Nominally Free…



MSR BLOGStarting this blog just after we celebrate the 150th year of the Emancipation Proclamation’s inauguration seems fitting.  Because much of what will be written in this blog will range from the historical context of the plight of Africans here in America to how the construct of our plight has not changed.  All of it will revolve around how this construct plays out in the often time ignored topic of micro-economics.

When discussing micro-economics–especially the concepts for micro-economy (or lack thereof) of African-Americans (often referred to as Black economy)—we see that not much has changed since the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.   Now this isn’t to say there has not been a vast quality of life improvement for Blacks, we certainly see that play out in our daily lives.  We see the freedoms we have in places we can now travel, people we can now wed, professions we can now enter, and elected offices we can now hold.  However, while the fire hoses were turned off, the dogs put back on chains, the ropes taken off of the lynching trees, the shackles and fetters removed from flesh;  Carter G. Woodson describes the times in which we now live with the following quote from his book The Mis-Education of the Negro, “The poverty which afflicted them for a generation after Emancipation held them down to the lowest order of society, nominally free but economically enslaved.”

In order to understand what he means by this we need look no further than the percentage of wealth that is housed within the black population of this country in 2012 (Black folks have accumulated almost 1% of the wealth in this country); then look at the percentage of wealth for black folks in 1862, a year before the Emancipation Proclamation became effective (less than 1%).

We also know that resources or the accumulation of resources is what generates wealth. It is also well known that Africa has provided the world with the greatest resources throughout history and has done so 10 times over.  From oil to minerals to human labor, Africa’s allure has always been what could be pillaged from the continent.  But as we talk about micro-economy, we must discuss the concept of obsolescence.  Obsolescence suggests that when a resource is gone, the people places and things that produced such resources are rendered useless.  ON the continent, the resources are mainly natural, (gold, diamonds, minerals, oil, etc.) in the diaspora, the resources were human.  Diaspora is a word that describes Africans that were displaced throughout history around the globe. In short, the diaspora is African people not on the continent of Africa.

So during antebellum, human resources of Africans in this country were extremely valuable.  Post Antebelleum, that value saw sharp decreases; it went really low.  The value went so low that the best thing to do with a black man or woman was to throw them in jail.  This jail was called the chain gang.  True story: if you were a black person and could not show proof of a job, you were thrown in jail.  This took place in the south but almost all black people still lived in the south.  While in jail, you labored.  You were a laborer.  Still a resource, still found useful, even if only there.  As time went on, there was a seismic shift in the black economy.  People were beginning to be replaced by machines.  The industrial age was upon us.  So the black labor that was once so valuable (albeit at an inhumane cost to black people) became less valuable in the south.  The black labor pool was being rendered useless.  Because of this two separate, yet closely related correlations took place.  First, there were attempts to eradicate the black labor pool by lynching (obsolescence).  Two, there were opportunities for black laborers in the North.  Black people left the South at alarming rates to find these new jobs and perceived safe havens. The jobs migrated and so did black people.

These jobs fed us, clothed us, and kept us for almost another 75 years.  But then, there was another migration of these jobs overseas.  Black laborers finding it not as easy to migrate overseas saw a similar series of events of alarming prison rates, and devaluing of black life (planned obsolescence).  This brings us right back to this idea of how as much as things have changed, they have stayed the same.

This blog will focus on moving from nominal freedom to a significant and substantial freedom for black people through the building and creating of black economy.  This blog will attempt to use history as a lens to guide the discussions of how to become economically free as well.

The next posts will look to tackle our manumission from economic enslavement through what we’ve done right in history and what we’ve done wrong.  I hope readers find it as interesting as I do.


Javonte Anyabwele welcomes reader responses to


Editor’s note:

The author or authors are responsible for this blog, which is not edited by the MSR. The views expressed on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the MSR.