The Fear of Rebellion

“A great number of southerners at all times held the firm belief that the negro population was so docile, so little cohesive, and in the main so friendly toward the whites and so contented that a disastrous insurrection by them would be impossible. But on the whole, there was much greater anxiety abroad in the land than historians have told of…” – author, Ulrich Phillips (174)

Following years of ruthless oppression and living each day under the fear of a whip, slaves were treated as broken animals; they were trained and disciplined to obey their owners. Slave owners refused to consider the possibility of a slave uprising. Slaves were not acknowledged as human beings with emotions and the capability to think like white people; they were “its”—pieces of property. With this twisted value standard for slaves engrained in Southern culture it is no surprise that slave owners fooled themselves into thinking slaves would endure the unforgiveable trials they were forcibly subjected to. However, under the façade of power and confidence, southerners knew that slaves were just as capable as them. The looming fear of rebellion was widely unacknowledged, so as to prevent slaves from gathering courage from the stories. But the stories were also kept under wraps to preserve the illusion of white supremacy over the enslaved black men and women in the South.





shame of slavery

Fredrick Douglass once said during his Independence Day address

“What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. ‘To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass- fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival… .”

I believe this long speech shows one of Zinn’s views that not only was the south guilty for the crime of slavery, but the nation as a whole for even allowing it to happen in the first place. This plays well with Zinn’s idea because Fredrick Douglass not only stated some of Zinn’s ideas but also the fact that he even dared speak up in that specific time period that could provoke violence towards him. This might also show Fredrick’s strong beliefs that all individuals deserve to be treated equality despite the color of his skin. While Fredrick Douglass didn’t win his attempt to become the vice president of the united states he is still a great visionary for human rights and his views coincided with Zinn’s fairly well. This not only shows Fredrick’s character and his firm belief in freedom but also his desire to speak his mind despite what others might think and react towards him. Zinn’s writings can be provocative at times and so this mixes very well with Fredrick’s own personal views considering he is an African American slave who fled the life of  slavery he understood very well the horrors the nation choose to over look at times that he could not tolerate which is why he dedicated his entire life to trying to gain equality for all people.





“You’ll Be Free or Die…”

The powerful words of Harriet Tubman. A strong, black, womanly figure, in American History during the countless years of slavery. Brutally beaten and injured by savage white men; she had put herself before others and gave over three thousand slaves the choice to live freely or to die chained.

“There was one of two things i had a right to, liberty or death; if i could not have one, i would have the other; for no man should take me alive…”

Conducting the Underground Railroad; Harriet Tubman, took the audacity, not fearing and having the boldness to take nineteen trips back and forth to rescue others over her own self. This was a self-less act made by Harriet and unlike most slaves, she believed it was either between life or death – and by life, she did not mean staying “alive” but more so, being “free.” Harriet had always carried a pistol around with her. This shows not only the seriousness she took each trip but also, the power she carried as a black women. Zinn mentions the power Harriet had through her actions. Even using the pistol to threaten the fugitives; she said that running away isn’t an option but a choice to finally break-free. She influenced and changed many lives of blacks; giving them the freedom to live their own lives, no longer making them fear or suffer from mistreatment and cruelty by whites. One women saving the lives of hundreds who were constantly whipped, with scared marks all over their body repeatedly, like disobeident animals; Harriet gave them the ability to escape and never to return to a place so haunting.

The Cultural Hegemony of Post-Reconstruction America

W.E.B. Du Bois, a black historian and co-founder of the NAACP,  saw the ’emancipation’ of black slaves as only the beginning of a new era of enslavement, which found it’s purpose in the evolution of American capitalism.

“For there began to rise in America in 1876 a new capitalism and a new enslavement of labor.” (210)

“Home labor in cultured lands, appeased and misled by a ballot whose power the dictatorship of vast capital strictly curtailed, was bribed by high wage and political office to unite in an exploitation of white, yellow, brown and black labor, in lesser lands…” (210)

Du Bois’ interpretation of what Zinn would call “Emancipation Without Freedom” lays the foundation for the encroachment of black freedoms in the decades following up to the Civil Rights movement. Rather than settle for equality, the South uses the transition from black enslavement to freedom as a means to “a new capitalism”; one dependent upon the oppression of poverty stricken blacks and whites. Southern Democrats as well as the hate-fueled Ku Klux Klan developed a cultural hegemony of sorts on most of the South and parts of the North during the post Reconstruction era, exploiting a fear tactic to force newly empowered blacks to surrender their 14th and 15th amendment rights. Howard Zinn uses Du Bois’ colorblind concept that this new capitalism is equally exploiting “white, yellow, brown, and black” persons to express the racial tension that exists after the Civil War, but also the growing economic tension between rich and poor in America which stands as an equal to the race factor.

Did the Emancipation Proclamation mark the end of slavery, or prolong it?

“With the Proclamation, the Union army was open to blacks. (…) The more whites had to sacrifice, the more resentment there was, particularly among poor whites in the North, who were drafted by a law that allowed the rich to buy their way out of the draft for $300. And so the draft riots of 1863 took place, uprisings of angry whites in northern cities, their targets not the rich, far away, but the blacks, near at hand.”

“A black man in Detroit described what he saw (…) He heard one white man say: “If we are got to be killed up for Negroes then we will kill every one in this town.”


Although Howard Zinn acknowledges the passing of the Proclamation to be a huge milestone for slaves as it led to the 13th amendment ending the institution of slavery, he makes the important point that blacks still continued to receive undeserved physical and verbal abuse as they had, during the period of slavery. When the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was passed, it was originally designed to declare slaves free in areas still fighting against the Union, aka the South. This opened up the opportunity for Blacks to join the Union Army. At this time, poor whites in the North were extremely upset about the fact that they were drafted by a law which privileged wealthy whites to buy their way out of serving in the Union Army for $300. But instead of placing their anger on the upper-class whites, they displaced their pent up frustration and outrage on the black community, attacking black men, women, and even children. Zinn mentions this in order to highlight the point that although slavery was ended, many aspects of it were not, such as the white man’s conviction of blacks as being socially inferior and of less worth than whites. Another aspect of slavery which continued was the severe mistreatment and physical abuse of blacks, despite the law.

Slave Revolts Were Not a Craze

“Slave revolts in the United States were not as frequent or as large-scale as those in the Caribbean islands or in South America.”

“The conspiracy of Denmark Vcsey, himself a free Negro, was thwarted before it could be carried out in 1822. The plan was to burn Charleston, South Carolina, then the sixth-largest city in the nation, and to initiate a general revolt of slaves in the area.”

Many people wonder why some slaves seemed content with their living conditions, similar to that of Stephen in Django Unchained.  Revolt seemed to be the last thing on his mind, with good reason.  Many of them turned out unsuccessful and ended with the death of anyone accused of being apart of it.  Denmark Vcsey’s attempt was said to have involved thousands of blacks.  They clearly spent a great amount of time preparing with having made over three hundred daggers and 250 pike heads and bayonets. Although thousands were not caught, thirty-five blacks were hanged.  The trial record was destroyed because with it out in the public, other slaves would study Vcsey’s plan and possibly do it better than he did.   They not only made an example out of these men but it showed that even with great preparation, it was almost impossible to follow through with a successful revolt.

The Triple Hurdle

An ex-slave and woman’s rights advocate, Sojourner Truth spoke at the Fourth National Woman’s Rights Convention in 1853.

“I know that it feels a kind o’ hissin’ and ticklin’ like to see a colored woman get up and tell you about things, and Woman’s Rights. We have all been thrown down so low that nobody thought we’d ever get up again; but … we will come up again, and now I’m here. . . . we’ll have our rights; see if we don’t; and you can’t stop us from them; see if you can.”

Still struggling and fighting for woman’s rights, Sojourner Truth rose again at a meeting for the American Equal Rights Association.

“There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not a word about the colored women; and if colored men get their rights, and not colored women theirs, you see the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before.”

Black women faced, what Howard Zinn referred to as the triple hurdle: “…of being abolitionists in a slave society, of being black among white reformers, and of being women in a reform movement dominated by men.” Struck by constant hurdles of discrimination, black women found themselves battered in a society where they were denied liberty and freedom. Harriet Tubman, a slave born woman who escaped into freedom, always carried a pistol, expressing her bold philosophy: “There was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive…” Black women were punished and pushed into being minorites in terms of race, class and gender, continuously being looked down upon and thus stripped of their rights. Despite this, black women also played important roles in the Civil War as well as the rebuiling of the postwar South, undoubtedly displaying their passionate efforts for the equality for black men and women.

America – Democratic or Hypocrite?


Fredrick Douglass was a son of a slave who addressed the nation on Fourth of July, 1852, stating that this day is nothing but mockery brought upon the slaves.

“What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. ‘to him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; …your shouts of liberty and equality…”

Fredrick Douglass portrayed the injustice Americans have shown during a national holiday where Americans celebrate their freedom gained from the English. He speaks, stating that this national holiday is nothing but ridicule to the black population. America became what it had detested. It is said to be the most free and covetous nation, yet what they project and celebrate on the fourth of July compared to what they actually do too blacks, makes them the worst nation in the world. This is some sort of hypocrisy to the blacks! America is celebrating the freedom that they gained and the societies they have established through political positions. Slaves however, are in this type of society where the patriotic citizens announce themselves as a democratic nation to the world and is throwing a façade. What sort of democratic nation forces colored men to work under poor conditions? What type of democratic nation bans colored men to have a say in political matters?  Are they not human like the whites? Fredrick Douglass clearly states his position that Americans celebrate victory from the English, while slaves who live in America are still struggling to see the light from Americans.

Nat Turner’s Rebellion, Another Failed Insurrection

“Liberation from the top would go only so far as the interests of the dominant groups permitted. […] Thus, while the ending of slavery led to a reconstruction of national politics and economics, it was not a radical reconstruction, but a safe one- in fact, a profitable one.”

Nat Turner’s rebellion was one of the largest slave insurrections to occur in which at least sixty white southerners were killed. This uprising threw southerners into a frenzy, as it was sudden and for the first time in Southampton, Virginia, whites, including women and children were at the mercy of the vengeful slaves. The militia was immediately dispatched, the rebellion quickly came to an end and those believed to be involved were hanged. The fear of slave uprisings soon turned to anger as white mobs attacked all blacks and any kind of freedom slaves had were taken away with the tightening of security and imposition of new restrictions.

These rebellions couldn’t go far because of the lack of participants, weapons and organization. The only way a rebellion could be successful was if the government aided the slaves, which essentially meant the government would be in control. Anytime slaves were allowed any kind of rights, it was because of those in power. Decisions were made based upon whether it would be lead to a profitable outcome for those at the top, instead of whether it was the right thing to do. Zinn mentions this rebellion because it further reinforces the point that revolting against slavery would always fail as long as the government was not behind it. The only way the government would support the abolition of slavery and rights for blacks was if they had something to gain from it and if an insurrection occurred in which they had no control over, they made sure to shut it down with excessive force, like they did with Turner’s rebellion.

“We are willing to let the dead past bury its dead; but we ask you now for our RIGHTS…”

Henry MacNeal Turner was a former slave who escaped from a Southern plantation as a young adult, teaching himself to read and write. In 1868, Turner spoke with the Georgia House of Representatives.

“The great question, sir is this: Am I a man? If I am such, I claim the rights of a man…Why, sir though we are not white, we have accomplished much.  We have pioneered civilization here; we have built up your country; … And what do we ask of you in return? Do we ask you for compensation for the sweat our fathers bore for you- for the tears you have caused, and the hearts you have broken, and the lives you have curtailed, and the blood you have spilled? Do we ask retaliation? We ask it not. We are willing to let the dead past bury its dead; but we ask you now for our RIGHTS…” pg 201

Merely two years after the legislation of the 13th Amendment, Turner is trying to advocate for social, political, and economic passive rebellion through the unity of the newly freed slaves.  He is demanding for the rights that the blacks have been promised.  He is willing to leave the cruel actions of the “Anglo-Saxon race” in the past, certainly not willing to forget them, rather move on into a more productive world for the black race.  Turner, as a former slave, is not submitting into the actions of the government, he is fighting for the civil rights that were promised to the newly emancipated slaves.   Rebuttal toward the Emancipation was viewed in two separate ways.  Black activist Booker T. Washington believed that the blacks should not agitate for social change, they should allow education to guide them toward more trade related jobs and equality will soon ensue after.  Whereas W.E.B. Du Bois believed that pushing for equality and civil rights of blacks will be more successful.  Turner’s main point is to show that without the blacks America would not be same, therefore they should receive the same liberties as a white man. Although most slaves tried not to succumb to slavery, when they were granted equality, freedom did not exist.