Juneteenth — The Economy + Slave Trade
Happy Juneteenth everyone! Today is a great opportunity to discuss the American slave trade and its economic impact.
What was the slave economy and how did it start?
The history that we are taught in school depicts how slavery started in the United States via a slave trade route known as the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. We know that winners are generally those who get to write the history books, so there are several theories on how and when the slave economy started. Although parts of history remain unclear, there are many things we do know.
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade began in the 15th century when Portugal started to expand overseas and reached the coasts of Africa. Up until the 19th century, Portugal and other colonizing nations started capturing, buying, and selling Africans and bringing them to the Americas on a triangular trade route.
The Middle Passage, which is the part of this triangular trade route where Africans were forcibly transported to the New World, was characterized by a lot of hardship. The average individual on a ship during the middle passage had an individual space allotment that was 6 feet long, 16 inches wide, and perhaps 3 feet high (183 by 41 by 91 cm) — there was very little room to move. Starvation, dysentery, rampant illness, and suicide were common.
When these Africans came to the Americas, human slavery was used to cultivate cash crops such as tobacco, cotton, and sugar cane.
How did slavery affect the United States economy?
As human slaves were forcibly brought to the Americas, slave auctions began to develop. These open markets entailed buyers inspecting the potential slaves and then selling them as inventory to the highest bidder; these auctions were extremely lucrative for some. By the 19th century, there were about 700,000 slaves living in the United States. Slaves were being sold for around $1,200-$1,500 a person — worth an estimated $210 million total in today’s dollars.
Aside from the slave auctions, money was brought into the economy from the cash crops being cultivated by slaves. During the 17th and 18th century, about 20 million pounds of tobacco was being exported from the United States. As tobacco ceased to be the cash crop of choice, cotton gained momentum. Throughout the mid-19th century, the United States was exporting about a million bales of cotton a year.
All in all, the slave economy acted as the backbone of the American economic system. Slave auctions and exports accounted for a great deal of the American economy from the 15th to 19th centuries. Many question whether the American economy would be what it is today had it not been for African slaves.
How can you celebrate Juneteenth?
Juneteenth commemorates the day where the last African-Americans were freed from slavery. There are many ways that we can celebrate this holiday and also pay homage to the ancestors that built our economy.
1. Educate yourself on the idea of reparations. A political justice concept is gaining a lot of traction in the media as we approach Juneteenth. Many individuals propose that African Americans should be paid reparations to compensate for the land, wealth, labor, and humanity that has been stolen from them throughout the past 400 years. You can read more about the idea of reparations, as well as the pros and cons here: https://www.crf-usa.org/brown-v-board-50th-anniversary/reparations-for-slavery-reading.html.
2. Buy from Black-owned businesses. Reparations are not the only way to redistribute wealth in our society. It’s super easy to incorporate more Black-owned businesses into your regular spending. Here are some great places in the Twin Cities where you can spend your money:
Afro Deli — combination of Mediterranean, African, and American food
Soul Bowl — soul food with vegan options
Golden Thyme Coffee & Cafe — pastries and coffee, along with some jazz music
Pimento — Jamaican food
The Red Sea — Ethiopian and Eritrean food
Trio Plant Based — vegan food
Omari Brow Studio — eyebrow threading & waxing, eyelash lifts
The Nail Bar — manicures and pedicures
Final Cuts Sports Barbershop — men’s barbershop
Black Onyx Wax Studio — waxing services from head to toe
Hippie Princess Beauty — eyelash extensions and removals, lash baths
Lela’s Virtue Lounge — facials, chemical peels, body waxing, and more
Gigi’s Flair Emporium — pins, patches, stickers, and magnets
Queen Anna’s House of Fashion — boutique offering fashions from prominent brands
D.NOLO — womenswear, home furnishings, and more
Fit 1st Running — the perfect running shoes
Hybrid Nation — streetwear clothing
Team Hound Campaign — athletic and streetwear clothing
Lions Gym and Wellness Center — personal training, classes, chiropractic care, and nutrition counseling
Element Boxing and Fitness — collaborative boxing gym
612 Jungle — hip hip yoga studio
Major Body Fitness — power yoga, tribal dancing, and plyometrics combined
Wurk — fitness and boxing gym
Becoming Financial — financial services
Therapy of Champions — recovery therapy services, including cryotherapy
Adefris and Toppin Women’s Specialists — women’s health clinic
Crutchfield Dermatology — dermatologist office
Render Free — dedicated mental health space for black and brown women
Roots Community Birth Center — facility to help mothers through pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum life
Metro Midwifery — safe and community centered prenatal care, in-home births, and postpartum care
3. Educate yourself on the history of slavery and emancipation. If you’ve gotten this far, you’re off to a great start! Continue educating yourself on the history of slavery and the implications it has on our society today.
Regardless of how you choose to celebrate Juneteenth, otherwise known as Freedom Day, it’s important to understand the history behind slavery and the many people who were forced to labor and suffer to get our economy to the point it is today. Our economy and the slave trade are inherently intertwined.