from “My Bondage and My Freedom.

1) Douglas recalls how the reality of being a “slave” didn’t hit him until he was about 8 years old. 

“The first seven or eight years of the slave-boy’s life are about as full of sweet content as those of the most favored and petted white children of the slaveholder. The slave-boy escapes many troubles which befall and vex his white brother. He seldom has to listen to lectures on propriety of behavior, or anything else. He is never chided for handling his little knife and fork improperly or awkwardly, for he uses none. He is never reprimanded for soiling or tearing his clothes, for he has almost none to soil or tear. He is never expected to act like a nice little gentleman for he is only a rude little slave. Thus, freed from all restraint, the slave-boy can be in his life and conduct, a genuine boy, doing whatever his boyish nature suggests… He literally runs wild.”[2]

 2) Slavery systematically obscured each slave’s understanding of history in order to manipulate their context of who they were and why they were a slave.

“Genealogical trees do not flourish among slaves… I never met a slave who could tell me how old he was… masters generally allowed no questions to be put to him by which a slave might learn his age.”[3]

“I was a slave – born a slave – and though the fact was incomprehensible to me, it conveyed to my mind a sense of my entire dependence on the will of somebody I had never seen… Born for another’s benefit…”[4]

“There is not, beneath the sky, an enemy to filial affection so destructive as slavery. It had made my brothers and sisters strangers to me; it converted the mother that bore me, into a myth; it shrouded my father in mystery, and left me without an intelligible beginning in the world.”[5]

3) Slavery systematically destroyed the institution of the family.

“The practice of separating children from their mothers, and hiring the latter out at distances too great to admit of their meeting, except at long intervals, is a marked feature of the cruelty and barbarity of the slave system. But it is in harmony with the grand aim, which, always and everywhere, is to reduce man to a level with the brute. It is a successful method of obliterating from the mind and heart of the slave, all just ideas of the sacredness of the family, as an institution.”[6]

“Brothers and sisters were my blood; but slavery had made us strangers… My poor mother, like many other slave-women, had many children, but no family!”[7]

“I cannot say that I was very deeply attached to my mother; certainly not so deeply as I should have been had our relations in childhood been different. We were separated, according to the common custom, when I was but an infant, and, of course, before I knew my mother from any one else.”[8]

“I say nothing of father, for he is shrouded in a mystery I have never been able to penetrate. Slavery does away with fathers, as it does away with families.”[9]

“The slave-mother can be spared long enough from the field to endure all the bitterness of a mother’s anguish, when it adds another name to a master’s ledger, but not long enough to receive the joyous reward afforded by the intelligent smiles her child.”[10]

“I tell but the simple truth… I received the tidings of [my mother’s] death with no strong emotions of sorrow for her, and with very little regret for myself on account of her loss. I had to learn the value of my mother long after her death, and by witnessing the devotion of other mothers to their children.”[11] 

4) Douglas argues that both the slave AND slaveholder were victims of slavery.

“[Douglas’s old master, Captain Anthony] was not by nature, worse than other men. Had he been brought up in a free state, surrounded by the just restraints of free society – restraints which are necessary to the freedom of all its members, alike and equally – Capt. Anthony might have been as humane a man, and every way as respectable, as many who oppose the slave system… The slaveholder, as well as the slave, is the victim of the slave system… Reason is imprisoned here, and passions run wild.”[12]

 “There is more truth in the saying, that slavery is a greater evil to the master than to the slave, than many, who utter it, suppose.”[13]

5) Religion was one of the most oppressive tools used to justify and perpetuate slavery.

“…I learned that ‘God up in the sky,’ made every body; and that he made white people to be masters and mistresses, and black people to be slaves… that God was good and that He knew what was best for me, and best for everybody.”[14]

“I have met many religious colored people, at the south, who are under the delusion that God requires them to submit to slavery, and to wear their chains with meekness and humility.”[15] 

“I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the south – as I have observed it and proved it – is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes; the justifier of the most appalling barbarity; a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds; and secure shelter, under which the darkest, foulest, grosses, and most infernal abominations fester and flourish… Religious slaveholders, like religious persecutors, are ever extreme in their malice and violence.”[16]

“Let the reader reflect upon the fact, that, in this christian country, men and women [who were slaves in the south] are hiding from professors of religion, in barns, in the woods and fields, in order to learn to read the holy bible.”[17]

6) Despite the indoctrination of slavery, from a young age, Douglas was always critically examining slavery, seems to have always known/felt that slavery was wrong, and always aspired to be free.

“Why am I slave? Why are some people slaves, and others masters? Was there ever a time when this was not so? How did the relation commence? These were the perplexing questions which began now to claim my thoughts, and to exercise the weak powers of my mind, for I was still but a child, and knew less than children of the same age in the free states.”[18]

“I could have been more than seven or eight years old, when I began to make this subject [slavery] my study…I distinctly remember being, even then, most strongly impressed with being a freeman some day.”[19]

7) Douglas had a deep love for learning, and education/literacy was one of the main factors that helped Douglas on his journey to liberation. The majority of slaves were systematically denied access to education in order to keep them ignorant and inhibit any aspirations for freedom.

“I learned, after my mother’s death, that she could read, and that she was the only one of all the slaves and colored people in Tuckahoe who enjoyed that advantage… I am quite willing, and even happy, to attribute any love of letters I possess…to the native genius of my sable, unprotected, and uncultivated mother – a woman, who belonged to a race whose mental endowments it is, at present, fashionable to hold in disparagement and contempt.”[20]

“The frequent hearing of my mistress [Miss Sophia, the wife of Douglas’s master while he was a house slave in Baltimore as a teenager] reading the bible…soon awakened my curiosity in respect to this mystery of reading, and roused in me the desire to learn… I frankly asked her to teach me to read; and, without hesitation, the dear woman began the task, and very soon, by her assistance, I was master of the alphabet, and could spell words of three, or four letters.”[21]

“Mr Auld (Miss Sophia’s husband, and Douglas’s master) promptly forbade the continuance of her instruction… he said ‘if you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell;’ ‘he should know nothing but the will of his master, and learn to obey it.’ ‘Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world;’ ‘if you teach that nigger [referring to Douglas] how to read the bible, there will be no keeping him.’ ‘it would forever unfit him for the duties of a slave,’ and ‘as to himself, learning would do him no good, but probably, a great deal of harm – making him disconsolate and unhappy.’ ‘If you learn him now to read, he’ll want to know how to write; and, this accomplished, he’ll be running away with himself.’”[22]

 “From that moment [referring to the previous quote] I understood the direct pathway from slavery to freedom.”[23]

“Seized with a determination to learn to read, at any cost, I hit upon many expedients to accomplish the desired end. The plea which I mainly adopted, and the one by which I was most successful, was that of using my young white playmates, with whom I met in the street, as teachers.”[24]

“I…wanted a Sabbath school, in which to exercise my gifts, and to impart the little knowledge of letter which I possessed, to my brother slaves.”[25]

8) Douglas offers some examples that indicate the amazing spiritual capacity and keen sense of justice of young people in the stage of early adolescence (a population I presently work closely with, that I refer to as “junior youth”).

“I do not remember ever to have met a boy, while I was in slavery, who defended the slave system; but I have often had boys to console me, with the hope that something would yet occur by which I might be made free. Over and over again, they have told me that ‘they believed I had as good a right to be free as they had,’ and that ‘they did not believe God ever made any one to be a slave.’[26]

“I was not more than thirteen years old, when I felt the need of God, as a father and protector.”[27]

9) Douglas referenced his anticipation of the return of the Promised One which is spoken of in the Bible, which Baha’is, like myself, believe was the appearance of the Divine Messengers of The Bab and Baha’u’llah (which happened during the lifetime of Douglas).

“1833… was the year, also, of that strange phenomenon, when the heavens seemed about to part with its starry train. I witnessed this gorgeous spectacle, and was awe-struck. The air seemed filled with bright, descending messengers from the sky. It was about daybreak when I saw this sublime scene. I was not without the suggestion, at the moment, that it might be the harbinger of the coming of the Son of Man; and, in my then state of mind, I was prepared to hail Him as my friend and deliverer. I had read, that the ‘stars shall fall from heaven,’ and they were now falling. I was suffering much in my mind. It did seem that every time the young tendrils of my attention become attached, they were rudely broken by some unnatural outside power; and I was beginning to look away to heaven for the rest denied me on earth.”[28]

10) Douglas felt that one of the best ways to end slavery in the South was to elevate the character/status of the free colored people of the North.

“Believing that one of the best means of emancipating the slaves of the south is to improve and elevate the character of the free colored people of the north I shall labor in the future, as I have labored in the past, to promote the moral, social, religious, and intellectual elevation of the free colored people; never forgetting my own humble origin, nor refusing, while Heaven lends me ability, to use my voice, my pen, or my vote, to advocate the great and primary work of the universal and unconditional emancipation of my entire race.”[29]

Closing Thoughts: This is such a great book to get insight into one of the great minds and souls of the 1800’s, as well as a feel for the life of a person of color in the South, and North, during that time period. Frederick Douglas does such an excellent job of weaving in his personal experience and reflections, historical facts, compelling anecdotes, and analysis of systems and society, that keep you engaged throughout the entire book. His keen sense of justice and honesty are also very captivating. I’d definitely recommend giving this book a read!

If you have any thoughts, please leave a comment!

[1] pg. 9

[2] pg. 31-32

[3] pg. 28

[4] pg. 34

[5] pg. 43

[6] pg. 29

[7] pg. 36

[8] pg. 39

[9] pg. 38

[10] pg. 39

[11] pg. 43

[12] pg. 54

[13] pg, 69

[14] pg. 60

[15] pg. 101

[16] pg. 158

[17] pg. 164

[18] pg. 60

[19] pg. 61

[20] pg. 42

[21] pg. 92

[22] pg, 92

[23] pg. 93

[24] pg. 98

[25] pg. 162

[26] pg. 99

[27] pg. 104

[28] pg. 116

[29] pg. 248

10 Interesting Insights from “The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry”

Screen Shot 2015-11-28 at 11.24.12 PMBook: “The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry”

Author: Ned and Constance Sublette

Published: Copyright 2016

Why I Read this Book: I’ve been really interested in learning more about the social justice issues that relate to the United States of America, such as exploitation of Native Americans, mistreatment of immigrants, foreign policy, inequality, and, in the case of this book, slavery. I’m aware that, as a product of the United States public education system, I was not given a very detailed, or even accurate, account of the history of slavery in my country of birth. Due to that, I’ve always been curious to learn more, and reading this book was a step in better understanding that history.

#10InterestingInsights from “The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry”

1) Slavery in the United States was just plain awful and horrific, and the more we learn about it’s history, the more awful and horrific we realize it was.

“Over the years we have been researching our nation’s history, we have seen repeatedly that no matter how bad we thought slavery was, it was even worse. There’s no end to it.”[1]

2) American slavery was incredibly systematic at oppressing the Afro-American peoples. One example is that slavery was legally passed through the mother, not the father. This ensured that the children of Afro-American women who were raped by there “owners” (which was very common) were considered slaves, and not free human beings.

“[Slaves were] classified as merchandise at birth, because children inherited the free or enslaved status of the mother, not the father… Partus sequitur ventrem was the legal term: the status of the newborn follows the status of the womb. Fathers passed down inheritances, mothers passed slavery down. It ensured a steady flow of salable human product from the wombs of women who had no legal right to say no.” [2]

3) This systematic oppression was done using the “rule of law.” Another way Afro-Americans were systematically oppressed was through their extreme denial of education and literacy.

“Most enslaved African Americans lived and died without writing so much as their names. The Virgina legal code of 1849 provided for ‘stripes’ – flogging – for those who tried to acquire literacy skills. A free person who dared ‘assemble with negroes for the purpose of instructing them to read or write’ could receive a jail sentence of up to six months and a fine of up to a hundred dollars, plus costs. An enslaved person who tried to teach others to read might have part of a finger chopped off by the slaveowner, with the full blessing of law.” [3]

4) Most of the human beings that were forced to be slaves in the United States were not actually brought over from Africa via the African slave trade, but were “products” of the “slave-breeding industry.”

“By hemispheric standards, the African slave trade to English-speaking North America was petty… only about 389,000 kidnapped Africans were disembarked in the ports of present-day United States… Africans trafficked to the United States territory account for less than 4 percent of the estimated hemispheric total… Africans were only the seed. By 1860, those few hundred thousand Africans had given way to four million African Americans. Each birth was, as Thomas Jefferson described it, “an addition to the capital.” The south did not only produce tobacco, rice, sugar, and cotton as commodities for sale; it produced people.”[4] 

5) 1808 marked an important year in the making and evolution of African-American culture, as it is the year that marked the virtual end of the African slave trade in the United States.

“January 1, 1808, is, from our perspective, one of the most important dates in American history, signaling as it does the transformation of the United States slavery industry. For this reason, 1808 is also an essential date for understanding the making of African-American culture. Kidnapped Africans had been arriving for almost two hundred years, repeatedly re-Africanizing American culture. No longer. The child was separated from the ancestors. With changeover to domestic slave trade, the long-established Afro-Chesapeake culture of Virginia and Maryland was diffused southward over several decades.”[5]

6) Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and James K. Polk. These 3 U.S. presidents really pushed forward the slave breeding industry. Interestingly, two of these three presidents are on our nation’s currency…

“…3 slaveowning politicians loom large in our narrative as principal enablers of the territorial expansion of slavery and, consequently, of the slave-breeding industry: Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and James K. Polk, a Virginian and two Tennesseans. All three were slaveholders, and like all slaveholders, their wealth was primarily stored in the form of captive human beings, so their entire financial base – personal, familial, social, and political – depended on high prices for slaves. To that end, they restricted the supply of captives by keeping the African trade closed; by opening new territory for US slavery to expand into, they expanded the demand for that restricted supply, greatly increasing as they did so the wealth and political power of the slaveowning class.”[6]

7) Thomas Jefferson was all about that slave breeding industry. And he was definitely a white supremacist. 

“…Jefferson, who legally owned more than six hundred people during his lifetime, proactively made sure that importation of persons would indeed be prohibited… To be sure, Jefferson framed ending importation of persons as a humanitarian act, and many historians have treated it that way, but it was not. Ending the African slave trade was protectionism on behalf of Virginia. It kept out the cheaper African imports so as to keep the price of domestically raised people high.[7]

“[Jefferson’s] justification [for chattel slavery] was that the ‘negro’ was inferior – something he seems to have truly believed – and moreover dangerous, and therefore had to be kept in a state of slavery for everybody’s good…”[8]

Quote from Jefferson cited in the book: “The difference [of “the negro”] is fixed in nature, and is as real as if its seat and cause were better known to us. And is this difference of no importance? Is it not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the two races? Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of color in the one preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immovable veil of black which covers the emotions of the other race? Add to these, flowing hair, a more elegant symmetry of form, their own judgment in favor of the whites, declared by their preferences of them, as uniformly as in the preferences of the Oranootan for the black woman over those of his species.”[9]

8) Slave women had no legal protection whatsoever from rape or sexual exploitation

“To own a slave was to have a license for libertine behavior, because sexual violence was intrinsic to slavery. The slaveowner had the full legal right to do with his property as he saw fit, and sexual abuse was part of the portfolio of privileges.”[10]

“Nor did slave women have legal protection against sexual abuse from enslaved men… the Mississippi supreme court noted that ‘a slave can only commit rape upon a white woman’ and held that ‘the regulations of law, as to white race, on the subject of sexual intercourse, do not and cannot, for obvious reasons, apply to slaves; their intercourse is promiscuous, and the violation of a female slave by a male slave would be a mere assault and battery. There was, then, legally no such thing as the rape of an enslaved woman.”[11]

 “Slaveowners in the antebellum United States enjoyed full legal impunity for any sexual aggression they might commit against their human property… If a slaveowner wanted to enjoy the adolescent daughters of his work force, he had absolute authority over them…”[12]

“Slavery was rape. A person who has no right to refuse has no consent to give, so even absent the use of physical force at the moment of the sex act, an enslaved woman could not have consensual sex with a white man.”[13]

“While a ‘prime field hand’ – young, healthy, strong, and male – was the benchmark of the slave market, the premium-priced captives were young female sex slaves, or ‘fancy girls,’ who were light skinned or even passable as white. A teenaged ‘fancy girl’ purchasable either for private sexual use or pressed into commercial service by a pimp could bring a multiple of what even a ‘prime field hand’ might command.”[14]

9) In order to keep the institution of slavery strong and intact, any opinions or ideas that criticized the validity or morality of slavery were harshly suppressed. It was very inward looking and morally perverted society.

“Up became more down with every passing decade, and more incompatible with the outside world. The build out of the slavery ideology became more elaborate, more radical, and more delusional as each generation began from a more doctrinally inbred point of departure. Meanwhile, it became more belligerent, accompanied by a vigilant suppression of dissent… Antislavery opinions were not to be expressed publicly in the slave states. This was considered traitorous and was repressed with violence that was sometimes spontaneous and sometimes organized. Any perceived slight to the system of slavery could provoke a hair-trigger response. There was not even a pretense of free speech on the subject of slavery in the South, nor did slavery’s defenders want anyone in the North to criticize, or even mention, slavery. The enslaved were, needless to say, not to speak against their captivity. They were to be happy, or else. They love their master, or else.”[15]

10) The biggest motivators behind the institution of chattel slavery in the United States were greed, selfishness, and attachment to material wealth.

“The legal systems of the Southern states were organized around maximizing slaveholder profit… With their enslaved assets fully capitalized, slaveowners were not merely wealthy, they were spectacularly wealthy. At the time of secession, two-thirds of the millionaires in the country lived in the slave states, with most of their wealth in the form of slaves.”[16]

“The South’s 1860 population of 3,953,742 comprised or made viable four billion dollars’ worth of private property… Four billion dollars in 1860 was equivalent to about a hundred billion in 2010. It was more than 20 times the value of the entire cotton crop that year and 17.5 times all the gold and silver money in circulation… Four billion dollars was more than double the $1.92 billion value of farmland in the eleven states that seceded.”[17]

“Mississippi’s declaration of secession [stated] ‘Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery… We must either submit to degradation and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union.’”[18]

“Emancipation destroyed an entire legal form of property, which is why it was a revolution.”[19]

Closing Thoughts: I’ve always known slavery was terrible. I’ve more recently learned how shady and systematic the institution was. After reading this book, I feel much more enlightened into some of the realities of slavery in the history of the United States, but also understand that it only scratches the surface into the day-to-day horrors of the institution. The 10 Insights I’ve listed here are also but a small sample of the takeaways from this incredible piece of literature. I’m definitely planning to delve much deeper into this topic, and would highly recommend this book to others!

If you have any thoughts, please leave a comment!

[1] pg. 668

[2] pg. 3

[3] pg. 3

[4] pg. 10-11

[5] pg. 13-14

[6] pg. 14

[7] pg. 15

[8] pg. 276

[9] pg. 276

[10] pg. 34

[11] pg. 35

[12] pg. 35

[13] pg. 36

[14] pg. 59

[15] pg. 62

[16] pg. 65

[17] pg. 67

[18] pg. 66

[19] pg. 70

10 Interesting Insights from “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus”

1491 CoverBook: “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus”

Author: Charles C. Mann

Published: July 2011

Why I Read this Book: I read this book because I am curious to learn more about the history of the Native peoples of the Americas, particularly because I believe the education most people receive in the United States education system today does not accurately reflect the true history very well.

#10InterestingInsights from “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus”

According to the book…

1) New research suggests that Indians/Native Americans have been in the Americas longer than previously thought, in much larger numbers, and with much more impact on the environment.

“…I was taught that Indians came to the Americas across the Bering Strait about thirteen thousand years ago, that they lived for the most part in small, isolated groups, and that they had so little impact on their environment that even after millennia of habitation the continents remained mostly wilderness. Schools still impart the same ideas today. One way to summarize the views of people like Erickson and Balée would be to say that they regard this picture of Indian life as wrong in almost every aspect. Indians were here far longer than previously thought, these researchers believe, and in much greater numbers. And they were so successful at imposing their will on the landscape that in 1492 Columbus set foot in a hemisphere thoroughly marked by humankind.”[1]

2) Similar to Insight # 1, many of the commonly held notions and stereotypes about how Native Americans lived over the past several thousand years are inaccurate, particularly in how they portray Native Americans’ level of “agency”, or their capacity of exerting power over their environment.

“For almost five centuries, Holmberg’s Mistake—the supposition that Native Americans lived in an eternal, unhistoried state—held sway in scholarly work, and from there fanned out to high school textbooks, Hollywood movies, newspaper articles, environmental campaigns, romantic adventure books, and silk-screened T-shirts. It existed in many forms and was embraced both by those who hated Indians and those who admired them. Holmberg’s Mistake explained the colonists’ view of most Indians as incurably vicious barbarians; its mirror image was the dreamy stereotype of the Indian as a Noble Savage. Positive or negative, in both images Indians lacked what social scientists call agency—they were not actors in their own right, but passive recipients of whatever windfalls or disasters happenstance put in their way.”[2]

3) Overall, there is a lot of new research (and there will continue to be) that is shedding light on what the Americas were like prior to European contact.

“One way to sum up the new scholarship is to say that it has begun, at last, to fill in one of the biggest blanks in history: the Western Hemisphere before 1492. It was, in the current view, a thriving, stunningly diverse place, a tumult of languages, trade, and culture, a region where tens of millions of people loved and hated and worshipped as people do everywhere. Much of this world vanished after Columbus, swept away by disease and subjugation. So thorough was the erasure that within a few generations neither conqueror nor conquered knew that this world had existed. Now, though, it is returning to view. It seems incumbent on us to take a look.”[3]

4) There were some incredible empires in the history of the Americas, such as the Inkas, Triple Alliance, the Maya, and the Olmecs.

“In 1491, the Inka ruled the greatest empire on earth.”[4]

“The Olmec, Maya, and other Mesoamerican societies were world pioneers in mathematics and astronomy…”[5]

“Tenochtitlan (the capital of the Triple Alliance) dazzled its invaders—it was bigger than Paris, Europe’s greatest metropolis. The Spaniards gawped like yokels at the wide streets, ornately carved buildings, and markets bright with goods from hundreds of miles away. Boats flitted like butterflies around the three grand causeways that linked Tenochtitlan to the mainland. Long aqueducts conveyed water from the distant mountains across the lake and into the city. Even more astounding than the great temples and immense banners and colorful promenades were the botanical gardens—none existed in Europe.”[6]

5) It is now believed that disease and political fragmentation were the primary reasons Europeans were able to take over so much of the Americas. In addition, foreign diseases had often arrived and afflicted Native American groups before the Europeans themselves even arrived, as well as after they arrived.

“…epidemic disease arrived before the first successful colonists. When the Europeans actually arrived, the battered, fragmented cultures could not unite to resist the incursion. Instead one party, believing that it was about to lose the struggle for dominance, allied with the invaders to improve its position. The alliance was often successful, in that the party gained the desired advantage. But its success was usually temporary and the culture as a whole always lost. Between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, this pattern occurred again and again in the Americas. It was a kind of master narrative of post-contact history. In fact, Europeans routinely lost when they could not take advantage of disease and political fragmentation.”[7]

 6) Connected to Insight #5, the foreign diseases were absolutely catastrophic to the Indians/Native Americans.

“The virus struck Tawantinsuyu (the Inka empire) again in 1533, 1535, 1558, and 1565. Each time the consequences were beyond the imagination of our fortunate age. ‘They died by scores and hundreds,’ recalled one eyewitness to the 1565 outbreak. ‘Villages were depopulated. Corpses were scattered over the fields or piled up in the houses or huts… The fields were uncultivated; the herds were untended [and] the price of food rose to such an extent that many persons found it beyond their reach. They escaped the foul disease, but only to be wasted by famine.’ In addition, Tawantinsuyu was invaded by other European pestilences, to which Indians were equally susceptible. Typhus (probably) in 1546, influenza in 1558 (together with smallpox), diphtheria in 1614, measles in 1618, – all flensed the remains of Inka culture. Taken as a whole, Dobyns thought, the epidemics must have killed nine out of ten of the inhabitants of Tawantinsuyu.”[8]

7) Research suggests that these foreign diseases were so catastrophic due to the Indians/Native Americans being unusually susceptible to the viruses, as well as the grief and despair that they inflicted on the peoples.

“The first (susceptibility) is the lack of acquired immunity – immunity gained from a previous exposure to a pathogen… Most Europeans of the day had been exposed to smallpox as children, and those who didn’t die were immune. Smallpox and other European diseases didn’t exist in the Americas, and so every Indian was susceptible to them in this way.”[9]

“…Family and friends in Indian New England gathered at the sufferer’s bedside to wait out the illness, a practice that ‘could only have served to spread the disease more rapidly.’ Even the idea of contagion itself was novel. ‘We had no belief that one Man could give [a disease] to another’, the Blackfoot raider remembered, ‘any more than a wounded Man could give his wound to another.’ Because they knew of no protective measures, the toll was even higher than it would have been.”[10]

“As if by a flash of grim light, Indian villages become societies of widows, widowers, and orphans; parents lost their children, and children were suddenly alone. Rare is the human spirit that remains buoyant in a holocaust. ‘My people have been so unhappy for so long they wish to disincrease, rather than to multiply.’ A Paiute woman wrote in 1883.” [11]

8) There is a fascinating story behind the ritual of human sacrifice that was practiced by the Mexica people of the Triple Alliace. They created a myth that stated they were responsible for feeding the martial god Huitzilopochtli “chalchihuatl”, the fluid of life energy, in order to raise the sun each day, consequently saving humanity from death.

“There was but one method for obtaining this life-energy (chalchihuatl): ritual human sacrifice… Occasionally the victims were slaves and criminals, but mainly they were prisoners of war. In this way the sacred mission of the Triple Alliance became translated into a secular mission: to obtain prisoners to sacrifice for the sun, the Alliance had to take over the world. In Tlacaélel’s scheme, imperial conquests were key to ‘the moral combat against evil;” explained Miguel León-Portilla, a Mexican anthropologist who has devoted much of his career to analyzing Mexica thought. ‘The survival of the universe depended on them.’”[12]

9) Apparently, the ritual of human sacrifice practiced by the Mexica, which is often characterized as being quite barbaric, was not so different than the death-based rituals being practiced in Europe during the same period.

“(It is a myth) that in its appetite for death as a spectacle the Triple Alliance was fundamentally different from Europe. Criminals beheaded in Palermo, heretics burned alive in Toledo, assassins drawn and quartered in Paris—Europeans flocked to every form of painful death imaginable, free entertainment that drew huge crowds. London, the historian Fernand Braudel tells us, held public executions eight times a year at Tyburn, just north of Hyde Park… In most if not all European nations, the bodies were impaled on city walls and strung along highways as warnings…”[13]

“In their penchant for ceremonial public slaughter, the Alliance and Europe were more alike than either side grasped. In both places the public death was accompanied by the reading of ritual scripts. And in both the goal was to create a cathartic paroxysm of loyalty to the government—in the Mexica case, by recalling the spiritual justification for the empire; in the European case, to reassert the sovereign’s divine power after it had been injured by a criminal act.[14]

10) Humanity lost a significant volume in the library of the history of humankind, with the wide-scale disintegration of the Native American peoples resulting from European contact.

“Cut short by Cortés, Mexica philosophy did not have the chance to reach as far as Greek or Chinese philosophy. But surviving testimony intimates that it was well on its way… Voltaire, Locke, Rousseau, and Hobbes never had a chance to speak with these men or even know of their existence—and here, at last, we begin to appreciate the enormity of the calamity, for the disintegration of native America was a loss not just to those societies but to the human enterprise as a whole.

“Having grown separately for millennia, the Americas were a boundless sea of novel ideas, dreams, stories, philosophies, religions, moralities, discoveries, and all the other products of the mind. Few things are more sublime or characteristically human than the cross-fertilization of cultures. The simple discovery by Europe of the existence of the Americas caused an intellectual ferment. How much grander would have been the tumult if Indian societies had survived in full splendor!”[15]

Closing Thoughts: Overall, this is a very enlightening book, and I would highly suggest it to others. It’s really fascinating how so many people living in the lands called the Americas know so little about the peoples that lived here for thousands of years before us. In fact, we often know more about other ancient civilizations in other parts of the world than the ones that once thrived on our own continent. This book helps shine a light on that history.

If you have any thoughts, please leave a comment!


[1] Page 4

[2] Page 15

[3] Page 31

[4] Page 74

[5] Page 23

[6] Page 143

[7] Page 104

[8] Page 105

[9] Page 116

[10] Page 125

[11] Page 125

[12] Page 136

[13] Page 136

[14] Page 137

[15] Page 140

Peace Education Course for Adjudicated Youth

Graduate Studies Final Project: A Peace Education Course Curriculum for Adjudicated Youth (4/22/2012)

To download the peace education course curriculum, click here.

Peace CourseAcknowledgements

First and foremost, I would like to thank the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections (ADJC) Director of Curriculum, Sue Aguilera, for the opportunity to collaborate with the ADJC on this project. Without Sue’s involvement, this project would not have occurred. Continue Reading

Why Girls Fight: How Perceptions of the Police Contribute to Inner-City Violence

Graduate Studies Essay for CRJ 610: Advanced Topics in Juvenile Justice (3/29/2012)

Why Girls FightThere are a myriad of factors that contribute and lead to delinquency and violence in the world. It often varies depending on the context – who is involved, what are the power dynamics between certain groups, what is the history, etc. One area that has not been extensively researched is female juvenile delinquency, more specifically violence between inner-city female youth.

Continue Reading

Teachers Without Borders – Internship Reflection

Graduate Studies Reflection Essay for JHR 584 : Internship for the Teachers Without Borders Peace Education Program (12/15/2011)

TWB LogoOver the past semester, I completed my JHR 584 internship as an intern for Teachers Without Borders (TWB), an international nonprofit organization based out of Seattle, Washington, that aims to “connect teachers to information and each other to create local change on a global scale.” Continue Reading

Homo Sacer: Baha’is of Iran

Graduate Studies Essay for JHR 510: Political Evil, Economic Crime, and Alternative Practices to Human Security (12/6/2011)

Homo Sacer BookAre some human lives worth more than others? What is your reaction to the fact that 25,000 people die every day due to hunger (one person every three seconds), yet there is more than enough food in the world to feed all of humanity?[1]  Some people hardly even blink, many offer some superficial level of sympathy, such as “wow that’s sad” or “I wish the world wasn’t like that,” and a select few will actually be moved enough to take some level of action to bring justice to those that are suffering from the conditions of poverty and hunger.

Continue Reading