School Improvement in Maryland
Clarifications: Each clarification provides an explanation of an indicator/objective to help teachers better understand the skills and/or concepts.

Standard 5.0 History

Topic C. Conflict between Ideas and Institutions

Indicator 4. Analyze the institution of slavery and its influence on societies in the United States

Objective b. Analyze the experiences of African-American slaves, and free blacks

Clarification

Throughout the nineteenth century, both free and enslaved African Americans faced lives of hardship and discrimination.

In the South, the vast majority of African Americans were enslaved, a reality that controlled everything else in their lives. Enslaved African Americans did not control their own labor. The type of work they performed, as well as how and when they did it, were dictated by their master, and enslaved people received no monetary compensation. Slaveowners supplied the enslaved African Americans with their meager material provisions, including a small house (usually made of logs with a dirt floor), a few articles of coarse clothing, and basic food. Often enslaved people supplemented their diets by fishing or growing vegetables in small garden plots and furnished their houses with a few pieces of simple, handmade furniture. The master even controlled family relationships among enslaved people. Enslaved couples could not legally marry, often lived on different plantations, and frequently had to endure white men’s sexual attacks on enslaved women. Families were often torn apart as even the youngest children were sold away. Brutal physical punishment was common. While laws did exist to regulate the treatment of slaves, in practice these laws were seldom enforced, and enslaved people had no legal rights, including the right to sue or testify in court.

Despite slavery, African Americans found small but important ways to control elements of their lives. Family, friends, and religion provided a source of comfort and hope. Also, many elements of African culture were incorporated into slave culture. Enslaved people resisted white control through a variety of methods, including work slowdowns, feigned illnesses, theft from storehouses, and occasionally escape and rebellion.

Free blacks throughout the South and Border States found themselves precariously perched between free white society and enslaved African American society. Often of mixed white and black ancestry and/or the descendants of slaves freed by the revolutionary generation, free blacks found work as skilled artisans, farmers, or laborers. Many free blacks lived in towns and cities, attracted by job opportunities and the presence of other free blacks. In the decades leading up to the Civil War, restrictions on free blacks increased significantly in response to white Southerners’ fears that free blacks would inspire and/or assist enslaved people to escape or revolt. Southern states passed laws to prevent free blacks from taking up new residence within their borders and masters from freeing their slaves. Free blacks had to carry their free papers with them at all times, had limited rights of assembly and no rights to vote or hold office, and had to be licensed to work. Moreover, free blacks lived in fear of being captured and sent into slavery. Restrictions were somewhat more relaxed in the Upper South. The nation’s largest free black population flourished in Baltimore.

Free blacks in the North also faced severe discrimination. While the Northern states had abolished slavery by 1800, few people believed in equality for African Americans. Blacks had the right to vote in only a few New England states and the right to serve on a jury in only Massachusetts. Public facilities either completely excluded blacks or segregated them, and blacks were barred from many occupations. Except for a very few, most free blacks worked as unskilled laborers for extremely low wages and lived in poverty.

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