The Hidden History of Slavery That Surrounds UsHistorians in the News
tags: slavery, African American history, memorials, public history
For hundreds of years, enslaved people were bought and sold in America. Today most of the sites of this trade are forgotten. As part of The 1619 Project, Anne C. Bailey, a professor of history at Binghamton University, wrote about her research into slave auctions for a New York Times Magazine article titled “They Sold Human Beings Here.”
She told me that the auction block represented the end to life as enslaved people knew it. Family life was one bright spot in the long ordeal of slavery, she said, but auctions ripped families apart.
Yet Dr. Bailey and her researchers found fewer than 50 marked auction sites, while by some estimates there were 1.2 million slave sales between 1760 and 1860. Sites of African-American focus represent 2 percent of those registered on the National Register of Historic Places, she told me, and only a small portion of these are devoted to slavery.
Your report allowed readers to see a slave auction from the eyes of those who were enslaved. How difficult was the research and writing?
There is no central registry of these auction sites. My research assistants and I found less than 50 were marked and that was very surprising considering there were 1.2 million slave sales between 1760 and 1860. Each of those sales represented heartbreak for family members, for loved ones. Their experience and their contributions must also not be forgotten.
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