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Here is my selected passage for the explication:

THERE are, in the district of Columbia, several slave prisons, or “Negro pens,” as they are termed. These prisons are mostly occupied by persons to keep their slaves in, when collecting their gangs together for the New Orleans market. Some of them belong to the government, and one, in particular, is noted for having been the place where a number of free coloured persons have been incarcerated from time to time. In this district is situated the capital of the United States. Any free coloured persons visiting Washington, if not provided with papers asserting and proving their right to be free, may be arrested and placed in one of these dens. If they succeed in showing that they are free, they are set at liberty, provided they are able to pay the expenses of their arrest and imprisonment; if they cannot pay these expenses, they are sold out. Through this unjust and oppressive law, many persons born in the Free States have been consigned to a life of slavery on the cotton, sugar, or rice plantations of the Southern States. By order of her master, Clotel was removed from Richmond and placed in one of these prisons, to await the sailing of a vessel for New Orleans. The prison in which she was put stands midway between the capitol at Washington and the President’s house. Here the fugitive saw nothing but slaves brought in and taken out, to be placed in ships and sent away to the same part of the country to which she herself would soon be compelled to go. She had seen or heard nothing of her daughter while in Richmond, and all hope of seeing her now had fled. If she was carried back to New Orleans, she could expect no mercy from her master. (Chapter 25)

As I read the previously quoted passage, I was struck by the irony contained therein. The first couple of sentences were no different than any of the other sentences in the book which describe the places or customs of slavery in the United States. However, his account of the treatment of free colored folks in Washinton D.C. was quite appalling. When he mentioned that one of the prisons “is noted for having been the place where a number of free coloured persons have been incarcerated from time to time,” I thought initially that this would be a typical jail where persons who committed a crime would be housed, only that it held colored folks due to the general racism of the time. But that was not the case; it seemed that any black person roaming the streets of D.C. would be incarcerated there regardless of whether they were free or not. His account that the black men  would have to pay fines to get out of jail was not that appalling though since every man whether white or negro or latino must pay his way to get out of jail. But the real injustice of the situation was his account that if they couldn’t buy their way out they were sold into slavery. The most ironic part about it all was that this happened in D.C. – our nation’s capital! This is the place where freedom and liberty is espoused and where it would seem to me that a lot of abolition talk would be centered here. One last thing struck me about the text was Brown’s sentence, “Through this unjust and oppressive law, many persons born in the Free States have been consigned to a life of slavery on the cotton, sugar, or rice plantations of the Southern States”. I would have thought that Brown, once being a slave, would have been more adamant about the injustice of the situation and showed more impetus than a mere statement of the obvious. Of course he could have been thinking of his audience at the time and didn’t want to sound too bold lest he incite some trouble from his readers. I found this account to be most interesting and very unjust.

 

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