- 1607: Jamestown, the first British North American settlement, was founded in Virginia.
- 1619: The first African Americans arrived in Jamestown, Virginia.
- 1640: Virginia courts sentenced a black run away servant, John Punch, to "serve his said master . . . for the time of his natural Life."
One of the major tenets of critical race theory (CRT) acknowledges
. . . that racism is a normal feature of society and is embedded within systems and institutions, like the legal system, that replicate racial inequality. This dismisses the idea that racist incidents are aberrations but instead are manifestations of structural and systemic racism.
Of all the elements of CRT, this one seems to explode more heads among Republican authoritarian cultists than any other, and to send them rushing pell-mell to the nearest school board meeting to disrupt, bully, or intimidate school board members and administrators.
For the most part, school officials have, heretofore, complied with the demands of common sense and their elected or professional responsibilities to allow educators some say in whether or not to teach history or to teach the malicious fictions preferred by cancel culture white supremacists who can be found in congressional office suites, corporate board rooms, at editorial desks, and trailer park laundromats.
While critical race theory is despised, denied, and subjected to lies by those who both know what the theory really says and by those who remain clueless, careless, or, otherwise, uninterested in truth, the facts of our history cannot and will not be dismissed or eradicated as long as there are those who act to keep alive democratic principles.
And even though K-12 and even undergraduate history curricula are most often entirely deficient when it comes to sharing with students fact-based historical narratives that include the raw racist truths that are central to the American story from Colonial days to the present day, educators will not be cowed by racist liars, nor will scholars bow to censorious demands of white vigilantes who are egged on and funded by elected or self-appointed fascists.
So let's begin our incomplete historical survey of values, codes, and statutes that built the legal fortress that has protected racist oppression, white supremacy, and racial inequality in America from the 1600s to the 21st Century.
The text below is from a PBS documentary series, Africans in America: America's Journey through Slavery, Part 1. Part 1 documents the "terrible transformation" from indentured servitude to slavery in the British colonies prior to the American Revolution. The documentary clearly traces how the vast slavery empire in America did not arrive on these shores in any way fully formed or pre-ordained but, rather, evolved as one inhumane law at a time was written to give legal protection to white landowners who placed their own avarice and greed over the Christian principles that they espoused, even as their actions made such principles a mockery in the face to God and man.
The transformation from indentured servitude (servants contracted to work for a set amount of time) to racial slavery didn't happen overnight. There are no laws regarding slavery early in Virginia's history. By 1640, the Virginia courts had sentenced at least one black servant to slavery . . .
Three servants working for a farmer named Hugh Gwyn ran away to Maryland. Two were white; one was black. They were captured in Maryland and returned to Jamestown, where the court sentenced all three to thirty lashes -- a severe punishment even by the standards of 17th-century Virginia. The two white men were sentenced toan additional four years of servitude -- one more year for Gwyn followed by three more for the colony. But, in addition to the whipping, the black man, a man named John Punch, was ordered to "serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural Life here or elsewhere." John Punch no longer had hope for freedom.
It wasn't until 1661 that a reference to slavery entered into Virginia law, and this law was directed at white servants -- at those who ran away with a black servant. The following year, the colony went one step further [Act XII] by stating that children born would be bonded or free according to the status of the mother:Virginia, December 1662: Whereas some doubts have arisen whether children got by any Englishman upon a Negro woman should be slave or free, be it therefore enacted and declared by this present Grand Assembly, that all children born in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother; and that if any Christian shall commit fornication with a Negro man or woman, he or she so offending shall pay double the fines imposed by the former act.The transformation had begun, but it wouldn't be until the Slave Codes of 1705 that the status of African Americans would be sealed. . . . [see upcoming posts at this blog]
The shift from indentured servitude to racial slavery in the British colonies is evident in the development of the colonies' laws.
Maryland, 1664: The first colonial "anti-amalgamation" law is enacted (amalgamation referred to "race-mixing"). Other colonies soon followed Maryland's example. A 1691 Virginia law declared that any white man or woman who married a "Negro, mulatto, or Indian" would be banished from the colony forever.
Virginia, 1667: Christian baptisms would no longer affect the bondage of blacks or Indians, preventing enslaved workers from improving their legal status by changing their religion.
Act III. Whereas some doubts have risen whether children that are slaves by birth, and by the charity and piety of their owners made partakers of the blessed sacrament of baptism, should by virtue of their baptism be made free, it is enacted and declared by this Grand Assembly, and the auhority thereof, that the conferring of baptism does not alter the condition of the person as to his bondage or freedom; that diverse masters, freed from this doubt may more carefully endeavor the propagation of Christianity by permitting children, though slaves, or chose of greater growth if capable, to be admitted to that sacrament.
Virginia, 1669: What came to be known as the "Casual Killing Act," this law allowed for the killing of any slave who "resists" his master.Act I. Whereas the only law in force for the punishment of refractory servants resisting their master, mistress, or overseer cannot be inflicted upon Negroes, nor the obstinacy of many of them be suppressed by other than violent means, be it enacted and declared by this Grand Assembly if any slave resists his master (or other by his master's order correcting him) and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die, that his death shall not be accounted a felony, but the master (or that other person appointed by the master to punish him) be acquitted from molestation, since it cannot be presumed that premeditated malice (which alone makes murder a felony) should induce any man to destroy his own estate.
I want to admit, too, my own education left me with an thoroughly incomplete picture of our past and that many of the facts that I share above and will share in subsequent posts came to my attention only as I dug them out for myself during the past quarter century of research and teaching.
So if some of the facts presented in this series are new to you, please don't feel that your own education is any more deficient than the society at large. You may be assured that almost everyone in America has been similarly miseducated about our racial history. Sadly, the majority on the U. S. Supreme Court, as well as a sizable segment of our population, would keep it that way. Don't allow it.