Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Northerner's View of Slaves

In Slavery Unmasked, author Philo Tower took time to give his observation of what he saw as "the most disgusting sites" of slave life in Southern cities. This seemingly unkind portrayal is his attempt, I think, to show the degrading influence slavery had on African Americans.

"But to the descriptive part of this article; and here I am forced to remark (notwithstanding all my sympathies are enlisted on the side of the poor slaves) that one of the most disgusting sights presented to a Northerner, in walking the streets of a Southern city, and one that meets him at every corner, not only in the streets, but on the quays, levees, and on the the public walks and squares, is the mighty, rolling, headlong mass, or tide of negro servants, male and female, black, brown and yellow, their squalid, filthy, careless appearance as they pass along, up and down, to and fro, now bearing you along in the press, now retarding your advance, now cutting your path at right angles, then comparatively deafening you with a loud laugh or a shrill whistle, is anything but agreeable to one of any amount of refined feeling. But the facts in the case are, the cruel, unnatural, debasing servitude in which these poor creatures have been bred has so effectually crushed and ground every ennobling principle of humanity out of them as to render them almost insensible to shame or fear, unless their master or overseer should chance to be close by. You encounter them on the public walks from six in the morning until nine at night, and they are clad for the most part in the most fantastic style conceivable, from the gaudy household livery of a Southern nabob, to the tattered costume of a wandering Gipsy, many of them bare-headed, bare feet and legs, men, women and children. I have seen them during the all the winter months, singing, whistling, chatting, running, jumping, and dancing along the walks, with sundry other monkey shines too tedious to mention, with scarcely any regard to the thousands of whites they meet, unless it should be their overseers. One moment you run against one of them with a pile of wood on his head; the next your encounter an old woman with a wash-tub half full of water on hers; now you meet a grinning, bare-headed Topsy drawing a two-wheeled cradle, with some two or three white babes in it, singing her lullaby to them, as unconscious, apparently so, of any other presence, as though she were in the centre of her mistress' nursery; now a stocky woolly-headed chap passes you with a piece of board, some two by three feet platted on his pate, heaped up with fresh fish, singing out at a deafening rate, startling every disordered nerve in one's body - fish, fish, here's your good fresh fish. And then, to bring up the rear, and fully consummate your disgust, you see that hyena of the human race, the slave-drover, come up the street with some two or three hundred men, women and children in a drove, some in chains, some in rags, and come half naked. All these are to be placed on the block on the morrow for public sale."

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