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Essays on Issues, Ideas and Reflections on the Times. Published now and
then. Opinions pro or con are welcome.

Northern Slavery

North Miami Beach, FL 11-26-2005
A.H. Schectman

Virtual slavery is an artifact and a present day reality throughout the world. It underlies most civilizations and the labor of slaves built those civilizations.  To the victor not only go the spoils of war but this include the traffic in humans.

This piece was titled “northern” to contrast it against the best known “southern” practice of legal slavery, the “peculiar” institution of Black slaves endorsed by the Constitution and laws of the United States. This was until post Civil War amendments changed the Constitution and ended laws enforcing slavery beyond the boundaries agreed upon by the “Founding Fathers”.

The New York Historical Society is holding months’ long exhibition of Slavery in New York.  The artifacts show that the streets and homes of New York citizens were also the homes and workplaces of Black slaves.   The most interesting part of the exhibition is an interactive booth where the visitor can answer questions about their reactions to the exhibit.  It is reported that many never knew or could believe that slavery of the kind shown was commonplace in New York.  Most Americans have no knowledge of the race wars BEFORE the Civil War and those riots of white immigrant men who refused to compete on any level with Black men, much less fight for their right to freedom.  Our histories are incomplete because they leave out these facts or gloss over them.  It is easier to think of the Slave south and the Free north than actually know that slavery was part and parcel of northern life.

It is helpful to be Jewish and annually at Passover retell the story of how our ancestors escaped slavery in Egypt and found a home given them by God.  It is also interesting to note in the Hebrew text of the Five Books of Moses that slavery is acknowledged but there are rules that govern the humane treatment of slaves – Hebrews owning other Hebrews or Hebrews owning non-Jews.

It is a matter of pride that more than their actual numbers would suggest that Jews have been in the forefront of humanitarian causes and that they fight for the rights of other people because their history is replete with stories of persecution and fleeing oppression.

Slavery is an artifact and reality in all parts of the world.  It is not just now that we realize there were slaves in New York before legal slavery was ended there in 1827. What all thinking people should realize is that slavery was a mainstay of northern European countries as well as in Islamic lands and Christian lands and rife throughout the Asian world.  It is nothing new and still goes on in one form or another.



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