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The Defiant One
A Boy’s View Of The Human Condition
From the account of William H. Robinson concerning his stay as a young teenager in a Richmond Virginia slave auction pen, a two-story brick structure, circa 1862.
“The next morning after I was sold they brought a man to the traders’ pen to be whipped.”
Note: the single most common aspect of American chattel slavery was the lack of physicality among the wealthy, sedentary, alcoholic slave owners necessary to whip an extremely fit, sober, and unwilling man. Imagine three random Silicon Valley types, getting drunk at the Monday night football game and then waylaying Tyrell Suggs, or any NFL player—even the kicker—and trying to whip him with a belt. What are the chances that is going to work out?
“This man would not allow the overseer to whip him. He had chains on him that looked as though they were welded on. They took him upstairs in the big building where there were about seven or eight hundred men, women and children. It was about noon and they left him handcuffed while they went to dinner. He explained to us why they were about to whip him. He had gone to church without a pass on two occasions and refused to allow his master to whip him for so doing. His master declared he would whip him or kill him. They took his irons off and ordered him to strip himself of all of his clothing. He promptly did so. His master said, ‘you might just as well have done this at home and you might have gotten off with a few hundred lashes.' But to their surprise, when they told him to lie down, he began to knock men down right and left, with his feet and hands. Many went down before him. Then they picked out ten or twelve strong colored men, made them run in upon him, and though he knocked many of them down they were too many for him, so they overpowered him, and with straps fastened him taut upon the floor to six strong rings. These rings were arranged in two rows of three rings each, opposite each other and covering a space something over six feet in length.”
“Then his master, with four or five other men, came up to see him whipped, one man with his tally book, and a negro with his black snake whip and paddle; they brought their demijohn of whiskey, each one taking a drink before they began their bloody work. They even gave the negro who was compelled to do the whipping, a drink. After they were well drunk the whipping began. One man would count out until he counted nine, then with the tenth he would cry ‘tally’. When the whipping first began he would not say a word, but after a while as they cut his back all to pieces, he would cry out, “pray master,” and in this way he pleaded for mercy until he grew so weak he could not utter a word. They gave him three hundred lashes, then washed his back with salt water and paddled it with a leather paddle about the size of a man’s hand, with six holes in it. [The paddles that Pennsylvania school teachers beat children with in the 1970s were ventilated with holes to increase the sting.] as they paddled him it sounded as a dead thud; you could hardly hear him grunt as each lick fell upon him. He was whipped from head to foot, and the floor where he was lying was a pool of blood when the brutal work was ended. His master congratulated the negro whipping master for the way he accomplished his part of the work, gave him another big drink of whiskey and ordered him to untie the man.”
“They all went down stairs and the other colored people who were in the room put the man’s clothing on him. This was late in the afternoon. The next morning when I awoke I saw the men and women kneeling around in a circle, praying, groaning, and crying. I walked up and looked to see what the trouble was, and I found the man they had whipped the day before cold in death. He was swollen so that his clothing had bursted off. A jury of white men came up and held a mock inquest. I never heard what the verdict was. The colored men came with a mule cart, rolled him up in a sheet and took him to his last resting place.”
If the above account strikes you as a matter of race, than your mind has been properly prepared for servitude. The above was about power, plain and simple. Between a half dozen and a dozen white men and 13 black men subdued and beat to death a single black man while at least 200 black men looked on. That was twenty two one with two hundred looking on; using a small group to control a large group by punishing and killing an individual. In this way, since the dawn of civilization, we have been threatened with the peril of being human, so that we will instead be a component of a manageable social organism; a group.
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