Tuesday, February 13, 2018

African Slavery and the US Education System

Labor Creates all Wealth as the famous saying goes. It does indeed. It creates it for the individual who applies it in the form of clothes, food, shelter and other human needs. And it creates it for human society in those societies in which the social product was collectively owned. It is also the source of the capitalist's wealth.

When I was in Kracow Poland some time ago I visited the famous Wieliczka Salt Mine. The mine has existed since the 13th Century and is an amazing place. It has numerous chapels in it, lakes, monuments, and a few too many Virgin Mary statues. I read once that it provided a huge percentage of Western Europe’s salt consumption and that the wealth extracted from that mine by the humans that worked in it allowed for the building of the university in Kracow.

And who went to that university? Copernicus for one. So we have seven centuries of miners and their labor power to thank for providing the precious condiment that not only preserved food for the people of Europe and also enhanced its flavor, but the material wealth that produced Copernicus, that allowed him to make a not so small confirmation of Samos’ claim almost 1000 years before that the sun was the center of the universe not the Earth. The word salary comes from salt as the Romans paid their troops with it.

Of course, there may have been many previous civilizations and cultures that drew the same conclusion regarding the solar system but my point here is not to contest that. Slaves no doubt built the pyramids and Greek society, a slaveowners “democracy” in which the slaves were denied the right to vote had fabulous architecture and places of learning.

The point is to understand that wealth comes not from the idea but from labor and from the material world out of which the idea arises "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.", as Marx correctly pointed out.

In class societies, it is the class that governs that writes the history.  The capitalists in our society not only own the means of production, they own the means of producing the dominant ideas of society. And the spread of those ideas----their ideology-----is accomplished through their institutions, the universities and education system.

We must not forget that the laboring masses, like the miners of Wieliczka that section of society whose labor power is owned or bought by others, partially under feudalism, or in total as in slavery in the US, or as free labor under capitalism, have not historically had the luxury of education from the state, are not considered worthy of it.

What made me think once more about this is an article in the current on line issue of New York Review of Books. It points out after extensive searches of records that the, “…..first enslaved African in Massachusetts was the property of the schoolmaster of Harvard.” According to the article, records show that, “Yale funded its first graduate-level courses and its first scholarship with the rents from a small slave plantation it owned in Rhode Island….”,  named “Whitehall” believe it or not.  Apparently the first recipient of a scholarship there went on to found Dartmouth college. Another founded Princeton.

The founders of Georgetown University, the article points out, were forbidden by their religion to charge tuition and rather funded school operations with money from “….slave sales and plantation profits”  

The residents of Jamestown, the first European colony in the US were merchants and men of power and money. But along with them were some of Europe’s poor. The project was no doubt funded by English merchants but labor was not on their mind. Two distinct types of European came to the US., the “huddled masses” were seeking work. Those that wanted them here were seeking to enrich themselves on the backs of that labor.

Like the miners of Wieliczka, the European immigrants were not deemed worthy of education, their labor created the wealth, education was for the purchasers of labor power not the seller of it.

But the slave system was profitable beyond imagination as Africans brought here as slaves worked for 300 years without wages. It’s no wonder America go “so rich so fast” as Malcolm X pointed out. The small island containing the nations we know as the UK became a world power through it expansion and colonial ventures.

As the labor power of the miners of Wieliczka  contributed to the founding of the University of Kracow, it is clear that while denied education themselves, the free labor of the black population is the foundation for the education system that produced the intellectual wealth of the US. This is true of the white/European working masses who contributed also. They were denied education, could not vote, lived in poverty and despair. The one major difference, and it is a huge one, is that in order to sow division between the poor and oppressed masses as we know them---it is natural for the poor to hate the rich-----, the white ruling class offered to the white poor a deal---they could be part of their new creation the White Race.  This gave many of them opportunities denied the African population who were excluded from all aspects of society. As the native population were driven form the land through violence and starvation, white labor was offered opportunity to work it, live on it, build on it, slavery denied this and many other prospects for advancement to Africans.

No serious black worker denies the poverty and misery that European workers have experienced in the violent history of the development of capitalism on this continent. It is the denial of the role of African slavery that is the problem and more importantly that the conditions that are prevalent in the black and other communities of color today are a product of slavery and a violent racist tradition in the building of this nation state. To tell a black person to ”get over slavery” infuriates them not so much because it’s a personal insult that a person with white skin would say it, but because they can’t get over it.

I think anyone working class reader that follows this blog knows what we consider to be the solution to this problem so I don’t feel compelled to go in to that. But here is the first paragraph and a link to the NY Review of Books article. I only read half of it and will return to it but it is fascinating so far.


Slavery and the American University

According to the surviving records, the first enslaved African in Massachusetts was the property of the schoolmaster of Harvard. Yale funded its first graduate-level courses and its first scholarship with the rents from a small slave plantation it owned in Rhode Island (the estate, in a stroke of historical irony, was named Whitehall). The scholarship’s first recipient went on to found Dartmouth, and a later grantee co-founded the College of New Jersey, known today as Princeton. Georgetown’s founders, prohibited by the rules of their faith from charging students tuition, planned to underwrite school operations in large part with slave sales and plantation profits, to which there was apparently no ecclesiastical objection. Columbia, when it was still King’s College, subsidized slave traders with below-market loans. Before she gained fame as a preacher and abolitionist, Sojourner Truth was owned by the family of Rutgers’s first president.

From their very beginnings, the American university and American slavery have been intertwined, but only recently are we beginning to understand how deeply. In part, this can be attributed to an expansion of political will. Barely two decades ago, questions raised by a group of scholars and activists about Brown University’s historic connection to slavery were met with what its then-president, Ruth Simmons, saw as insufficient answers, and so she appointed the first major university investigation. Not long before that, one of the earliest scholars to independently look into his university’s ties to slavery, a law professor at the University of Alabama, began digging through the archives in part to dispel a local myth, he wrote, that “blacks were not present on the campus” before 1963, when “Vivian Malone and James Hood enrolled with the help of Nicholas Katzenbach and the National Guard.” He found, instead, that they preceded its earliest students, and one of the university’s first acts was the purchase of an enslaved man named Ben. In Virginia, a small consortium founded three years ago to share findings and methods has expanded to include nearly three dozen colleges and universities across North America and two in European port cities. Almost all of these projects trace their origins to protests or undergraduate classes, where a generation of students, faculty, archivists, activists, and librarians created forums for articulating their questions, and for finding one another.  Continue reading  New York Review of Books article

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