Opinion

History in Black and White

I’m veering off the usual path, for a minute. History needs to advise this point about the ongoing neo-leftist narrative regarding race and slavery. A narrative responsible for the leftist indoctrination —political reeducation classes— being forced on so many people.

There exists a desperate need to place race relations, past and present, especially between blacks and whites, into context from an accurate and comprehensive historical perspective. It’s a history which is complicated and nuanced, and not a simple and distorted political one, which many leftists reduce to —if you’ll pardon me— black and white. After all, without good white people, emancipation could not have happened. Without the white soldiers who fought and died for the Union in the Civil War, emancipation could not have happened. Americans cannot forget this, but some on the neo-left would like us to.

After President Trump’s impressive presidential reelection announcement, Democrat presidential contender Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) accused the president of being, among other phobes and ists, a racist.

Sen. Sanders is also implying all of President Trump’s supporters are racists. Well, of course, we are. After all, how could you not be a racist, if you support a racist? It’s a silly —albeit cruel— notion to harbor about your fellow Americans.

I’ll admit up front, I shamelessly stole this article’s title from a wonderful book written by David Barton: “Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black & White” (2013). When I first read this book, aside from opening my eyes, it made me angry with my American History teachers —kindergarten to college— for not teaching me this stuff.

The neo-left pushes the narrative that nothing has changed in race relations at least since Jim Crow and, for some, possibly since 1619 when the first slave ship docked in Virginia. Consider our current situation. We have leftists who want NBA owners to lose the term owners because they say the term invokes the notion of slavery for their multi-millionaire black employees. By this stupidity, we know we are witnessing the collapse of reason. The “owners” own the teams, ya numbskulls.

The left pushes an unimaginative —and dishonest— narrative that seems to imply all white people owned black slaves —or may as well have, and all black people today descended from slave ancestors— or may as well have.

This is nowhere near the truth. As it is, America (as British and then the U.S.) accounted for about five percent of the total slave trade from Africa to the New World. South America and the Muslim world accounted for the vast majority of slaves stolen from Africa.

From the PBS.org TV show “African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross,” Professor Henry Louis Gates III writes, “And how many of these 10.7 million Africans were shipped directly to North America? Only about 388,000. That’s right: a tiny percentage.”

On their website, the originalpeople.org published a piece called “The Arab Muslim Slave Trade Of Africans: The Untold Story.” For one thing, the Muslim slave trade has gone on for 14 centuries, having transported some 28 million black Africans out of that continent. One emphasized fact was the mortality rate contrasts between Muslim and European slavers. “While the mortality rate for slaves being transported across the Atlantic was as high as 10%, the percentage of slaves dying in transit in the Transsahara [sic] and East African slave trade was between 80 and 90%!” Of course, either is horrific, but we should know these facts so as not to allow the neo-left to condemn the United States as singularly at fault for African slavery in the world.

Barton gives us examples from American history over the past three centuries where some blacks, though very few, achieved objective success. And while it was extremely difficult, we’re made to believe it was impossible for all black people everywhere.

I want to introduce you to two remarkable American heroes you may not have heard of but should have. Both are of African descent, and they are from New England. So, my interest in them is not a coincidence, as I also hail from that locale, and the stories of these fellow New Englanders are fascinating. But this is not about black history; this is about American history.

I don’t intend for these unusual, inspirational accounts to excuse or mitigate the infernal institution of slavery or those who took part in it. I recognize these two stories are among the exceptions that prove a horrific rule. However, they are historical accounts, and they happened. Americans must learn about them and their astonishing contributions to our nation.

Unlike the neo-left would like us to believe, these examples show us not every white person was a privileged, slave-owning, sadistic racist, and not every black person was an unfulfilled, unappreciated, or brutalized slave. Some blacks were slaves, some were free, some former black slaves once freed bought their own black slaves, and even some American Indians owned black slaves.

In fact, Professor Gates also wrote about this, informing us “some free black people in this country bought and sold other black people, and did so at least since 1654, continuing to do so right through the Civil War.” He further adds, “And for a time, free black people could even ‘own’ the services of white indentured servants in Virginia as well.”

As for our American heroes’ stories:

According to History.com, Elizabeth Freeman (1742/44-1829) was a slave from Massachusetts known as Mum Bett. And the  NewEnglandHistoricalSociety.com tells us about the grandson of a slave, Wentworth Cheswell (1746-1817), a true American patriot from New Hampshire.

It’s surprising that in 1781, there were black slaves suing for their freedom under various legal theories. “By 1780, nearly 30 enslaved people had sued for their freedom.”

Some based their cases on owners breaching freedom agreements or by challenging ownership. However, Mum Bett, a skilled nurse and midwife, went further with an unparalleled yearning for liberty.

No formal education, not able to read or write, Bett had other attributes that more than compensated. She was intelligent, well-spoken, well-respected, and well-liked. According to David Levinson, co-author of “One Minute a Free Woman,” those people who knew her “described her as trustworthy, honest, hardworking, and loyal.”

So, this black female slave hired herself a lawyer, a slave-holder himself, and sued Massachusetts for her freedom. Her argument? A proclamation enshrined within the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, declaring, “all men are born free and equal.”

Just as our nation was fighting its war of independence from its “slave-holder,” King George III, Mum Bett was fighting her own war for independence. And, just like the United States, she won!

In 1781, a jury of twelve white male farmers decided in Mum Betts’s favor, resulting in her freedom from bondage. That jury also awarded her 30 shillings in damages. This not only established Betts’s freedom but signaled the demise of slavery in Massachusetts because her freedom came, not from a technicality, but from the self-evident words written in the state constitution. That jury of farmers recognized that as a person, she’ d been born “free and equal.”

Now, let’s stay in the American Revolution but pop over Massachusetts’s northeastern border to New Hampshire. Wentworth Cheswell was an American patriot in the truest sense with a story as inspiring as that of Mum Betts.

Cheswell was the grandson of a slave named Richard Cheswell. When he was born, the law adhered the child to the status of the mother, which meant Wentworth was born free. His grandfather, Richard, had early on bought his freedom and then bought some land. A deed signed in 1717 shows Richard bought 20 acres of land. Historians believe he was New Hampshire colony’s first black landowner.

But Wentworth’s contributions to history went much further than his race or his grandfather’s and parents’ histories. The well-educated Wentworth became New Hampshire’s first archeologist (of any race), became the first black American elected to public office, his town elected him constable (I knew a guy like this had to be a cop), and he was a Revolutionary War veteran having served in the Continental Army.

In fact, on the night Paul Revere rode west to warn the colonists the British were coming, Wentworth was there. In his case, he rode north. According to revive1775.com, “Up to one third of the Militia fighters who took on the retreating [from Lexington and Concord] Redcoat Army were men alerted by Wentworth Cheswell.”

In another ancillary though no less impressive accomplishment, Wentworth bought himself 100 acres of land, married Mary Davis, and they had thirteen children (perhaps one for each of the new states).

This is not the history you’re likely to hear when you glean snippets of Democrat stump speeches where candidates accuse people of racism if they disagree with them about race issues. These candidates don’t have the foggiest notion about history (AOC…I rest my case) or the true history of slavery and segregation and just how far American society has come from that complicated time in our history. But the saddest part is the neo-leftists don’t seem to want to know truth because the truth doesn’ t work in their favor.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Steve Pomper

Steve Pomper is an OpsLens contributor, a retired Seattle police officer, and the author of four non-fiction books, including De-Policing America: A Street Cop’s View of the Anti-Police State. You can read a review of this new book in Front Page Magazine and listen to an interview with Steve on the Joe Pags Show. Steve was a field-training officer, on the East Precinct Community Police Team, and served his entire career on the streets. He has a BA in English Language and Literature. He enjoys spending time with his kids and grand-kids. He loves to ride his Harley, hike, and cycle with his wife, Jody, a retired firefighter. You can find out more about Steve and send him comments and questions at www.stevepomper.com.

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