David Brion Davis: Cited in Bob Herbert's NYT column

... There’s a great deal that Americans don’t fully understand about slavery. It’s such an uncomfortable subject that the temptation is to relegate it to the distant past and move on. But the long tentacles of that evil institution are still with us. Slavery was the foundation of the thriving consumer society that we have today and the wellspring of the racism that still poisons so many white attitudes and black lives.

The sheer size of the phenomenon of slavery, which was woven into the very being of the early Americas, is not well known today. The historian David Brion Davis, in his book “Inhuman Bondage,” tells us:

“By 1820 nearly 8.7 million slaves had departed from Africa for the New World, as opposed to only 2.6 million whites, many of them convicts or indentured servants, who had left Europe. Thus by 1820 African slaves constituted almost 77 percent of the enormous population that had sailed toward the Americas, and from 1760 to 1820 this emigrating flow included 5.6 African slaves for every European.”

For most of the time between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, the United States was governed by presidents who owned slaves.

One of the points Mr. Davis stressed was that the commodities produced in such tremendous volume by slaves — sugar, tobacco, coffee, chocolate, cotton — were crucial to the formation of the world’s first global mass market.

“From the very beginnings,” wrote Mr. Davis, “America was part black, and indebted to the appalling sacrifices of millions of individual blacks who cleared the forests and tilled the soil. Yet even the ardent opponents of slaveholding could seldom if ever acknowledge this basic fact.”

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