A Quick Guide to Slavery in the USA

What is up guys, it’s your girl Gin here from Alpha Beta Pie, and today we are giving you ABP’s Quick Guide to slavery in the United States.  

We think that it is important that we all have a basic understanding of slavery and how it has evolved over the last 400 years, because then you might understand why the Black Lives Matter movement is so important and why we here at Alpha Beta Pie stand in solidarity with them in the fight against racial injustice, police brutality and criminal justice reform.  

Now for those of us north of the 49th parallel, it is important that we note that we are guilty of robbing our very own indigenous people of these very same civil rights. Don’t get it twisted, we’re not perfect by any means Canada. 

So without further ado, here is,

Alpha Beta Pie’s Quick Guide to Slavery in the USA 

Let’s start at the beginning: 

  • The first set of slaves arrive in Port Comfort, Virginia in 1619.
  • They’re brought there by group of British Privateers who were bound for America and on their way intercepted a Portuguese ship transporting slaves from Africa to Mexico. So they LOOTED these slaves and continued on.
  • For the next 200 years African Americans are used as laborer’s on the tobacco, rice, indigo and cotton plantations found ALL OVER the United states. The ownership of slaves became a way of showing economic and social status.
  • Fast forward to 1830 and the US export economy is BOOMING! Cotton is king and now makes up 50% of all exports.
  • By 1860 the economic value of slaves in the USA exceeded the invested value of all the nation’s railroads, factories and banks combined. This means people were investing more in the acquisition of slaves rather than the very industries they were working in. 
  • In 1861 the Civil war breaks out between the Union North and the Confederate South over the institution of slavery. 
  • Not So Fun Fact: Slaves of the south were forced to make the very guns and ammunition that was  going to be used to kill the very people fighting to FREE THEM.  * Just dwell on that the next time you wonder why people are so upset over the confederate flag * 
  • So the civil war lasts from 1861 to 1865 and ends in victory over the south when president Abraham Lincoln emancipates slavery with the 13th amendment. 


“Neither slavery or involuntary servitude except as punishable for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction”

Now Please hold all applauses until the end as this is not the part of the story where things get better. In fact one can argue that they actually get worst and here’s why:

  • By 1865 there was an estimated 4 million slaves in the united states with the average value of $1000 per person, which if we do the math and carry the white privilege, we will see that works out to be about $4 billion dollars just stripped from the economy with the passing of this one law.   
  • The South especially, are salty like salt beef, because they just lost the war, their most prized investments are now worth nothing and they’re left to rebuild their economy and infrastructure. 
  • Desperate to find a way to regain control over African Americans and ultimately get them back to work, a series of laws known as “Black Codes” were introduced
  • These laws were used to restrict, control and essentially return African Americans to what was deemed to be their appropriate place in society 
  • Some examples of these codes would be:
    • Not being able to show employment
    • Not being able to hold positions other than farmer/servants
    • Not being allowed to speak loudly in the presence of a white woman  (ultimately leading to the evolution of  “Karen”)
    • Not being allowed to read or write 
    • Have business licenses
    • Vote
  • Now if you’re still following, you’re probably asking yourself how could they get away with this? I thought you said president Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery with the 13th amendment?
  • Well for starters, they assassinated President Lincoln. Homeboy was watching a play and mid-scene an actor put one in his head.
  • But also, remember the 13th amendment was written to unite the North and the Southern states, and in it laid the perfect loophole:
“except as punishable for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted”

This loophole gave way to what was known as industrial slavery through the means of convict leasing. 

Simply put… these now “free” African Americans are arrested at astronomical rates for the breaking of these ‘black codes’ and forced into physical labor as a form of punishment.  

The owners of the plantations, factories and mines previously employing slaves would now  “lease” these convicts by paying a monthly rate to the state in exchange for ownership throughout the duration of their sentence.

Now I want to point out that before emancipation, slave owners were always careful to strike the perfect balance between not over discipling their slaves, because a slaves value was directly linked to their productivity, and also keeping them scared enough to not revolt. After the 13th amendment, the thinking switched from black bodies being investments, to black bodies now being disposable. There were now 2 million free African American’s residing in the south alone, and with the help of white supremacist groups enforcing these black codes so ferociously, there was no shortage of able black bodies to do the work. 

By the 1880’s, more and more free African American’s began to move to the big cities. Partially for their own social advancement but also because the KKK were terrorizing communities in the South.  But even the more progressive of white folks still didn’t want to interact with black folks and they did not want them to experience the same levels of social or economic advancement. 

So from 1880 all the way to 1964 the US begins functioning under what is known as Jim Crow Laws.

Jim Crow Laws were used to enforce racial segregation. The concept being that Whites and Blacks were supposedly equal, but Whites still didn’t want to associate with Blacks in public spaces like restaurants, schools or public transportation. So in other words, you sit at your table and I’ll sit at mine. And once again, African Americans are subject to yet another set of laws to restrict and control their advancement in society. 

NOT SO FUN FACT: Jim crow laws have been in place longer than they have been abolished so if we do the math again and find the square root of segregation, you’ll see that African Americans have only had “equal” civil rights in the USA for the last 56 years. 

Americans slowly began starting to reject the traditional ideologies that came with the Jim Crow Era, and this gave way to the counter cultural movement of the hippies in the 1960’s and 70’s. 

The Civil Rights movement brought together visionaries of all ages, sexes and races in the fight for equality through peaceful protest, art activism and liberation through education. This was so powerful that it was effective in ending segregation with the passing of the Civil Rights Act. 


This new found solidarity became such a threat to policy makers because they knew these people would never support their laws, so in 1971, with the assistance of the FBI, president Nixon introduces his “War on Drugs”, declaring drug abuse public enemy number one.

The War on Drugs viewed drug abuse as a criminal issue rather than a mental health issue. They disproportionately targeted minority communities even when the research showed Blacks and Whites were using drugs at the same rate.  These communities often didn’t have the same resources available to fight the system and were often coerced into taking plea deals, giving way to the cash cow we know today as Mass Incarceration. 

Mass incarceration works in harmony with privatized prisons, by outsourcing cheap prison labor to corporations who enjoy unconscionable profits. This is also the reason why the US prison population now exceeds 2 million people. In fact, while the US accounts for only 5% of the global population, they hold 25% of all the world’s prisoners. 

With incarceration rates at an all time high, it’s quite clear that the systems currently in place are more centered around profitability rather than rehabilitation. 

No Matter which way you slice it, since 1619 African Americans have always been governed by a group of laws put in place for no reason other than to restrict and control their advancement throughout society. Simply because of their bodies’ ability to produce melanin. A chemical reaction one has absolutely no control over.  

So here we are, the part of the story where things can start to get better. We are seeing that through standing in solidarity with the black community we can peacefully enforce change by holding policy makers, corporations and each other accountable for our words and actions. 

This will probably be very uncomfortable at first, as change usually is. But I think we owe it to the next generation to finally fix this. We cannot keep intact the systems put in place specifically to hurt those we consider to be friends, family, lovers, peers and colleagues. The next generation deserves to whole heartedly believe that all lives matter.  

I hope you enjoyed this brief history lesson. Please let me know what you  think below, and if you like my Lioness T shirt, check out our Pie Shop where we’ve pledged to donate half of all proceeds to the National Bail Out Collective, to help reunite wrongfully incarcerated black mommas with their children. 

Ginevra Fenton

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