African Slaves and Irish Immigrants into the US Economy

The African slave trade began when the first Dutch ship arrived at the port of Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 with twenty African slaves. These slaves came from the savannahs of central and southern Africa. The Dutch often called them “humanlike” monkeys, barbarians, or uncivilized brutes. The Dutch also preferred locking them in the sub cabins of their caravels. They were also irregularly provided with food and medical care. When they were brought to Jamestown, their conditions worsened. They were forced to work in flat farmlands at a minimum of 15 hours a day.

Their houses were in shambles. Added to that, their houses were designed in the form of “barnyard” to accommodate as many slaves as possible (this was a form of segregation – distinguishing the white masters from the “black” slaves). As slave trade progressed in colonial America, the needs of colonial America also increased. The acquisition of the English colonists of large tracts of lands in the west and south created a high demand for cheap labor. The slave trade was the most viable means to procure cheap labor.

The plantations in the south specifically requested the British parliament to pass laws that would guarantee an annual supply of African slaves to the south. The rising demand of products from the south of New England (13 colonies) in continental Europe forced many landowners in the south to advance slave trade. Thus, the slave trade expanded. Many of the slave traders established bases in the west for the “disposal” of African slaves. They had little interest in purchasing intact slave families (because this was costly for the traders).

They were interested in providing the landowning aristocracy with an annual supply of African slaves for a high price. As slave trade expanded to the west, this contributed to the economic revival of once depressed seaboard states. These states developed economically because of the labor of African slaves (and their descendants). Production in both the south and the west tripled in the first 100 years after the start of the slave trade. Thus, it can be said that the wealth of the United States in the first half of the 19th century was greatly enhanced by the exploitation of African slave labor.

However, with the victory of the Union in the American Civil War, the slave-labor system was abolished. The cotton plantations in the south (which was the source of revenues for the Confederacy) became less profitable. Many of the descendants of African slaves moved to the north and became laborers of large factories. A new labor relationship resulted. The labor market of the United States at the close of the 19th century was comprised of poor white farmers and African slaves-descent laborers (Bohmer, 2007).

In 1876, an alliance between these two groups was established in order to end the perceived oppression of their class by the ruling Southern landlords. They were however defeated in court. In the same year, the US Supreme Court ruled that segregation of wages (in terms of market labor differential) was constitutional. Although their labor produced much of the wealth of the Southern planters, they were never given safety nets (such as social security) in the procurement of their labor in the market. They remained cast in the shadow of labor oppression.

Much had been said about the relationship of African slave labor to the economic system of colonial America and its successor, the Federal Republic of the United States. Now, what were some of the intra and inter group relations that resulted from this economic integration? To answer this, we must first note that the economic integration of African slaves into the US economic system did not necessarily result to social integration. The descendants of Africans slaves were culturally different from European descent Americans.

Their perception of time, space, work, and ethics differed considerably. During colonial America, time for the English meant synchronized recognition of work schedules. Sobel (1987) said, “activities, both on a daily basis and in life periods, were ‘concurrently rather than sequentially organized,’ with any set time being seen in what has been termed a polychronic or encompassing fashion during which many tasks on many levels might be undertaken. ” For the descendants of African slaves, time measured by clocks was irrelevant (Sobel, 1987:30).

They used nature as the ultimate measure of work, periods, and in most of the time, rituals. Thus, many slave owners wanted the slaves to change their perception of time and work (Sobel, 1987:30). Here are then some of the intra and inter group relations that resulted from the economic integration of African slaves (and their descendants) into the US economic system: 1)    There was the development of the dual labor market. During the early part of the 20th century, most of skilled laborers (who were highly paid) were white Americans.

European descent laborers belonged to this category. In 20th century corporate America, these European descent laborers occupied the upper corporate ladder of major US companies. They earned 11% more than the income of US born citizens. Laborers of African descent were mostly unskilled. Their wages almost equaled (on the average) the wages of Chinese labor immigrants in the United States. 2)    Socially and culturally, as the United States developed into a major economy, the tensions between white Americans and African descent Americans arose.

The latter viewed the former as the successor of the British colonists; in short, the latter viewed the former as the “new oppressors. ” White Americans were also reluctant to permanent social/cultural contacts with African descended Americans. Some were afraid that someday America would be ruled by this group of people (this was the reason why the Ku Klux Klan was established). This tension can be rooted in the cultural differences of the two groups magnified during the colonial era. The “whites” usually lived in large towns and fortified structures.

They planted on fields constructed in special patterns (Sobel, 1987:72). The African slaves built their houses on location which had spiritual significance. Symbols of nature were also placed in their houses: small trees, carved animals, etc. The “whites” viewed this as a form of superstition, and at times, heresy. They loathed the African slaves and established segregated residential areas. This view of African slaves was transferred from generation to generation, resulting to rising tensions between the two groups.