I have no idea what bizarre world Kanye West is in, but the historian Tera Hunter speaks some real truth over the supposed “choice” that some freed slaves made to return to bondage.
It is 1857, and Kanye, a carpenter, has finally saved up enough money to buy his freedom from Massa West. Trouble is, he has to leave his wife, Kimba, and five children on the plantation until he can buy them out of slavery as well.
Kanye is free from the constant threat of the lash and being forced to labor to enrich someone else, but he isn’t free from discriminatory laws designed to trap freed blacks and place them back in bondage. At any moment, just for being black and free, he can be arrested for “strolling about”—walking peacefully on the roads and minding his business; or for being “idle”—looking like he has no job; or for being “immoral”—whatever that meant to the white person reporting him and the police responding to the call.
If convicted of any of these infractions, he will once again become the chattel property of a random white man.
Prejudicial laws like these were common in the slave-owning South to snare freed blacks and force them back into slavery. Some states, like the state of Georgia, passed expulsion laws that required blacks who were manumitted to leave the state within a year of their emancipation.
Expulsion laws were a sinister ploy created by whites to reinforce white supremacy and eradicate the free black population perceived to be a threat by their very existence in a slaveholding society. They knew giving freed blacks 365 days to find a place to live, get a job and save enough money to retrieve their families was destined to fail because it takes many years for an enslaved person to save money to purchase their own freedom. So, Kanye’s dilemma was to move far away from his wife and children or voluntarily submit himself to re-enslavement and keep his family together.
Black people in this predicament often pleaded for the mercy of the court to grant them exemptions from the expulsion laws and allow them to remain near their families in their home states, only to be told to evacuate immediately and leave their families behind. Out of sheer desperation, many felt they had no choice but to choose to go back into slavery.
The willingness to return to slavery signified how much they were prepared to prioritize their families at any cost.
Percy Ann Martin, a free woman married to an enslaved man in North Carolina, petitioned the court to “reduce her to slavery” because “she was attached to her husband and does not wish to be separated from him.”
One man forced out of the state of Virginia moved to Ohio after being freed, but grew to regret it. He decided to make a horrifying reversal back to Virginia because he “would prefer returning to slavery to losing the society of his wife.”
Even some freeborn men submitted petitions to put themselves into slavery in order to remain with their wives and children.
Not that Kanye is going to listen, but we need to hear this and understand how slavery actually operated.