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America is great because of slavery

Not saying it’s great we had slavery, but that slavery helped make our economy the greatest in the world. Let’s just say it.

You might think that American ingenuity made us great. Or capitalism. Individualism. Entrepreneurship. Sure, those contributed. And many other things too. Yet during black history month – all the time actually – let’s remember that slavery also made us great. Millions of slaves picked cotton and worked fields to grow American wealth. I believe we are still coasting on that momentum today and we owe a reverent debt of gratitude to the black people who came before us and paved the way for our prosperity.

Did you know that over 30,000 ships came to the Americas with slaves as cargo? Did you know that the United States had nearly 4 million slaves at the time of the Civil War? That’s a lot of free labor.

This graphic depicts a simple four-fact history of how black people contributed to the US economy, and how they have been deprived of it opportunities.

When I worked at the Maine Development Foundation many years ago I was asked to research economies of other states and the world and try to find correlates to economic growth; that we might uncover some secret to apply here in Maine. What I found is that economic growth is often correlated with wealth disparity. The bigger the difference between the rich and the poor, the more likely it is that the economy will grow.

How shall we measure the greatness of a country? What should be our goal? How about a company or a nonprofit or a city or a state or any group at all? What should be the measure of greatness?

Rather than overall economic output, for me the measure of greatness is creativity, sustainability, and overall happiness. Those things are way more important to me than material wealth. I am usually hired by groups not to help them get richer but to get happier. Bosses want their people to get along better and love their jobs more. You might be rich but are you happy? That’s what I think matters most: people’s happiness.*

We could ask this of America today: “America, you seem rich but are you happy?” I’m afraid of the answer.

For me, I love the Mahatma Ghandi quote: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” I think this applies to all groups.

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* Easy for me to say because I have money. I am privileged. I’m simply naming that for a person who does not have money and you ask, “What’s more important, money or happiness?” they might answer differently than me.

And here’s a time lapse animation of the voyages of 31,166 slave ships over 200 hundred years from 1660 to 1866. It’s backed up by a searchable database.

6 thoughts on “America is great because of slavery

  1. Excellent Craig! It’s refreshing to see this country’s history in color—-not black and white. Thank you for speaking your truth. It clearly causes all of us to pause and reflect. Cheers! ~ Joyce Bailey

  2. Hi Joe and Nancy,
    Thanks so much for each of your comments.
    If you are willing to go a step further, what about the wording is misleading and/or what about the tone is problematic?
    I’m genuinely curious about this. If you can help me with specifics that would be great.
    Contact me privately if you want.
    Thank you!

  3. CRAIG,
    RESPECTIVELY DISAGREE WITH YOU.
    AMERICA IS GREAT BECAUSE OF OUR CONSTITUTION, ALL OF OUR PEOPE NOT JUST SLAVES, OUR REPUBLIC AND OUR ABILITY TO LEARN FROM THE PAST. IN ADDITION, SOME BLAME HAS TO BE BORNE BY THE BLACK COMMUNITY. 77% OF BLACK WOMEN GIVE BIRTH WITHOUT A HUSBAND OR SIGNIFICANT OTHER MALE IN THE FAMILY. 50% OF ALL CRIME IS COMMITED BY BLACKS WHO AMOUNT TO 13% OF THE POPULATION. THE PERCENTAGE OF CRIME COMMITTED BY YOUNG BLACK MEN IS ABOUT 70 % OF THE TOTAL CRIME.
    388,000 SLAVES ENDED UP INORTH AMERICA OR 6% OF THE TOTAL.
    4,9 MILLION SLAVES ENDED UP IN BRAZIL. IF YOU ARE PROPOSING REPARATIONS OF UP TO $60 TRILLION, PLEASE SEND THE INVOICE TO ANGOLA AND THE COUNTRIES IN WESTERN AFRICA WHO ENSLAVED THEIR OWN PEOPLE AND SOLD THEM PRIMARILTO THE SLAVE TRADERS, PRIMARILY ENGLISH.

  4. Hi Craig,
    I know you are trying to convey difficult information in an upbeat paradoxical way and the charts are excellent, but I think the wording is misleading if not appalling. Although the work of slaves helped make us great there is no way that slavery per se made us great, and to say so ignores what was involved in this form of capitalism. It is not that only that owners made use of slave labor. It is that it was cheaper to import new ones than keep those were here alive.
    Joe

    1. Thanks for this comment, Joe. Lately, I’ve been struggling with Craig’s pieces and it was nice to see someone else questioning his tone. It’s especially problematic coming from a white male.
      Nancy

  5. Slaves were very valuable and it was in the plantation owner’s best interest to take good care of his slaves. It was also illegal to teach a slave to read. It was the southern Baptist preachers who taught their parishes to read. It was similar to the “Each one teach one” program in India when the British did not want the Indian people to learn to read English. It was the largest literacy program in the world.

    Just your weekly footnote, Craig.

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