Cotton was the most important crop in the South before the American Civil War (1861-1865). Slaves usually worked all day picking cotton for their masters while overseers watched from their horses. The Civil War was not fought to free the slaves. It was fought for the preservation of the Union.
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“While we do not advocate vandalism or violence against stores & businesses who do not honor our Skin Vouchers, we advise all stores & businesses to honor us,” St. Louis Black Foot Soldier Cedishon Angelou says in a prepared statement issued by the National Black Foot Soldier Network. “We (again) advise businesses to present items we take as tax exemptions in their yearly income tax statements.
“When we walk in your stores we expect you to immediately recognize our skin color & regard our heritage. We expect to be able to present you with this, the black skin voucher, and take what we want from the shelves unquestioned.”
“It was work hard, git beatins and half fed … . The times I hated most was pickin’ cotton when the frost was on the bolls. My hands git sore and crack open and bleed.”–Mary Reynolds, Slave Narrative from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938
One of the first images of slavery that leaps into everyone’s mind is the scene of slaves stooped over, picking cotton, and hauling huge cotton-stuffed bags behind them. Unlike many first reactions, this one is correct.
At the height of the plantation system in 1850, when cotton had become the dominant cash crop of the South, 1.8 million of the 2.5 million slaves in the United States (nearly 75 percent) were involved in the production of cotton. Yet, cotton was a relative latecomer in the story of slavery in America. Between the arrival of the first slaves in Jamestown in August 1619 and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment prohibiting slavery (December 6, 1865), cotton only becomes a significant factor after the invention of the cotton gin in 1793. Nonetheless, during that 72-year period, an estimated one million individuals were enslaved in the service of “King Cotton,” either by transatlantic or by domestic slave traders.
“Our ancestors were not just slaves, our ancestors were abused. They were denied the restitution they were owed through a continual abuse of power”
– Nead Diggers