Question: I have been receiving TBC's mailing for more than 10 years and am normally highly impressed with the level of scholarship supporting the information presented. That is why I was extremely shocked by the obvious lack of scholarship in your figures [in the June issue] regarding the African slave trade, and your very limited explanation of it as being of Arab and African making. First, the minimal figures of the number of Africans (not "blacks", these people all had a country, culture, language, heritage) brought to the "new world" is between 9-12 million, not thousands, as you reported.
Secondly, though it is correct that Africans and Arabs had been involved in slave trades for centuries before European participation, there was a difference in the way the slaves were treated (as evidenced by the fact that Europeans did not want slaves from North African [Muslim] areas because many had been educated and were rife for rebellion; further, in many African kingdoms the slaves were eventually given full privileges including land ownership)....It is extremely disheartening and frustrating that the far-reaching ramifications of the African slave trade are largely ignored in this country, especially when we are continually reminded of genocides and holocausts that happened on other lands, while the vile abuse suffered by those whose labor largely forged not only U.S. existence but that of just about every country in the Western hemisphere, goes largely ignored, undervalued, and unrecognized.
Response: We are clearly compelled to be as accurate and correct as possible. We know that to underestimate the magnitude of slavery is a disservice to the truth, and we also note that exaggeration tends to destroy credibility. What is in view here, however, is our mistake not in quoting statistics but failing to distinguish that the reference was specifically regarding the American colonies, to which some 645,000 slaves were taken. We have since corrected that.
"Twelve million Africans were shipped to the Americas from the 16th to the 19th centuries" [Ronald Segal (1995) The Black Diaspora: Five Centuries of the Black Experience Outside Africa, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux), 4.)] "It is now estimated that 11,863,000 slaves were shipped across the Atlantic." [Note in original: Paul E. Lovejoy, "The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on Africa: A Review of the Literature," in Journal of African History 30 (1989), 368.] Of these, an estimated 645,000 were brought to what is now the United States. The largest number were shipped to Brazil.
Second, it was after 1832 that specific anti-literacy laws were enacted, codifying the practice that you mention. They were not there at the beginning but represented a hardened attitude of those whose institutionalization of slavery was viewed as essential to economic survival. We mention this because your statement can undermine the points being made: "those [slaves] whose labor largely forged not only U.S. existence but that of just about every country in the Western hemisphere, goes largely ignored, undervalued, and unrecognized."
On the contrary, slavery actually limits the development of economies. Compare industrial and economic development prior to the Civil War. The North far outstripped the South (as well as Central and South America), in economic development, arguably because it was not based upon the labor of slaves but of free men. This is another reminder that great evil can never produce long-term success.
Regarding the alleged better treatment of slaves in Muslim lands, slavery is horrendous regardless of who practices it:
Harrowing eyewitness accounts tell of the vast scale and miserable conditions of the slave trade in Africa. In the 1570s, many thousands of black Africans were seen for sale in Cairo on market days. In 1796 a caravan was seen by a British traveller leaving Darfur with 5,000 slaves. Black eunuchs became favoured for the royal harems. Even after Britain outlawed the slave trade in 1807, a further 2 million Africans were enslaved by Muslim traders. (The Barnabas Fund, published in Barnabas Aid, April-May 2007).
While education was viewed as subversive by Western slavemasters, "Two-thirds of African slaves were female. The males were considered to be troublesome. Further, while Western slaveholders preferred men as workers, in North Africa the women were incorporated into harems and served as concubines. 'High prices were paid for eunuchs...Islam prohibits physical mutilation, so many eunuchs were castrated before entering Islamic territory'" (Ibid.).