From Freedom to Slavery
29 October 2004
[From Instauration October 1998]
From Slavery to Freedom, written by John Hope Franklin, was first published in 1947. Since then it has had many revisions and additions. Franklin sought to tell the story of the blacks amongus by relying on the "essential facts in the history of the American Negro from his ancient African beginnings down to the present time." To present his case for Negro influence and accomplishment, the author begins with the civilizations of ancient Egypt and Ethiopia. He notes and annotates black history and culture, including the practice of slavery in the African states of Ghana, Songhay, Melle and lesser states. The inhumanity of the white man is extensively discussed in 13 chapters and 250 pages. More of a mythologist than an historian, the author ends his book with a chapter on "The Negro Revolution," in which he details the civil rights struggle, and black advancement in the U.S. and in the world.
Franklin wrote that the ancient Egyptians were a mélange of Mediterranean, Semitic and Ethiopian genes. Due to this genetic intermingling and cultural infusion, he feels,
[I]t is almost impossible to ascribe any feature of the civilization which emerged to any particular group. Subsequent migrations continued and altered the Egyptian character and appearance in favor of the group whose influx was heaviest.
Furthermore, he boldly asseverates, "Homer and other Greek writers regarded the Egyptians as black."
The author realizes that modern historians will "interpret facts as they desire, but they also bear witness to the fact that in all probability Egyptians were a decidedly mixed race with all the variable characteristics that such a group usually possesses." Franklin here is interpreting facts, while ignoring and confusing other realities that would damage his argument. He contends that Negroes (or perhaps off-white hybrids bearing Negro genes) significantly contributed to the advancement of Egyptian civilization. "The constant infiltration of Negroid peoples from the south (Nubia and Ethiopia) and the domination by Negroes of Egypt's political life in its later stages of development cannot be regarded lightly in any final evaluation of the sources of culture and civilization in ancient Egypt."
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. in his book, The Disuniting of America, quotes several experts who doubt the Negro played an essential role in ancient Egypt. One, Egyptologist Dr. Miriam Lichtheim, says such claims are
errant nonsense which is being propagated in the American black community about the Egyptians being Nubians and the Nubians being black. The Egyptians were not Nubians, and the origianl Nubians were not black. Nubia gradually became black because black peoples migrated northward out of central Africa. The "Nile Valley School" is obviously an attempt by American blacks to provide themselves with an ancient history linked to that of the high civilization of ancient Egypt.
Schlesinger goes on to debunk Franklin's claim that Ghana, Songhay, and other lesser states were glorious, prosperous nations founded by blacks. They were founded by Arabs and when the blacks took control they became little more than savage hellholes. The "essential facts" Franklin uses to bolster the status of the Negro from "his ancient African beginnings" come under attack, not by a white supremacist but by a minority liberal. Schlesinger reveals Franklin's unalloyed anti-white racism
Salvation lies in breaking the white, Eurocentric grip....Europe...is the source of most of the evil in the world anyway and the time is overdue to honor the African contributions to civilization.
The gilding of Negro history by Franklin on the very first pages of his book makes the average reader suspicious of his integrity. His historical accounts are mostly slanted. Interestingly he claims a strong Negro influence in Mexico which many historians prefer to ignore. He writes, "More than 60,000 Negroes entered Mexico during the first century of conquest" and many more were to come later. The Negroes mixed with the whites and Indians so completely that they were no longer a distinct population component by the year 1800. Today, the modern Mexican frequently has as much black blood as white.
By the mid-1500s Indians were nearly extinct in the West Indies. As early as 1503, African slaves were being imported to replace the Indians, though the importation of black slaves to Mexico is not discussed. Since Columbia, Peru, and Brazil received thousands of African slaves, why leave out Mexico?
Negroes fought in the Revolutionary War on both sides, often receiving their freedom after the war. By 1790 there were 59,000 free Negroes. In the next two decades they almost doubled. By 1810 the number of freedmen started to dwindle and by 1860 there was a crisis concerning the manumission of slaves. Whites were becoming increasingly anxious about the no-win situation of Africans in America. Once freed, these unwanted, disenfranchised blacks were sometimes required to leave their home state. In the years before the outbreak of the Civil War there were 488,000 freed blacks! Franklin wrote
After the Civil War most of the newly freed blacks went from slavery to peonage. Most whites could accept black freedom, but many whites were adamantly opposed to black citizenship, voting rights and economic enfranchisement. As one white Southerner stressed, "the ex-slave was not a free man; he was a free Negro."
Franklin ignores unflattering black characterizations. His blatant omissions are exasperating. Concerning the Haitian Revolution of 1791, he states that the uprising "in its magnitude and intensity demonstrated that the Negroes' determination to secure freedom and equality" was so strong that they went out and "killed their white masters." Murder, rape and torture more accurately describe the fate of the French planters. Blacks murdered and tortured white men, forced white women to prostitute themselves and drank blood out of the skulls of murdered white children. These horrific details Franklin obviously considers superfluous in his account of events in Haiti.
The Haitian Revolution and the possible spread of slave revolts caused Napoleon to sell Louisiana to the U.S. Franklin points out that Americans were aware and afraid of the potential spread of revolution from the former French colony. However he fails to mention that Yankee traders were trading with the Haitian revolutionaries and supplying them with instruments of war. Once again, to make a dollar, the Yankee trader demonstrates his eagerness to trade with a potential adversary.
The sexual exploitation of female slaves by their masters was chronicled thoroughly by Franklin. He writes that some race mixtures resulted from "the association of Negro men and white women, but this was only a small percent of the total." Later he changes his tune, "The practice of white women mixing with Negro men was fairly widespread during the colonial period and had not entire ceased by 1865." Ironically he criticized the renegade white men for not being resolute racists. Most historians admit that a significant mulatto population (between 10%-20% of slave population) was produced by male master-female slave couplings.
Franlin confronts white racism in an almost matter-of-fact manner. To him American history is essentially a history of white supremacy and the oppression of blacks. He calmly reports that until recently white supremacy was so firmly entrenched in the U.S. that few Negroes dared to criticize it, let alone take forceful measures against it.
White racialists, according to Franklin, attribute black ascendancy to special rights "conferred by government, not by God, nature or heritage." The Founding Fathers intende the U.S. to be a white society. They did not reserve civil rights or citizenship for nonwhites. African slaves were a quick fix for the labor shortages of a burgeoning nation. In 1860 Abraham Lincoln conceded that the presence of slavery makes "toleration and protection a necessity." In 1998 the federal government expects whites to tolerate the special minority status of blacks, a status the government coddles and protects. Franklin conveniently omits mentioning the recent black social plague that has ruined America's bigger cities. Despite tremendous help from the government, blacks have brought illegitimacy, sloth, disease, drugs and crime to almost every urban neighborhood.
I wonder if Franklin is pleased that the Negro has Uncle Sam's iron boot planted firmly on the neck of the white man?