I dedicated Of Blood and Sweat to two of my all-time heroes, teachers, mentors, and friends, the late Drs. Vincent Harding and Lerone Bennett. I met Vincent when I was a young student at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and initially I thought him to be one of the moderates of the Black Freedom Struggle, while I was one of the militants. But as part of our efforts at Wesleyan, the Black students took over a building and issued a list of demands to the university's president, Edwin Etherington.
One of those demands was the funding of the Institute of the Black World (IBW), the first working arm of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change in Atlanta. In the spring of 1969, almost a year to the date of King's assassination, I flew to Atlanta with five other Wesleyan students to hand a check for $300,000 (a huge sum in those days) to Coretta Scott King, Martin's widow.
Many people do not know Vincent Gordon Harding, an essential figure in the Black Freedom Struggle during the 1950s and 60s. Vincent was a close confidante of Martin Luther King, Jr. and it was Vincent who actually wrote the words to the “Beyond Vietnam” speech which King delivered on April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City, one year to the day before he was assassinated. Some say that in breaking with America over Vietnam; in decrying the triple evils of racism, militarism, and materialism, that speech marked King for death.
I then went on to become one of the first six students at IBW, which had assembled a group of luminary Black intellectuals and scholars to act as a think-tank and teaching institution. Vincent Harding was the director of IBW, and Lerone Bennett was on the faculty. I felt like a kid in an intellectual 'candy store' because I had the privilege of taking classes with these men, and other men and women, whose work I had certainly read but never felt I would ever meet.
In my first class with Vincent, he tossed the names of books out to the class and I swatted back the authors. It may have impressed him, became immediately we became close, and slowly I realized that Vincent's radicalism lay in the quietness of his towering intellect, and the forcefulness of his character.
In my first class with Lerone, he asked us to opine on these questions: "Do great men and women make history? Or, does history make great men and women?" Both Vincent and Lerone were great men in my estimation.
It was an honor to write Of Blood and Sweat because it allowed me to cover much of the ground that I covered with Vincent and Lerone in their classes, and later in discussions with them as friends. There were times in writing the book that it felt as though both were sitting there with me, or peering over my shoulder. I could hear their voices of approval, and of caution, guiding me through the process. I was proud that I could build on all that I learned from these two giants of Black history, and add just a small bit of my own in the process.
The depth of gratitude I have for their kind and patient guidance over the years, and as part of writing this book, is inestimable. I could not have written this book without having been close with them both.
In closing, I’d like to say a few words about the references for each chapter and how you may want to use the supplemental material on this website.
The references for each chapter are listed, by chapter, at the back of the book. But please understand that any URLs that I visited may have changed since I last visited that web page. Unfortunately, website managers and the agencies they work for, frequently change the pages. So the URL listed for a given reference may not be found, or may be off slightly in some way. There are a few things you can do if you would like to examine the references I used. First, you try the URL as listed. It may get you to right location. You can search online using keywords related to the information you are looking for. Finally, you can use the internet “wayback” machine, which backs up much of the entire internet periodically. Enter the URL found in the references in the “wayback” machine at https://archive.org/web/ and look for the reference at some time prior to August 2020.
For the supplemental material on this site, chapters are listed by number and name on the left-side of this page. Clicking on any chapter will reveal three sections denoted by tabs: “Author Notes,” “Geo-Placename Index,” and “Additional Items.”
Author notes are my notes about the chapter. What I wanted to accomplish in writing it, what I found that surprised me during the writing, and what I believe the importance of the chapter is to the entire book. The “geo-place index” is a really cool, innovative feature that I hope you will explore. The geographical place names in each chapter have been assembled into an index and geo-enabled, which means that clicking on any green link will show a 3D globe that allows you to fly-into that location, anywhere in the world. It’s an exciting way to get a feeling for the cities, states, rivers, and other geographical features I reference in my writing.
Finally, under “Additional Items” you will find many photographs, drawings, and copies of original documents that I used in the writing Of Blood and Sweat. I wanted to include these images in the book, but there was just not enough space.
Clyde W. Ford
I found several things surprising as I began writing this book:
I was also extremely touched by the idea that two enslaved people, Antoney and Isabell, arrived on the first ship of Africans in 1619, only to consummate a union that may have begun in Africa, or at least aboard the ship that took them from Angola. Furthermore, I was surprised to learn that the descendants of that union, which gave rise to the first Black child born in America, William Tucker, are still alive and have organized a society, The William Tucker 1624 Society, to honor their ancestor and those first Africans who came to America's shore. See The William Tucker 1624 Society
After writing the first chapter of Of Blood and Sweat I was convinced of the soundness of the original idea that Black folks had contributed in fundamentally significant ways to the creation of the institutions of White power and wealth in America.
Clearly, what I found most significant and surprising in writing chapter 2 was the extent to which piracy was the basis of the early English slave trade, as Britain sought to best Portugal and Spain for supremacy of the seas. The degree to which the monarchy was involved in the slave trade, particularly the Duke of York, was also a surprise.
I did not know that the ranks of pirates, like Edward Teach ("Blackbeard"), were populated by Africans, nor did I realize the bizarre parallels between Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean and the historical facts around piracy and the slave trade.
Could the White Lion, that ship which brought the first Africans to America's shores, have been the historical Flying Dutchman? It's a fascinating question which we will most likely never be able to answer definitely, yet exploring it, as I did in this second chapter, allowed me to learn so much more about how slave ships were attacked by British pirates ("Sea Dogs") and how the first slaves came to colonial America.
The material in chapter 3 was not new to me, I'd first been exposed to much of it as a young student at the Institute of The Black World, under the tutelage of Dr. Lerone Bennett, Jr. Still, it was sad to revisit this aspect of American history. I still find it hard to fathom how so many Americans, Black and White, believe that slavery began with the arrival of the first Africans to Virginia in 1619. Following the immortal words of the late Sam Cooke, they believe and are too often proud of the fact that they, "don't know much about history." And with the proliferation of laws, rules, and regulations against the teaching of Black history in schools, it's equally clear that many White Americans would prefer to keep it that way.
I don't daydream much, but occasionally I wonder what America would have become, if in those formative years from 1619 to 1640, the Virginia colony welcomed the Africans that arrived, and those Native Americans already here, as comrade and fellow laborers, offering them the opportunity to share both in the hard work that lay ahead, but also in the just rewards of that work. Furthermore, I wonder what this country would have become if greed were not the basis of power and wealth; if the planter aristocracy and the common worker--Black and White--could have worked out a more equitable and just arrangement between them.
Instead of these "roads not taken," as Lerone Bennett describes them, I had to write about a country that grew from the bitter hatred of people of color by White Americans, instilled by the wealthy who actually cared little about race or class, but used both to acquire, accumulate, and perpetuate their own power and wealth.
All Americans should be furious that this is the way our country developed. All Americans should want to commit themselves to correcting this fundamental tear in the fabric of American democracy. All American should commit themselves to never, never allowing a situation like this to develop again, here in the land of the free. But I doubt many Americans will.
One main idea that I wanted to get across in chapter 4 was that "indentured servitude" was not some kind of a benevolent guest worker program that allowed White laborers from Europe to come to the land of milk and honey in America. Instead, it was a violent, brutal regime that exploited the labor of Europeans for one purpose only, to increase the power and wealth of agricultural landowners. In many ways, indentured servitude was a dry run for slavery.
When Africans were forced into the ranks of colonial workforce what could have happened is that White workers and Black workers could have joined forces against the brutality of their masters. Instead, those masters made the astute observation that if they could set White workers and Black workers at each other, they could more easily control both. Rather than bemoan their fate subordinate to the landed White gentry, and working to do something about it, White workers were pointed in the direction of Black workers, and told, "at least your lot is better off than theirs." It's the basic equation of classism fueling racism in America that I delve into in this chapter: an equation which still rallies poorer Whites against people of color today.
It's amazing how much of society you need to architect and change once a basic decision is made by those in power to use racism as a basis to control labor. In this fifth chapter, I wanted to explore how American jurisprudence, law enforcement, social restrictions, and religion took root once this decision to use racism went into effect.
In Virginia, laws brought over from England had to be changed to accommodate the enslavement of Black men and women in America. These new laws were enforced with a vicious brutality that enshrined the notion that Black lives matter little in America. But poorer White men and women were caught in this web of legal machinations--restrictions were equally placed upon them and whom they could love or marry--even if the penalties for Blacks transgressing these laws were so much more severe than for Whites transgressing the same laws.
It was sad, and also amazing, to see the extent to which American Christianity warped and contorted fundamental Biblical teaching to support the enslavement of Africans, and how those distortions are still present in American Christianity to this day. Martin Luther King, Jr., once called 11 o'clock on Sunday morning the most segregated hour in American life, and I explore the roots of that truth in this chapter.
I have long been interested in deciding for myself whether "Bacon's Rebellion" was one of the first great events that brought poor Blacks and Whites in colonial America together in struggling for their rights. Many have suggested this, including some famous Black intellectuals. My reading of "Bacon's Rebellion" is that it did no such thing, and I make that case in chapter six.
"Bacon's Rebellion," occurred in 1676 when Nathaniel Bacon sought to takeover the Virginia colony from Sir William Berkeley, then governor. The rebellion was based on a desire by Bacon to brutally exterminate Native Americans and claim their land, actions he thought Berkeley should pursue with more vigor. Enslaved people were invited into Bacon's ranks only as a last resort, when it was clear that he wanted to swell the size of those marching on Berkeley. For reasons I go into much more fully in chapter six, Bacon's Rebellion was anything but an event that brought together Blacks and Whites in colonial Virginia. In fact, because of the rebellion, politicians and planters sought to tighten their grip over those they enslaved. After finishing the research and writing of this chapter, it surprised me that anyone could conclude otherwise.
It is truly fascinating to recognize that an addictive weed, first cultivated 18,000 years ago in the Andes mountains could drive so much of the politics and economics of slavery and colonial society in general. But tobacco was the first successful cash crop of the American colonies, and the wealth and power of early White Americans such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and James Madison were based on tobacco.
I knew that tobacco was a time-consuming crop, but I wanted to know about growing tobacco, and chapter seven describes, in details, the life-cycle of growing and harvesting tobacco. It was important for me to understand more about tobacco because it was the basis of a fundamental assumption of the book, namely that freedom in America was predicated on bondage. This was Edmund S. Morgan's assertion in the several books he wrote about slavery and the American experience.
I concluded much the same as Morgan did: Without enslaved Africans to tend their tobacco, the Founding Fathers would never have had time to pursue the lofty ideals and freedom and equality because they would have been so tied to tending their tobacco. This is a powerful and important statement to make about freedom in American, i.e. that it is predicated on bondage, and the results of my conclusions along these lines are presented in this chapter.
The significance of the debt owed by the Founding Fathers to European, mainly British creditors, is rarely, if ever, discussed in American history. I felt it was very important for me to understand more about the debt of the Founding Fathers--Why did they live such lavish lifestyles? Who, actually, held this debt? How did holding enslaved Africans figure into this debt? How did the Founders seek to resolve this debt? How did mounting debt figure into the run-up to the Revolutionary War?
What I discovered shocked me, and I reported these findings in chapter eight. It wasn't so much the amount of debt that surprised me, it was that Jefferson and Washington, and the other southern Fathers felt there was nothing wrong with being in debt and thought that British creditors were enslaving them by calling for that debt to be repaid at the very time that they, the Founders, were holding African men and women in true enslavement. The hypocrisy of the Founders was astounding. The reliance of these men on the labor of enslaved Africans as the basis of their power and wealth was amazing. And their willingness to go to any length, including war, to protect their lifestyles based on slavery was staggering.
Furthermore, the disingenuous nature of how the Founders dealt with enslaved Africans in the creation of the great documents of this country--The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights--was stunning. I am certainly not the first person to discover that more than 25% of the U.S. Constitution was written to support slavery, even though the word is not mentioned in that document. But this fact is never widely reported, and I wanted to do something to correct that record.
Most importantly, today we are still living with the consequences of northern delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1789 capitulating to slavery and to their southern counterparts in order to form the United States. The electoral college, the filibuster, the 2nd amendment, are just a few of the vestiges of slavery that are baked into American law and jurisprudence with deep historical roots that directly affect our lives today. I felt this was a story that needed to be told.
In delving into chapter nine I was expecting to encounter a man, Eli Whitney, of noble intentions whose great contribution to the American Industrial Revolution went awry from its misuse by others. Instead, what I discovered was a man consumed by fame and greed, who never really cared for the plight of enslaved men and women. Whitney's main concern was himself, how much money the Cotton Gin could bring him, fighting off competitors to this patent claims, and standing up new factories throughout the South and in New England. Cotton, far from diminishing slavery, led to an explosion of slavery in the United States, especially in the domestic slave trade that began once Africans were unloaded from slave ships it ports like Charleston, South Carolina, at places like Gadsden's Wharf.
I also found it surprising the extent to which cotton was essential to the growth of the textile industry in New England, and hence, their complete reliance on the labor of enslaved men and women. The New England economy grew because of cotton and slavery, but outside of the Abolitionists, New Englanders were content to make money and do nothing to disturb the system of slavery that allowed them to make money.
Unlike New Englanders, workers in the Lancashire Valley of England, when faced with a naval blockade of cotton leaving the United States by Union forces during the Civil War, supported the efforts of Lincoln and the Union army against slavery, even though it cost them jobs and plunged the area into what is often called the "Cotton Famine." As a public works project, men and women from Rochdale (in Lancashire) built a road about a mile in length from Rooley Moor to Healy Dell which is now famous and known as the "Cotton Famine Road."
What would the United States have become, if workers in New England and Southern textiles mills stood with enslaved Black men and women, and said, "we will not make textiles from cotton produced by slave labor?"
Chapter ten was a difficult chapter to write. I was at work on the book when Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breona Taylor were murdered. The involvement of police or former police officers in all of those murders was upsetting. It propelled me even harder to better understand the roots of modern-day policing and how the police could direct such callous hatred and violence toward people of color.
The roots of this hatred and violence had to be old. While many in the Black Lives Matter movement traced the origin of police violence back to slave patrols, I suspected early into the chapter that these roots were probably much older. While the biblical reference to violence against "the outsider" was obvious, what was stunning is how American policing proudly traced its roots back to a 1285 English decree by King Edward I, knows as the Statute of Winchester
I started out chapter ten as a strong believer in 'police reform." But I ended up feeling that such reform was not at all possible and the only answer to police reform is tearing down the system of law enforcement and starting over. My research in this chapter is what led me to that conclusion.
As an avid boater, and a writer of nautical suspense novels, I really enjoyed writing the first part of chapter eleven. I first read Britton Hammon's book, A Narrative of the Uncommon Suffering and Surprising Deliverance of Briton Hammon while writing my book Think Black, a memoir about my father who was the first Black software engineer in America. It seemed to me that Hammon's short, 13-page monograph deserved better treatment and so I thought to write it as a work of creative nonfiction, or even a short story, that hewed closely to the facts as he presented them.
The extent to which men of African descent populated the ranks of the nineteenth century maritime trade was surprising. The degree to which these Black Jacks, as they were known, were often feared by their owners was equally stunning and led me to immediately call into question Malcolm X's oft-cited monologue about "house negroes" versus "field negroes." I've included a video of Malcolm delivering that portion on one of his speeches with the supplemental material for this chapter. Be sure to watch it!
Just as though it hard to fathom how an addictive weed like tobacco fueled so much of the early slave trade, I found it hard to grasp how another addictive substance, coffee, fueled the growth and continuation of that trade. Chapter twelve unravels what I discovered about the role of early coffee houses in the continuation of the slave trade in the nineteenth century--like Lloyd's of London which grew out of Edward Lloyd's Coffee House in London and developed an extensive maritime insurance business based on insuring slave ships and enslaved people, or the New York Stock Exchange which grew out of the Tontine Coffee House in lower Manhattan and similarly insured slavery while developing many early financial products based on slavery to build the wealth and power of Wall Street. Space did not allow for the inclusion of Francis Guy's essential painting of the Tontine Coffee House in the book, but it's here in the supplemental material for this chapter for you to examine yourself.
To understand how a system of slave-backed mortgages, begun in the seventeen hundreds by men like Thomas Jefferson, became a much larger system of derivatives and other financial products which allowed anyone, anywhere in the world, to own a portion of the profits of slavery without every actually purchasing and enslaving another human being was both sickening and fascinating, and for me a real condemnation of American capitalism.
When most people think of minority laborers on the railroads, they think of the Chinese, who were imported and abused to build the nation's railroad system. But few realize how much greater the contribution of Black, and often enslaved laborers was to constructing America's rail lines. Chapter thirteen opened my eyes to the extent to which Black labor built this system of economic power and wealth, and how the men and women who built the rail system with their toil received nothing in return. In fact, the railroad system much like cotton, instead of helping to bring an end to slavery became a great boon to the domestic slave trade by connecting buyers to sellers via the rail.
One important aspect of Black workers building and maintaining America's rail lines was the "Gandy Dancers," a name given to these Black railroad workers because of the rhythmic music and movements they employed while at work. I've included a video documentary about the "Gandy Dancers" in the supplemental material for this chapter. Click the tab, "Additional Items," then flip through the items until you come to that video. It's somewhere near the end.
I was sadly shocked by learning more about Samuel F. B. Morse, whose patent for the telegraph closely followed rail lines and contributed to their growth. Morse held repugnant views about Catholics, Jews, and especially about enslaved men and women. Views for which he has been, and deserves to be roundly criticized. Around the country, his statues have come down and academic buildings named after him have undergone renaming. I'm glad for all of that, even as I'm glad that Morse's patent on the telegraph (I do not believe he invented it since others had put similar inventions out before him) allowed for networked communication technology to grow.
I have often wondered if I'd been alive during the Civil War period, would I have fought on the side of Union forces. I certainly hope that I would not have fought for the Confederacy, even though a handful of enslaved regiments did. With all of the hype and hoopla around the Civil War, my research unearthed how several major military campaigns of Union forces relied on the courage, bravery and sacrifice of enslaved men and women who were not treated much better by the North than they had been treated by the South.
Chapter fourteen also convinced me that most people, Black and White, have never really read the Emancipation Proclamation and have simply accepted the fact that "Lincoln freed the slaves," which is laughably far from the truth. Lincoln did no such thing. In fact, the Emancipation Proclamation outlawed slavery only in the Confederate states which did not recognize Lincoln's authority anyway. After the Proclamation, slavery was still legal in all states of the Union. Lincoln's disingenuous proclamation did not escape the attention of men like Frederick Douglass, Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, Wendell Phillips (the "Gang of Four" as they were sometimes called), nor did it escape the attention of some European newspapers.
But the truth of the Great Emancipation has escaped the attention of most Americans of any color, and it is important to correct that truth as I try to do in chapter fourteen because it helps to explain what came after the War. Because Lincoln was never really committed to ending slavery, he never really had a plan for what to do with the millions of enslaved men and women, the Union's victory would set free.
From Lincoln's ill-preparedness to deal with the plight of newly freed men and women came a plan concocted by Lincoln's general, William Tecumseh Sherman, after close consultation with leading Black ministers in South Carolina. Sherman's Special Field Orders No. 15, popularly known as "forty acres and a million" laid out a plan for Lincoln and the victorious Union to redistribute 400,000 of prime agricultural land to the formerly enslaved, that number was later bumped up to nearly one million acres. This was a "reparation plan" plain and simple. Lincoln agreed with Sherman's plan, but with Lincoln's assassination the plan died. Andrew Johnson, Lincoln's predecessor returned the land back to former slaveholders.
While I'd certainly heard about "40 acres and a mule" (the mule, by the way, was an afterthought and not included in the formal field orders), I was not prepared for what I discovered next. While perusing through the Congressional Record of the thirty-ninth Congress, in the post-Civil War era, I stumbled upon a letter that I failed to recall historians mentioning before. U.S. Representative John W. Chanler, from the State of New York, entered a letter from General Sherman to president Andrew Johnson, stating that he (Sherman) never really gave the formerly enslaved title to the land apparently granted them in "forty acres and a mule." It was simply a tactic to buy the Union some time to win the war then figure out what to do with four million newly freed men and women.
My sense of betrayal was palpable. Here was a time when America actually tilted toward reparations for slavery, and, yet, even then that tilting was little more than a tactic to buy time for a more permanent solution that placed true reparations of reach.
Still, even during this period immediately after the Civil War, Black men and women sought to exercise the newly won right to vote, to hold office, to make laws, to be free from the lash and the whip and the overseer. Initially, they were met with a great backlash. But a tough, and empowered Congress, pushed through laws against the KKK, for voting rights expansion and protection, and that held back the rising tide of White hatred and violence.
Where are those voices favoring voting rights expansion today?
After the initial flush of Black victories at the ballot box, and in statehouse across the South, White Americans realized that something had to be done to stem the tide of what was then called, "Africanization." And what Whites across the nation did in the 1870s was resort to the one weapon that has never failed them in their fight to dampen the hopes and aspirations of Black Americans--violence--this time sanctioned by state after state across the South seeking to wrest political power from the hands of Blacks.
And as chapter sixteen tragically documents, White American were absolutely correct in relying on violence which worked to return Black citizens back to a state not too dissimilar from slavery. From the second rise of the KKK to Ben "Pitchfork" Tillman's "red shirts," to the many White Leagues and White Citizens Councils that sprang up across the South, America witnessed an open season on killing Black Americans, particularly those in positions of power. In writing this chapter, I kept thinking about the laws in Virginia in the 1670s and how they gave White colonists uncontested power to kill Black colonists. From 1670 to 1870 to 2022, the killings of young Black people by police and by White citizens has not stopped. Not enough has changed.
And this is the principal message of chapter sixteen and the entire book: that not enough has changed in America from colonial times until the present, because the colonial systems put in-place to hold back Black men and women have been devastatingly effective. So much so that those in power see little reason to change that racist system, and much reason to work to restore and maintain it, as recent attacks against voting rights have, and against the nations capital itself on Jan. 6 have shown show.
Democracy is not given in America, it's fragile and as I write these words it's in-peril from those who would be thrilled with America becoming a dictatorship. If anything, it's my hope that Of Blood and Sweat illustrates that one way to prevent this is through a determined committed to tell the truth about American history, to remove the vestiges of oppression and enslavement that still exist in the institutions and founding documents of this country, to work to enact legislation that narrows the gap between the privileged and the less fortunate, and to enact laws that prevent America from slipping into the kind of dictatorship it came perilously close toduring the four years from 2016 to 2020.
At some point, sooner than later I hope, reparations to Black Americans for the many years and much labor they spent building this country, will re-emerge as a topic of public discourse. When it does, I hope that everyone will remember that reparations is one part of reconciliation. The other part, the first part, of reconciliation is truth-telling about the past. If Of Blood and Sweat contributes to truth-telling about the past, I will feel very grateful that I spent as much time as I did telling this story.
For several days, I puzzled over how to end Of Blood and Sweat, then after a long walk in the mountains it occurred to me that I should end the book how I began it, through the life and words of an individual who might have some perspective on the long time period covered in this volume. I don't think I stopped to consider anyone else but Frederick Douglass, although I wanted to cover one of his lesser known speeches, and his August 3, 1880 speech at Elmira was perfect.
While working on the afterword, the nation passed the Juneteenth holiday bill and it was of particular importance to me to set the record straight about this day. I was then, and I am now, fully against June 19th as a national holiday. I believe it commemorates absolutely the wrong moment in African American history for any number of reasons, which should have been obvious to anyone observing the passage of the bill--those staunchly opposed to voting rights swooned over passing this bill.
On its face, Juneteenth commemorates African American ignorance--"those poor Black folks in Texas who didn't get the message that they were free until a kindly, White Union general, Granger, delivered the news." Nothing, may I repeat that, nothing could be further from the truth. First, Black folks in Texas were well aware shortly after Appomattox, that the Union had prevailed in the Civil War. Secondly, Granger's message was not for newly freed slaves but for their former owners to tell them it was time to give up their hope for a Confederate victory and that they must set the formerly enslaved free. Nowhere is this important aspect of Juneteenth discussed.
Frederick Douglass in his Elmira speech was clear in his support for August 1 as the day to celebrate, for that was the day when Britain outlawed slavery in the kingdom and all of its colonies in 1834.
It was hard to put the final word to the final page of this book; hard because of all the stories I told, there were so many more that I wished I had had time and space to tell.