’12 Years a Slave’

Letter | Slavery has many names; has been inflicted on all races

March 11, 2014 

Re: March 2 letter from Michal Hall, “’12 Years a Slave’ spotlights shameful past and calls to mind hidden present”

While this film made an interesting read slavery in and by itself is not unique by people of color alone. Since the founding of what we know as America in the 1620s to provide needed labor for a growing economy debt bondage in the form of indentured servants was the norm. In order to pay for a passage from that time up to two-thirds of the immigrants paid for their passage by signing papers that they would work off their debt in the Americas for a number of years before they were free to go out on their own.

Many came from England and Germany first. Runaways from this system were treated harshly, not unlike runaway slaves of color that we have all heard about. Labor was so short that even kidnapping of many with valuable skills were effected to bring to America. The ships captains could depending upon their contracts sell indentured servants at the docks to pay for their passage.

They could not marry without permission, pregnant women oftentimes had their tenure extended, and their contracts could be sold to another before their contract time had expired. Whipping and cruel treatments were equal many times to that experienced by slaves of color, and sometimes more severe in that they had no long-term interest in the health of indentured servants. This practice was carried through from the 1620s to as late as 1917 in America.

I know first hand of a case -- my mother was a form of indentured servant in the 1930s. Her mother, with her older half-sister, first moved from Poland to New York City since they had saved enough for passage. Later my mother got a ship ticket from her mother when she was 15 to come to America having lived at a Catholic church working for the priesthood in a cleaning capacity. For the next three years after processing through Ellis Island everything she made as a waitress went to her mother, but she was to pay for at least three years. But love struck and she married my father at age 17. Her mother was furious and her verbal contract of “indentured servitude” was not fulfilled for her expenses and passage! They did not talk again for well over 10 years.

Unfortunately mankind has used slavery with a blind eye to color for thousands and thousands of years -- witness the slaves used in Roman society to only name one. Look at the common serf in Europe or England for that matter, who served a feudal lord or King giving his or her all to them before they could live on the crumbs remaining.

The shameful past has a much larger scope than just looking at people of color because it has affected every nation, every race, and still continues to this day in forced servitude in many countries in various forms. That said, the notion of Africans alone must and should be dispelled as simply a portion of a larger problem that all of us must be aware of.

In my way of thinking, God created us all without notion of color and loves us all. And that ultimately to me and I hope many others is a good thing to be, yes, a good thing.

The writer lives in Murrells Inlet.

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