Lost Black History
By Don Valentine
Slave ownership is only tacitly presented in US schools. There are many aspects of slavery that have been left to the dim mists of history. This week we illuminate the price to own a human being. A repulsive topic, but you have a responsibility to know it. We have always been an oral society. The elders would pass on the history and rituals of our culture. The current political posture is to not educate our students on the full pain of the Black diaspora in America!
We live in the state of “Reality” in which slaves were a commodity equivalent to grain, sugar or horses. Every commodity has a fluctuating economic price. A survey found on the website www.measuringworth.com explains the fluidity of slave costs. Before the implementation of the cotton gin (circa 1810 slave sales hovered around $230 per head. Valuations were adjusted for sex, age and even precedent for being a “Runaway.” It is disgusting to visualize the pervasive humiliation of a slave auction. Auctions were held routinely with the arrival of slave ships. They also happened on a regular basis for economic goals, like monthly car auctions.
This is a firsthand view from an interview with former slave J. W. C. Pennington, “They’d sell us like they sell horses an’ cows an’ hogs an’ all like that. Have an auction bench, an’ they’d put on, up on the bench an’ bid on you jus’ same as you bidding on cattle you know.” Degradation is a polite way to color the debasement Blacks endured at these auctions. The slaves would be taken off the ship and placed in an animal pen. Next they would be washed, then covered with grease or tar, to make them look healthier. It was mandatory to brand each person with a hot iron to identify them as slaves. Bidders could go into the pen to inspect the chatel/ people they might want to buy. They could prod them, open their mouths to examine the teeth, and view them naked. This included all orifices of the body like anal and vaginal. No embarrassment was forbidden.
The cost to own a man ran from $200-$750 in the early 1800’s. It sounds cheap, but that $750 equates to around $19,103 today. Succinctly, you could have your own slave for the price of a cheap used car. If you were inclined to buy a high end [young male, with a valued skill] your cost would escalate.
That average cost is relative to the amount of cars/slaves you owned. If you had a plantation of 300 or 400 slaves that would be a hefty sum. Slaveholders were wealthy individuals both with respect to other Southerners and to the entire country. Their wealth emboldened them to feel entitled to own Black people.
If we don’t know our history, we are doomed to learn “His-story!