“One more revolt, however, would seriously change the entire issue of slavery and slave revolts; the Amistad incident. In general, Amistad is overlooked by historians and in the southern United States. The Amistad incident, however, dramatically changed the European- American idea of slave revolt and the moral constitution of slave revolts.
“Nowhere was prejudice more pronounced than in Southern states. While politicians made big gains in elections and removed black postmasters and other minor officials from their jobs; successive laws were passed limiting the opportunities and freedom of black citizens. And there was considerable support for one high- ranking Georgia official whose contention was that a negro’s place is in the cornfield.”
“The year is 1839. Slave traffic is officially illegal in every country in the world. Despite this, a Cuban boat, the Amistad, is still trading in human lives kidnapped from Western Africa. On this trip, however, a powerful African named Cinque, who speaks no European language, leads a revolt against the crew and kills everyone except the captain and first mate. He demands that the Africans be returned to Africa but instead the captain sails to New York. Claiming that the Africans are Cuban slaves rather than Africans, the United States put them on trial for murder and revolt.
“The result, however, was a stunning reversal in European ideas of slave revolts. Defended by no less than John Quincy Adams, the court declares the African revolutionaries to be justified in their murder of the crew. For the first time, Americans applied to slaves the same right to revolt as white Americans had. The southern revolts, from Haiti to Turner, suddenly shifted in the minds of many Americans as representing what they really were: freedom wars. To many Americans, it was becoming increasingly evident that the answer to slavery in the south had to be violent.”
“The idea of blacks rejecting their old slave roles and rushing to improve themselves was terrifying to whites. If blacks were changing, many Southern whites believed, it must be for the worse. They were certain that former slaves were members of an inferior race whose nature could never change. Without guidance of white slave owners, blacks were certain to revert to savagery and barbarism. They must be ruthlessly put down”.
“This belief was twisted, such a vile nightmare, it became a kind of sickness in the Southern mind. But it was so vivid and powerful, it spread like a disease across the whole nation. In the 1890’s people were being lynched every other day for a year and two out of three people who were lynched were black. Between 1899 and 1936, nearly 4,000 black men, women and children were murdered. During that time nine out of ten people who were lynched were black.”
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