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ch a p ter 6 Freedom’s First Generation The negro was not as good a laborer in the new as in the old system. —benjamin w. arnold I like to think of people having land wherever they are born. To me, they are more stable and much more secure when they have a foundation of their own. If not, you will keep paying, and even if you own a million dollars, you don’t own anything. —st.johnian, born in 1880s [Brazilian abolition] was part of a general program of economic modernization that entailed coercing freedmen into specific sectors of employment. —kim d. butler New forms of labor control in ever-larger areas of the world had replaced the efforts of slaves in the southern United States. —sven beckert Robert Engs’s Freedom’s First Generation: Black Hampton, Virginia, 1861–1890, first published in 1979,1 offers an examination of a post-emancipation southern community through “longer time frames,” the search for “elusive evidence,” and the application of “different standards of measurement.”2 Building upon these alternative chronological, evidential, and measurement criteria, this chapter compares the generational experiences of ex-slaves in hemispheric terms. Emancipation is pursued in longer chronological sections of two to three decades beyond the usual decade or so. Thus: Haiti from 1804 through 1820s, the British West Indies from the 1830s through 1860s, the U.S. South from the 1860s through the 1890s, and Cuba/Brazil from the 1880s through 1910s. Moreover, the search for new evidence is less important than demonstrating new dimensions of ex-slaves’ experiences through expanded, alternative , and linked approaches gleaned from existing evidence. Finally, freedom’s meaning is pursued from the perspective of the ex-slaves rather than colonial freedom’s first gener ation 127 officials, local politicians, removed philanthropists, or visiting missionaries, many of whom were quite hostile to freedpeople’s choices and behavior. In short, we examine the first generation of ex-slaves in post-abolition societies through a comparative methodology of similarities, differences, and connections . i. freedom crop index My dissertation-turned-publication on the political economy of emancipation in the tobacco region of the U.S. South argued that many ex-slaves withdrew from cash-crop production, especially in the tobacco and wheat fields of central Virginia, and that their withdrawal constituted an approximate indicator of economic freedom from former coerced forms of labor. In other words, emancipation in the tobacco fields could be statistically measured by the decline in labor-intensive tobacco production from the days of slavery compared to the days of freedom. In an early burst of comparative enthusiasm, I took the argument further to suggest that this labor withdrawal in tobacco Virginia resembled the free-labor struggles of other ex-slaves in post-abolition societies in which staple-crop production dropped markedly after emancipation. I called this process—ex-slave labor withdrawal and cash-crop decline—the freedom crop index. Only one book reviewer picked up on the concept.3 Subsequent reading, research, and reflection on the socioeconomics of post-emancipation societies have obviously inspired several qualifications to this point. First, tobacco was a special labor-intensive crop that required careful cultivation and attention all season long. This contrasts with cash crops like sugar, cotton, rice, indigo, and wheat that are far less labor-intensive. In other words, the concept squashes important differences in the extent of labor output : withdrawal in some crop calendars was far more extensive than in others because of the nature of the productive process. Second, the notion failed to differentiate between post-abolition and pre-abolition declines in agricultural production. The traditional regions of sugar production in northeastern Brazil, as well as older colonies of Barbados and Jamaica in the British Caribbean, experienced serious declines in sugar production before the advent of emancipation . Thus, the sugar decline in these regions cannot be attributed to ex-slaves’ actions but rather to broader market forces in operation during slavery.4 Third, there was not a sharp decline in the major coffee-producing region of southern Brazil after abolition in 1888. During the 1891–92 season, coffee production in the southern Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro was estimated at more than 97 128 freedom’s seekers million kilograms. Despite soil exhaustion and depressed market prices, it still reached 60 million kilograms four years later. Over the next generation, coffee never failed to fall below 40 percent of total Brazilian exports. Finally, some ex-slave regions...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780807154724
Related ISBN
9780807154717
MARC Record
OCLC
878130616
Pages
272
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-24
Language
English
Open Access
No
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