Stolen Land, Stolen Labor: The Case For Reparations
By David Mark Greaves
More money was invested in slaves than all stock-in-trade, including bank stock, incorporated funds and more. This is indicative of the value placed on an unpaid labor pool and with good reason. The land was virgin territory which is useless in a money-based value system. The land had to be worked and built upon. It was the slave workforce that released the value of the land and made it income-producing.
According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, the first estimate of national wealth of the United States is found in Economica; A Statistical Manual for the United States of America, 1806 edition by Samuel Blodget, Jr.1 (See Table 1) Of the $ 2,505 million dollars (2.5 billion) of national wealth, $1,661 million was in land stolen from the indigenous people, and $200 million was the value assigned to the slaves.
Blodget writes, “Slaves are rated too high till they are better managed, everything else is below the mark.” The Historical Statistics of the United States2 notes that, “No statement is made by Blodget as to the source material underlying his tabulations.”
And Mr. Blodget, by going out of his way to degrade the worth of the slaves, is telling us he may have something to hide, so we checked his figures. Taking the census of 1800 and averaging it with the 1810 census (not available to Mr. Blodget), we find him pretty accurate, and arrive at a slightly higher figure of 1,042,732 slaves. Mr. Blodget may himself have extrapolated from the 1800 census. In any event, knowing how much difficulty the Census Bureau had counting the descendants of the slave population in 1990, we can guess that these census figures are “below the mark.”
Secondly, we turn to American Negro Slavery: A Survey of the Supply, Employment and Control of Negro Labor ss Determined by the Plantation Regime by Ulrich Bonnell Phillips (1966, p. 370) and find this: “The accompanying chart (see below) will show the fluctuations of the average prices of prime field hands (unskilled young men) in Virginia, at Charleston, in middle Georgia and at New Orleans, as well as the contemporary range of average prices for cotton of middling grade in the chief American market, that of New York. The range for prime slaves, it will be seen, rose from about $300 and $400 a head in the upper and lower South, respectively, in 1795 to a range of from $400 to $600 in 1803…” By using these figures we find that the minimum amount of money invested in slaves was $521,366,000 in 1805. Therefore, the total national wealth could be more accurately calculated as 2.8 billion dollars ($ 2,826,366,000) adding an additional 300 million to Blodget’s figure. This means that 77% of the total national wealth of the United States of 1805 ($2,182,366,000) was based on holding African-Americans as property to work the stolen land.
By 1856, there were 3,580,023 slaves, according to an average of the 1850 and 1860 census counts. Bear in mind here that in 1813, Congress laid a direct tax on property, including “houses, lands and slaves.” This meant that there was now an economic motivation to under-count this part of the owner’s property - the fewer slaves reported, the less taxes paid; slaves were easier to hide than houses or land. This is coupled with the natural inclination of the census to undercount the Black population. The evidence is clear in the General Population Statistics, 1790-1990. By 1860, the “percentage increase in Black population over preceding census” averaged 28.8% since 1790. In the 1870 census, the percentage growth was only 9.9 %. So what happened to the other 18.9% of the expected population? They disappeared in 1865 with the Emancipation Proclamation. No longer having a value attached to them, these 859,000 African-Americans were lost. It’s been 120 years, and judging from the low-count controversy of the 1990 census, the bureau hasn’t found them yet. We can safely regard these census counts as the way-down-low end of an actual population estimate.
Before a final figure can be determined of the debt due on this slavery phase of the African Holocaust, some account should be taken of the working conditions. You can get an impression by looking no further than the evidence found in the African Burial Ground in Manhattan, New York. Here, recent analysis of the remains held at Howard University shows that children as young as 7 years old were worked so hard that their bodies were misshapened and their spines driven into the brain from carrying heavy loads. Ulrich Phillips, in American Negro Slavery, says of J.B. Say, an economist working around the turn of the 18th century, “Common sense must tell us, said he, that a slaves’s maintenance must be less that of a free workman, since the master will impose a more drastic frugality than a freeman will adopt unless a dearth of earnings requires it. The slave’s work, further more is more constant, for the master will not permit so much leisure and relaxation as a freeman customarily enjoys.” This is why we include the entire slave population as laborers, and we leave it to others to dare argue why we should not. By 1856 the advertised prices for European-owned African-Americans on one document of that time ranged from a high of $2,700 for Anderson, a “No.1 bricklayer and mason,” and $1,900 for George, a “No. 1 Blacksmith,” to $750 for Reuben, even though he was labeled “unsound.” (See document on Page 10.) “Credit sale of a choice gang of 41 slaves. The average cost for this lot of people was $1,488. As a second reference for this number, we can look at the chart for the cost of Prime Field Hands, and find that it is pretty accurate. By multiplying the census count of slaves by the average advertised price, we arrive at a value of $5.3 billion ($5,327,079,968). This may not look like a lot of money now, but compare it to other figures of the day. The National Wealth Estimate for the entire nation in 1856 was $12.3 billion ($12,396,000,000). [Note: All figures, come from Tables in the cited U.S. Bureau of the Census publication] Total Bank Savings Deposits in 1856 was $95.6 million. Manhattan Island, Land and Buildings, was worth only $900 million dollars, less than one-fifth of the value invested in African-Americans. The 1855 total capital and property investment in railroads was only $763.6 million dollars. Why the $5 billion dollar investment in slaves? In 1859, the total private production income was $4,098,000,000 ($4 billion). Of this total, labor-intensive industries like “agriculture” and “transportation and communication,” accounted for $1,958 million (1.9 billion), Almost one-half the total private income. This explains why “a good field hand and laborer” would run you $1,550 for Big Fred aged 24 and $ 1,900 for George, a “No. 1 blacksmith”. Men like these gave such a good return on the dollar, that their owners would, and did, kill freely to keep the system in place.
The money earned from this investment found its way into a variety of banking institutions, which increased from 506 in 1834 to 1,643 in 1865. Many of the names remain familiar to this day: The Bank of New York Company, Inc. – founded 1784,3 Fleet National Bank – 1791, Chase Manhattan Corporation – 1799, Citicorp/Citibank N.A. -1812 , The Dime Savings Bank – 1859. As banks in King Cottons’ “chief American market, that of New York,” it is inconceivable that these institutions, and through them the nation, did not benefit from the profits made on a slaves’ wages. Their business then, as it is now, was to be a source of funds to build empires in a variety of industries, across the continent, to make land purchases, upgrade equipment, save to send children to college, etc. Railroads could be built using a combination of slave labor and loans taken at banks that held money on deposit from the cotton/slave industry. Money was also paid to a variety of people who, while not slave-owners themselves, were “in the loop” of payments for goods and services. Thus were assets being used to develop the country for the benefit of Europeans and their heirs. The nation as a whole benefitted, and that’s why the nation as a whole should pay.
When we take that figure of $5,327,079,968 and compound it annually at 5% interest for 142 (1856-1998) years, we arrive at $ 5,437,129,590,059 or 5.4 trillion dollars. The 5% interest rate is actually a modest one. We would much rather have employed the interest paid on Railroad Bonds in 1857, with yields of 6.577 (low) to 8.23 (high), but the computer calculator ran out of room and the lower rate had to be used.
Recently, the Jewish community has begun demanding that Swiss banks which received deposits of money and valuables confiscated from Jews by the Germans, repay the principal of those deposits with interest. They have received Congressional support, had a respectful hearing, and are seeing the Swiss banks begin to comply and total accounts. The Jewish Holocaust ended in 1945 with the surrender of Germany. The Slavery period of the African Holocaust, ended only 80 years earlier in 1865 with the surrender of the southern states. It was at that time that the right to own African-Americans outright, was given up throughout the United States.
In recognition of the wrong done, Congressman John Conyers has sponsored a reparations bill, H.R.40: “A bill to acknowledge the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to examine the institution of slavery, subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.”
Twenty-five years ago, Queen Mother Moore was at the First Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana. There she stood in a hotel lobby wearing African clothes, handing out literature and accepting hugs, while shouting, “Reparations. Reparations honey, come get your reparations. They got to pay you.” The Queen Mother was right. It is in the context of reparations that the nation should be discussing affirmative action; as part of the mix of options a moral nation would consider to pay a long due debt. Thirty percent of the nations’ airwaves could be an option. Funding of African-American banks could be another. Government contracts should be the easiest, with a mandated percentage for each line item going to African-American businesses on a sliding scale well into the next century.
Five trillion dollars may seem like a lot of money, but if Congress can seriously consider a trillion dollar weapons system now working its way through the appropriations pipeline, then a 5.4 trillion dollar reparations bill is doable over time. This number is only for the slavery phase of the African Holocaust. It does not include the theft of property rights inventions and patents. It does not include damages for pain and suffering. It does not return lost lives. It is an attempt to be another voice in the reparations process.
Until this debt is acknowledged and paid, America will forever be paying in blood, tears, and the devil’s wages.
Next Issue: More on the economic impact of Slavery