In the mid 17th century, the US began to import Africans for use as slaves. Here is their struggle, as seen through historical pictures and documents
1. Kidnapped and forced into slavery
Hundreds of thousands of people from central and western Africa were enslaved and transported to the New World in dire circumstances in cargo ships between the mid 17th century and 1860.
Slave trade companies kidnapped people from their native lands. Most slaves were transported in cargo ships and chained to plank beds with little room to move. Profits came first, so the traders packed the ships to the gills, and didn't provide even basic necessities.
Around 388,000 Africans arrived in the United States during that period, according to the New York Public Library.
But more than 83,000 did not survive the journey. They died during the Middle Passage, or the crossing from Africa to the Americas through the Atlantic.
2. Seen as property
Enslaved Africans were hired, sold and bought like cattle, regardless of their age,sex or marital status.
3. Families torn apart
Enslaved families were not necessarily sold to the same owner. The death of an owner or bankruptcy, in particular, could lead to families being split up and sold to different masters.
"I never knew a whole family to live together till all were grown up in my life. There is almost always, in every family, someone or more keen and bright, or else sullen and stubborn slave, whose influence they are afraid of one the rest of the family, and such a one must take a walking ticket to the south," an ex-slave Lewis Clarke wrote in his book Narrative of the Sufferings of Lewis Clarke.
4. Cruel punishments meted
The treatment of slaves was generally brutal and degrading, and designed to break their spirit and enforce obedience. Literacy was discouraged or banned to stop any possible escape or rebellion attempts.
Slave owners would punish slaves by whipping, raping and sexually assaulting their victims. As punishment, slave owners would use iron muzzles to prevent their slaves from eating. They were often barred from eating the produce from the plantations they farmed.
5. Mulatto children
Historians and ex-slaves documented that rape of slave women was common. Laws classified the children of slave mothers as slaves, irrespective of their father's race or status.
In her autobiography Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs, an African-American writer who escaped from slavery, wrote that her master was "to my knowledge, the father of eleven slaves."
6. Pro-slave states vs free states
As many Northern states had abolished slavery, Southern, pro-slavery politicians became aware that their slaves were escaping to the free states. To stop this, in 1793 and 1850, Congress passed laws that called for the return of slaves who had escaped from their owners, mostly to another state.
The Fugitive Slave Act led to the capture of many free blacks who were then sold into slavery. Hence some black people took out adverts to warn their fellow blacks about possible threats.
7. Adverts for missing relatives
Blacks freed after the emancipation in 1865 used newspaper adverts to find their loved ones, friends and family, from whom they were separated when sold to other plantation owners.
Author: Asena Bosnak