Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cotton Exchange

I spent six months of 1964 at Ft. Gordon, Ga., near Augusta. I took Army Basic Training there, then went to Signal Corps School to learn the new job chosen for me. In Signal School, I was allowed to leave the post on weekends. Sometimes I rode into Augusta on the free Army bus, the late night return trip of which earned its nickname as the Vomit Comet. There was not much to do in Augusta but walk up and down Broad St., maybe see a movie. I was under 21, the legal drinking age in Georgia at the time. Once I joined a group who pooled a few dollars each to rent a hotel room to watch football games on TV and drink beer we had purchased through an intermediary. It was better than hanging around the barracks, but after a while, a little fresh air was called for. One of the guys read a sight-seeing brochure. “What’s the Cotton Exchange?” he asked me, as the Georgia native. I had no idea. We proceeded to an address along the Savannah River. The old building had been the historic site of trading when cotton was king. Inside were artifacts and documents about cotton business, agriculture, and harvesting. At this riverside location, according to the displayed bills of sale, cotton bales were shipped, slaves bought and sold.

Like This:

Received of D. M. seven thousand dollars in full payment for the six following named slaves.
MARIAH, black girl 16 years old at $1250.00
MARYAN, black girl 16 years old at $1250.00
LUCY, grif girl 14 years old at $1150.00
BETTE, grif girl 14 years old at $1150.00
JANE, black girl 12 years old at $1000.00
JOHN, black boy 14 years old at $1200.00
All of said slaves are warrant sound and healthy in body and in mind and slaves for life and will forever warrant the rights of said slaves to the said M., his heirs , against the claims of any and all persons this the 18 day of March, A.D. 1858.

Slavery is the original sin of the United States, the greatest experiment in democracy and equality in the history of the world, this sin chiseled in stone in the U.S. Constitution, alongside freedom of speech and habeas corpus. I try to imagine the great American contributors to The Age of Enlightenment, Thomas Jefferson, et al, who did not quibble over whether it was ok to enslave human beings, only how much they would count for. Three-fifths was the number agreed upon. Perhaps Hieronymus Bosch could have depicted the discussions of the merits of 3/5 over 2/3, or 3/4, the calculations of common denominators, and debates over differences of 1/15 or 1/20?

Article. I.
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

Four of the first five U.S. Presidents came from the crop of landed Virginia gentry, which is to say, slaveholders. After generation upon generation, now comes the 44th President of the United States, born Barack Hussein Obama, not Cassius Clay or Le Roy Jones, or even George Washington Obama or Franklin Roosevelt Obama, without a drop of slave blood, father from Kenya, mother from Kansas, truly African-American.

I offer my toast to the Inauguration: Here’s to Truth and Reconciliation.

Copyright 2009 by William C. Cotter

No comments:


Hit Counter
Boden Clothes