BRIEF GLOSSARY OF POLITICAL TERMS, MOVEMENTS, ORGANIZATIONS,
AND SLANG RELATING TO SLAVERY AND RACISM IN THE UNITED STATES
FROM COLONIAL DAYS TO THE PRESENT
abolitionist - Usually someone from the North who favors the abolition of slavery. They fell into two basic camps: 1) those who believed that black people should be fully integrated into white society, and 2) those who believed blacks should be sent back to Africa. In the South, abolitionist sentiment usually was of the latter type.
African slave trade - In colonial days right up to the early nineteenth century, Africans were legally kidnapped and sold as slaves in the new World. The United States banned this trade in 1808, and declared it an act of piracy punishable by death in 1820.
Albany Movement - On November 1, 1961, in Albany, Georgia, SNCC and the local NAACP tried to desegregate the train stations and bus depots of that city. Albany Police Chief Laurie Pritchett had the demonstrators arrested. The Albany Movement soon formed to combat discrimination in that community. With the help of the NAACP, SNCC, and the SCLC, the Albany Movement organized boycotts of white owned stores and businesses. Among other things, they refused to ride on segregated buses. The town leaders actually allowed the bus business to go bankrupt rather than to allow it to be desegregated. No violence was committed by police during this attempt to desegregate the city, and the organizations that were helping the Albany Movement soon abandoned the town to fight the battle for civil rights in cities where the police would use more violent tactics. The first city on the list was Birmingham, Alabama, and their police chief, "Bull" Connor did not disappoint the hopes of protesters. Police violence was so brutal and ugly that the city soon found itself under the eye of the nation's broadcast industry.
American Anti-Slavery Society - Organization founded in Philadelphia in 1833 by Theodore Weld, an evangelical Christian who was opposed to the more radical views of William Lloyd Garrison of Boston. This society called for gradual emancipation and colonization of former slaves.
Atlanta Compromise - On September 15, 1885, in a speech in Atlanta, Georgia, black educator Booker T. Washington told his audience that black people must postpone any attempt to gain political power until they had achieved economic equality with whites. Opposed to this philosophy was W. E. B. DuBois, a co-founder of the NAACP.
"Back to Africa" campaign - In 1920 in New York City, Marcus Garvey maintained that black separation from a corrupt white society was necessary. He advocated the idea of black people returning to Africa. One of his followers was the father of Malcolm Little, later to be known as Malcolm X.
Bacon's Rebellion - In 1676, Nathaniel Bacon, a prosperous Virginia planter, led a rebellion against the colonial government due to tension between the elite and small farmers. During the rebellion, Bacon founded a coalition made up of white farmers and black freedmen.
Black Codes - Laws passed by southern legislatures to control freed blacks during the Reconstruction Era. The codes included severe punishments for vagrancy directed against freedmen who wandered away from their homes in search of relatives who had been sold away. The Black Codes made life far more miserable than slavery had been for the average black person.
Black Muslims - Members of an Islamic black nationalist and black separatist organization which began in the 1930's. Their most famous member, Malcolm X, broke with the organization in 1963 and went on to promote the concept of universal brotherhood after his pilgrimage to Mecca. Malcolm X was assassinated by Black Muslims in 1965.
Black Panther Party - This organization, founded in Oakland, California, in 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, advocated violence as the only way to achieve black power in a country dominated by white supremacists.
"Black Power" - A militant movement which advocated separate social, economic, and political institutions for blacks. Advocates of the movement expressed pride in their African heritage and their achievements in American society. The slogan "black is beautiful" was popularized by "Black Power" adherents.
Black Republicans - Term used by Southerners before the Civil War to describe members of the Republican party.
"Bleeding Kansas" - Term used to describe the bloody war in Kansas started in 1854 between pro-slavery advocates and abolitionists in that territory.
body servants - At the beginning of the Civil War, many Confederate officers and enlisted men brought slaves with them to cook and clean for them. These slaves, called "body servants," were very loyal to their masters, and frequently fought to protect their masters when they were wounded in battle.
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters - Organization started in 1925 by A. Philip Randolph for the purpose of protecting blacks on the job, promoting fair employment practices, and ending segregation in the military.
Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas - On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously decided in favor of Brown, stating that the concept of "separate but equal" was impossible to maintain, and that separate facilities were always unequal, and therefore unjust. This decision overturned an earlier ruling of the Court in Plessy v. Ferguson.
cakewalk - According to Harriet Janis and Rudi Blesh in They All Played Ragtime, the cakewalk originated in the Antebellum period among slaves wishing to mock the high strutting ways of their masters. On Sundays, these slaves would dress up in their best clothes and do a high-kicking dance which attracted the attention of the master and his family, who never caught on that they were the brunt of this joke. The masters arranged for competitions among the slaves to see who could do the best strut. The winner was awarded a cake, and hence the cakewalk was born. After the war, many ex-slaves made their living as performers, and many of these performed the cakewalk and other plantation dances. The cakewalk ultimately became an international craze around the turn of the century. It also became popular at the University of Vermont (UVM) where white fraternity brothers in black-face would perform the cakewalk as part of a winter festival. And so the dance intended to alleviate black rage by mocking slave owners became a dance making fun of black people. The cakewalk festival was finally abandoned at UVM in the fall of 1969 under pressure from the NAACP. The fraternities which had been training dancers for the 1970 winter cakewalk competition, however, refused to give it up. Some of them organized a cakewalk demonstration on Redstone Campus one night. The demonstration came to an abrupt halt when African Americans bravely stood in the path of the dancers. The dance has since disappeared entirely from UVM. Long may it rest in peace.
carpetbaggers - Term applied to Northerners coming to the South to run schools for the freedmen, to reorganize political institutions in the South, or to conduct business. The name was derived from the carpetbags in which they carried their belongings and, according to some, carried off other people's valuables.
Christiana Riot - On September 11, 1851, in Christiana, Pennsylvania, a slave owner and a party of supporters and three deputy marshals attempted to capture some runaway slaves hiding in a house protected by 24 armed black men. The slave owner was killed in the fighting and many of his supporters were wounded. The slaves in question fled to Canada.
Civil Rights Act of 1964 - This act brought a legal end to the "Jim Crow" laws of the South. Unfortunately, there is a big difference between de jure and de facto practices. By law, black people are free, but in fact, they are still discriminated against even to this day.
colonization - Many people in the U.S. wishing to end slavery felt that colonization, or sending blacks back to Africa, was the only viable solution. Colonization societies were particularly active in Virginia. It is not known who first proposed this idea, although it is suggested in Thomas Jefferson's Notes on Virginia, and is mentioned in the writings of George Washington.
color-blind paternalism - A form of governance proposed and supported by John C. Calhoun of South Carolina and George Fitzhugh of Virginia. The whole concept started with the false assumption that African Americans are like children who need to be told what to do by rich white people. By extension of the argument, poor white people also needed to be led by their "betters." In fact, Calhoun proposed that the only people truly fit to govern the United States were white male plantation owners, and more particularly white male plantation owners from South Carolina only.
Congress of Racial Equality - Organization founded in 1942 for the purpose of helping black communities in their efforts to gain control of local services. They also promote quality education and political and economic empowerment.
Constitutional Amendments - Three Amendments to the Constitution were written during the period of Reconstruction to end slavery and extend citizenship and the vote to freedmen. These are listed below:
Article 13 passed in 1865 - Ended slavery forever in the United States.
Article 14 passed in 1868 - Extended citizenship and equal protection under the law to everyone born or naturalized in the United States. This law also made it difficult for persons who had fought for the Confederacy to hold public office or vote.
Article 15 passed in 1870 - Guaranteed all citizens of the United States the right to vote regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Three other Amendments have further extended the franchise:
Article 19 passed in 1920 - Extended voting privileges to women.
Article 24 passed in 1964 - Ended the requirement of payment of a poll tax in order to be eligible to vote. Many poor blacks and whites had been excluded from voting on this basis.
Article 26 passed in 1971 - Extended the voting age downward to include persons eighteen years or older. This was done so that people who are old enough to serve in the military also have the right to vote. I have discovered evidence which shows that the Confederacy did not wish to extend voting privileges to enlisted men in the Confederate Armed Services. This makes the passage of this law all the more important in a historical context.
contraband - Early in the war, the War Department allowed slaves fleeing their masters to enter Union lines as "contraband of war" (i.e. property that might be used to fight against the Union).
Compromise of 1850 - This act called for the formation of a system run by appointed commissioners who would oversee all fugitive slave cases. This act prevented fugitive slaves from having access to the state courts which had been undermining the Fugitive Slave Act. The law, however, was loaded and grossly unfair. Commissioners would get $10 for finding that a person was a fugitive slave, but only $5 if they weren't.
Copperheads - Also known as the Knights of the Golden Circle or the Sons of Liberty. They were groups of Northerners who sympathized with the slave-holding South during the Civil War. The term is derived from members who wore the head of liberty cut from a copper penny on their lapels.
Corwin Amendment - This amendment, passed in both Houses of Congress in February, 1861, stated that Congress could pass no law outlawing existing state institutions, especially slavery. Although it was intended as a compromise measure to keep the southern states in the Union, it was never approved by the states as the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
craniometry - A method of measuring the interiors of skulls used by nineteenth century American scientist Samuel George Morton in a futile attempt to prove that blacks and Native Americans are inferior in intelligence to white people.
Crittenden Resolution - Also known as the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution, it called for the Federal Government to take no action against the institution of slavery during the Civil War. Named for Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky.
Davis Bend - Area of Mississippi where, in 1864, federal officials seized large plantations, one of which belonged to Jefferson Davis, and assigned portions of the land to freed slaves for their use. Like the Sherman Plan, this experiment was highly successful, generating over $150,000 profit for the slaves involved in the experiment, but President Johnson, during Reconstruction, gave the land back to the original owners.
demi-meamelouc – A person who is 1/32 black. The parents would be a full blooded white and a sextaroon.
drapetomania - According to Dr. Samuel Cartwright of Louisiana, this was one of two diseases from which slaves suffered. Cartwright said that this disease caused slaves to run away. Dr. Jonathan Miller, an English pathologist, has defined this term tongue-in-cheek as "a morbid desire to be free." (See also dysaethesia aethiopica.)
Dred Scott v. Sanborn - This Supreme Court decision stated that black people in the U.S. had no rights as citizens. Chief Justice Roger Taney of Maryland further used this ruling to declare that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional.
Dunning School interpretation - Early in the twentieth century, Professor William A. Dunning of Columbia University and his graduate students assembled a series of papers in order to prove that radical Republicans were largely responsible for the excesses of the Reconstruction era and the subsequent bad feeling between blacks and whites following that period.
dysaethesia aethiopica - A second disease which Dr. Cartwright claimed slaves suffered from. Slaves having this disease were apt to commit intentional acts of mischief. Cartwright claimed that the cure for this disease and drapetomania was whipping.
Emancipation Proclamation - As a war measure, Lincoln signed this proclamation into law on January 1, 1863. The proclamation freed slaves only in those areas controlled by the Confederacy. However, it did authorize the formation of black regiments, and it kept England from recognizing the Confederacy.
Federal Fugitive Act - Also known more popularly as the Fugitive Slave Act. It provided for the extradition of criminals fleeing justice and the return of fugitive slaves fleeing their masters. This law was written in 1783, but the U.S. Constitution already had a provision for the return of fugitive slaves.
filibusters - Military adventurers bent on conquest for their own personal gain. The term is derived from the Spanish filibustero, which means pirate or privateer. Many Ante-Bellum Southerners attempted to use filibustering to acquire territory where slavery could be introduced, thereby expanding the power of slaveholding states in the U.S. Congress. This term is also used for politicians who resort to speaking merely for the purpose of consuming time on important issues to prevent action being taken on certain measures they do not like.
"Forty Acres and a Mule" - Promise made to freed slaves, especially those who had fought in the Union Army, by U.S. government officials. Aside from the Sherman Plan and the experiment at Davis Bend, Mississippi, nothing ever came of this broken promise.
free womb laws – The Latin American equivalent of the American post-nati emancipation laws. Slaves born after a certain date were to be kept as slaves until they reached the age of 21. Slaves born the day before would be slaves for life. The free womb laws caused such a furor among slaves born just before the named date for emancipation and such agitation among Latin American abolitionists that the governments of most countries which passed these laws were toppled within a few decades of passage, thereby ending slavery sooner than expected. Cuba’s regime was destroyed by such agitation in 1886, sixteen years after passage of the Moret Law calling for free womb emancipation. Brazil’s government fell in 1888 as a result of a revolt caused by its Rio Branco Law passed in 1871.
Freedmen's Bureau - Its actual title was The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands. Founded by the Federal Government in 1865, it oversaw the distribution of humanitarian aid to former slaves and the formation of schools for southern blacks.
Freedmen's Inquiry Commission - Formed in 1863, this committee investigated the steps necessary in undoing the harm done by slavery. Its foremost member was Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, founder of the Perkins School for the Blind and a co-conspirator with John Brown in the Harpers Ferry Raid of 1859. Although Howe's beliefs about the inferiority of blacks were tainted by the erroneous opinions of ignorant, racist northern scientists like Samuel Morton and Louis Agassiz, he still believed that there was no reason why blacks should not be fully integrated into white society. He was opposed, for example, to the formation of black regiments because he believed that blacks should be allowed to fight alongside whites, as they did in the American Revolution.
freedom riders - In the summer of 1861, black and white college students, ministers, and other interested persons rode on buses through the South challenging the "Jim Crow" laws. Some of these students were killed.
Freeport Doctrine - On August 27, 1858, in Freeport, Illinois, during the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Senator Stephen A. Douglas suggested that states being formed in the Western Territories could keep slavery out by passing laws making it difficult if not impossible for slave owners to live there. This became known as the Freeport Doctrine, an idea which enraged Southerners and led to Douglas's defeat in the Presidential election of 1860.
Free-Soil party - A political party active between 1848 and 1854. Its members were adamantly opposed to slavery being spread through the Western Territories and the land gained in the war with Mexico. Their slogan was "Free soil, free speech, free labor, and free men." This party was the precursor of the Republican party formed in 1854.
Gileadites, United States League of - On January 15, 1851, in Springfield, Massachusetts, John Brown, then a wool merchant, organized the Gileadites, a band of free blacks and runaway slaves, for the purpose of defeating slave catchers in the North by violent means if necessary. Brown formed the Gileadites in response to passage of the Compromise of 1850.
griffe – A person who is ¾’s black. The parents would have to be a full blooded black and a mulatto.
Hayes-Tilden Compromise - Also called the Compromise of 1877. In the presidential election of 1876, former Civil War general Rutherford B. Hayes ran against Samuel J. Tilden, a wealthy New York corporation lawyer. At the end of the polling, there was no clear winner, but Republicans made a compromise with southern Democrats to end the deadlock. The Republicans promised to remove federal troops from the South and to provide federal funds for internal improvements. In return, the Southerners had to promise to consent to the election of Hayes as President, and promise to treat black people fairly. This compromise ended Reconstruction and brought on the "Jim Crow" era.
Howard University - A university founded by Civil War General Oliver Otis Howard, a veteran of heavy fighting at Gettysburg. General Howard, the first commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau, started the school to help former slaves get a college education. Perhaps the most prominent alumnus of the university was Thurgood Marshall who successfully argued the Supreme Court case of Brown v. the Board of Education, and went on to serve as a Supreme Court justice.
integration - An ideal state of society in which all people, regardless of race or religion, can participate in the political process and use the same businesses equally. Children in such a society can all go to the same school without fear of violence. Such a state has not yet been fully achieved in the United States, although much progress has been made in this direction.
interposition - Term used by Martin Luther King Jr. in his "I Have a Dream" speech to describe the actions of Alabama Governor George Wallace, as when Wallace, on June 11, 1963, stood in "the schoolhouse door" to prevent two African American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from enrolling in the University of Alabama. The word generally refers to an intrusion, blocking or screening to prevent someone from getting into a building, to interrupt a conversation, or to prevent progress, etc.
"Jim Crow" laws - Laws passed in the post-Reconstruction era in the South to prevent black people from gaining political power and to keep them separated from white society. Named for a popular minstrel show character.
Ku Klux Klan - White supremacist organization first formed in Pulaski, Tennessee, December 24, 1865, by former Confederate soldiers who took delight in dressing up in sheets and riding around the countryside pretending to be the ghosts of the Confederate dead. The title was based on the Greek word kyklos, meaning "circle." Klan activities soon expanded from harmless pranks to violent attempts to prevent black people from gaining any political rights, and out and out assaults on northern carpetbaggers.
Law and Order party - A deliberate misnomer for pro-slavery settlers and Missouri Border Ruffians in Kansas during the period 1856 to 1861. Members of this party engaged in illegal voting, stuffing ballot boxes during elections and even voting two or three times by traveling from town to town. Many party members engaged in open warfare on Free State settlers. One individual made a bet for a pair of boots that in one hour he could find, kill, and scalp a free state settler. He won his bet.
Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Housing - A council formed in Chicago on August 26, 1966, to implement fair housing practices in that city.
Lecompton Constitution - A proposed constitution allowing slavery in the state of Kansas prepared by pro-slavery politicians. This document was never approved by the voters of Kansas in open balloting. Despite this fact, President James Buchanan actually recommended that the U.S. Congress admit Kansas into the Union as a slave state under this constitution. The House of Representatives refused to approve the measure until all voting residents of Kansas had a chance to approve it. The constitution failed to gain acceptance twice in the open ballotings that followed the U.S. House rejection.
manillas - Brass bangles made in England and used for trade in Africa during the 17th Century. Very few of these inexpensive bangles were needed to purchase one slave.
manumission - Act of formally liberating a slave. Most southern states provided for manumission of slaves by will upon the death of their master. Liberated slaves were not allowed to live for very long in the states where they were freed. They were usually expected to go elsewhere. Otherwise, they could be arrested and resold as slaves. Aside from manumission by will, most forms of manumission were so ornery and tied up in bureaucratic red tape that most slave owners never attempted to free their slaves.
marabou – A person who is 5/8’s black. His or her parents would have to be a full blooded black and a quadroon.
meamelouc – See sextaroon.
middle passage - Term used for the trip bringing captured African slaves by ship to slave markets in the Americas. The kidnapped Africans were crammed onto slave ships and forced to live chained up in unsanitary conditions. It is thought that the numbers of slaves who died during this horrendous "middle passage" exceeds the number of people killed in Nazi death camps during World War II.
miscegenation – Derived from the Latin words miscere (to mix) and genus (race). Southern lawmakers passed laws making it illegal for blacks and whites to marry. These legal restrictions were called miscegenation laws. Some of these laws predated the Civil War and were never repealed during Reconstruction.
Mississippi Plan - Also known as the "shotgun policy." White Democrats living in that state in 1875 planned to use as much force as necessary to win state elections that year. Some of their violent activity was directed against black voters.
Missouri Compromise - A legal measure of the U.S. Congress designed to maintain the equal parity of free state and slave state representation in the U.S. Senate. The measure allowed Maine to join the Union as a free state while Missouri came in as a slave state. This compromise further provided that no slave state would be allowed into the Union north of 36°, 30’ of latitude, nor any free state below that line. The Missouri Compromise was done in by the Compromise of 1850 which allowed California into the Union as a free state even though part of California lies south of the compromise line, and by the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision.
monogenism - The scientific theory that all people, regardless of color or race, have a common ancestry. This theory was recently proved thanks to tests conducted on the mitochondria of human white blood cells.
mulatto - A person of mixed race who is half white and half black. Based on the Spanish word mulo meaning "mule," and implying that the person is sterile like a mule. (Actually, peoples of mixed blood are fertile and frequently have a condition known as "hybrid vigor" which makes them smarter and stronger than the rest of us.) In some ways, this is the most obnoxious of all the words on these pages describing the varieties of black people with mixed blood.
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People - Organized in New York City in 1909, this association has successfully opposed racial inequality and discrimination for nearly a century. Its first target was the Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson. NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall argued against Plessy v. Ferguson in 1954 during Brown v. the Board of Education and won his case. Marshall went on to become the first black Supreme Court Justice.
nullification - Term invented by Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina around 1837. Under this principle, states had the right to nullify any Federal Law they thought unfair.
octoroon - A person who has one white parent and one quadroon parent. Such a person would be 7/8ths white and 1/8th black.
Organization of Afro-American Unity - organization founded by Malcolm X after his break with the Black Muslims in 1963. This rival organization promoted the idea of universal brotherhood. Still, Malcolm X felt that brotherhood would be achieved more readily in the South than in the North because Southerners knew they were racists and Northerners couldn't recognize the fact that they were also racists.
quadroon - A person with one white parent and one mulatto parent. Such a person would be 3/4ths white and 1/4th black.
"pattyrollers" - After Nat Turner's slave uprising in 1831, Southerners had young white men patrol the areas between plantations to prevent runaway slaves from reaching the North and freedom, and to keep local slaves from organizing rebellions. The young men who performed this service came to be called "pattyrollers."
Plessy v. Ferguson - In this Supreme Court decision issued in 1896, the doctrine of "separate but equal" was ruled to be Constitutional. This ruling protected the South's "Jim Crow" laws for nearly 60 years before they were overturned in Brown v. the Board of Education in 1954.
poll tax - One of two legal strategies used by Southerners to keep black people and poor whites from voting. (See literacy tests.) When a person registered to vote, he or she became eligible to pay a local poll tax. The poll tax was outlawed in 1964 by the 24th Amendment to the Constitution. Some states, North and South, continued to use a poll tax after 1964, claiming that it wasn't really a tax on voters, but eventually the tax was seen for what it was and abandoned everywhere.
polygenism - Theory that all human races are separate species. This idea, long the dominant theory of northern scientists in the United States during the nineteenth century, has been proved wrong.
popular sovereignty - Idea proposed by Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan during the debate over the Wilmot Proviso in 1846. According to this doctrine, states wishing to enter the Union should decide the issue of slavery for themselves.
post-nati emancipation laws – The United States equivalent of the Latin American free womb laws. Under the provisions of these laws, slaves born after a certain date would be freed on their 21st birthday. Slaves born before that date would remain slaves for life. The first such law was passed in Pennsylvania in 1780. Other northern states with large slave populations followed suit with similar post-nati laws. But as in Latin America, the passage of these laws led to such agitation among slaves born before the prescribed date and northern abolitionists that the states found they had to quickly pass a law calling for general manumission by a specific date. In some cases, slaves were freed much sooner than they would have been under the post-nati laws.
Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation - This document was made public on September 22, 1862, a few days after the Union victory at Antietam in Maryland. It gave the Confederacy 100 days to return to the Union, or the United States Government would proclaim their slaves to be "forever free."
Prigg v. the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania - In this case, the Supreme Court ruled in January, 1842, that the free states had no right to interfere with the Fugitive Slave Law. Many free states, like Vermont, responded with laws to counteract this decision.
radical Republicans - Politicians who believed that black people were equal to whites in every respect and that it was morally wrong for black people not to have the same liberties and rights that whites have. Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania is the best example of this. They were also called "Jacobins" and "Vindictives."
Reconstruction - Term used for the period following the Civil War, about 1865 to 1877, during which the U.S. Government attempted to control the state governments of the South and tried to bring the southern states back into the Union one by one.
"Red Strings" - Southern equivalent of the Copperheads. The name was derived from the identifying symbol worn by Southerners who were loyal to the Union. Their secret organizations were known as the Sons of America or Heroes of America. They discouraged enlistment in the Confederate Army, encouraged desertion, and sought every opportunity for an early return to the Union.
sacatra – A person who is 7/8’s black. The parents would be a full blooded black and a griffe.
sangmelee – A person who is 1/64 black. The parents would be a full blooded white and a demi-meamelouc.
sextaroon Also called a meamelouc. A person who is 1/16 black. The parents would be a full blooded white and an octoroon.
scalawag - A Southerner who, during Reconstruction, showed himself or herself to be loyal to the federal government, and cooperated with the northern carpetbaggers.
secession - Many Southerners believed that the states had a right to leave the United States if they so desired. This is called the principle of secession. While nothing is said about the right of secession in the U.S. Constitution, this right is inferred from the wording of the Declaration of Independence which says in part, "When a long train of abuses and usurpations … evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security."
Second Great Awakening - Term used for the wave of Protestant revivals occurring in the early 19th century. The Bible societies and moral reform organizations formed during this period advocated temperance, women's suffrage, and the abolition of slavery.
segregation - A state of society where people are separated by race or religious practices.
Sherman Plan - Early in 1865, General William Tecumseh Sherman issued Special Field Order Number 15 setting aside land in South Carolina and its sea islands to be redistributed among former slaves until such time as Congress made a final decision about the ownership of the land in question. Each freedman received no more than 40 acres each. This experiment was very successful, but President Andrew Johnson soon reversed Sherman and gave the lands back to their original owners.
slave – According to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, a slave is one "whose person and services are under the control of another as owner or master." The English term slave was first used in the sixteenth century. Before that time, the correct term was sclave. The word was derived from the French term esclave, which in turn was derived from the medieval Latin term sclavus and the earlier Roman Latin word salavus, both of which mean a Slav captive. The Slavs were a tribe of people living in eastern Europe in the area now occupied by Poland. Around 6 A.D., they were conquered by warlike Germanic tribes. The term Slav originally meant "glory," "noble" or "illustrious," because this is the way these people thought of themselves.
slave codes - Local laws passed in the South to prevent slaves from gaining any advantage over the dominant white community. The most common of these laws was one making it illegal for slaves to learn to read and write. Others prevented slaves from moving freely from place to place without a pass and from meeting in religious services without the presence of a white man to monitor their activities.
Southern Christian Leadership Conference - Founded in 1957 in Atlanta, Georgia, by Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, the Conference sought to attain equal rights for blacks and other minorities through non-violent protest.
Spingarn Medal - Award given to an outstanding black American each year. Joel Elias Spingarn, a white leader of the NAACP instituted the medal in 1914.
stalwarts - Radical Republicans of the Reconstruction era who supported Ulysses S. Grant for a third term as President and the more repressive measures of Reconstruction of the South. They also opposed civil service reform and advocated high tariffs on imports.
states' rights doctrine - Before the Civil War and well into the twentieth century, Southerners have believed that their state governments had the right to block or overrule any Federal legislation with which they disagreed. (See nullification.)
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee - Otherwise known as SNCC (or SNICK), this organization was founded in 1960 in North Carolina for the purpose of organizing freedom rides through the South and voter registration drives. Stokely Carmichael, who became its leader in 1966, promoted the idea of "black power."
"swap dog kin" - Expression used on slave plantations to describe the close family feelings that many slaves had for each other even though they were not members of the same biological family. These feelings probably grew from incidents where the mother or father of a child would be sold away to another plantation, or the child would be sold. A child who had lost his parents would find him or herself under the guidance and protection, as much as could be expected under the repressive institution of slavery, of older slaves whom he would call "Uncle" or "Auntie." Although this term may have been coined by a sarcastic overseer of slaves wishing to make fun of the practice of adult slaves taking under their wing abandoned slave children, the last laugh must be at that overseer's expense, because this term is indicative of the lengths to which slaves would go to provide and protect each other from the abuses of the "peculiar institution."
Underground Railroad - Term used for the route used by runaway slaves to reach freedom either in the North or Canada. Eber M. Pettit wrote of the URR, "It had, like all other railroads, its officers and stations, engineers and conductors, ticket agents and train dispatchers, hotels and eating houses." According to Rush Sloane, the term was first used in 1831 when the slave Tice Davids ran away from his master. Davids swam across the Ohio River and his master could never find a trace of him afterwards. The master commented that his slave "must have gone off on an underground road." Reverend William M. Mitchell tells a similar story in which a master, in frustration at his inability to retrieve a runaway, says, "The damned Abolitionists must have a Rail-road under the ground by which they run off [slaves]."
vagrancy laws - Part of the Black Codes used to keep former slaves in a state of enforced servitude. At the beginning of Reconstruction, many southern states passed laws proclaiming that any African American who was unemployed was a vagrant, and therefore, could be arrested and forced to work for no pay on public works, or could be auctioned off or hired out to a landholder who would pay his fines.
Voting Rights Act of 1965 - This act ended the use of literacy tests and the poll tax as methods for excluding citizens from voting.
white supremacy - A doctrine promoted by the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi party, and other similar groups which believe that only white people should have political and economic power in the United States. White supremacy advocates have traditionally been opposed to rights and voting privileges for women and gun control legislation.
Wilmot Proviso - Named for David Wilmot, Senator from Pennsylvania, this 1846 bill, if passed, would have banned slavery from the territory gained during the Mexican War. The measure never made it out of the Senate.
Yacub's plan - According to Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Black Muslims, about 6,300 years ago everyone was black. But this all changed because of a mad scientist called Yacub on the island of Patmos. Yacub came up with a plan to create white people by a kind of eugenic evolutionary process. The scientist would not allow people to marry unless one of the partners had a lighter skin than the other. After many centuries, the plan resulted in the creation of white devils "with the blue eyes of death." Elijah Muhammad used this myth not only to explain the existence of the various races of men, but also to explain the tendency among African Americans to prefer mates with lighter colored skin than their own. Eldridge Cleaver refers to this preference as "the Negroes' racial death-wish."
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