Sunday, 19 October 2014

Federal Writers' Project

Dr John  W. Fields, ex-slave of Civil War period (77-80)

Dr John W. Fields was born into slavery, however when his mother's master died he and all of his siblings were split up amongst other slave owners in order to settle the estate, a usual occurrence in the world of slavery. "Three disinterested persons" were chosen to come to the estate and the names of a few different heirs were written on pieces of paper that were then "passed among [the] slaves" in a "hat" which could be considered quite an infantile and unsophisticated way to choose where these people would go. There seems to be no system at all, as if these people were completely meaningless and almost irrelevant, which makes the term "disinterested" much more apt. I feel it shows the pure insignificance of the 'slaves' to the people that weren't like them, despite the fact they were all human, the 'slaves' were treated as cattle and simply split up and sent to new plantations when their master died. At the age of six, Dr Fields found himself working on a new plantation about 115 miles away from his mother and original plantation home. In a modern day situation, a boy at the age of six could not be expected to handle the hard labour of a 'slave', nor could he be expected to be separated from his mother by such a distance. So why was it so acceptable back then?

In Dr Field's account, he goes on to mention that "in most of us colored folks was the great desire to read and write" and that they therefore "took advantage of every opportunity to educate [them]selves". It seems that these people, these 'slaves', were not given the same opportunities as everyone else, which is ironic in terms of the original promise that America gave to the people of the world. The promise of a new start, your own piece of land and absolute equality. How could there ever be equality in a country where other men, women and children were treated as though they weren't even human?

Dr John W. Fields, Aged 89.

"Our ignorance was the greatest hold the South had on us. We knew we could run away, but what then?"

They were almost sheltered, as if this was the only way of living for them, which must have been easier over time when slaves were born into this life - they would have known nothing else. They wouldn't have even known of the freedom this great country once promised. Their "ignorance" was most likely down to the slave masters keeping them confined and constricted within the boundaries of the plantations. These men, women and children had no way of refusing their status, they would be punished for doing such things. They had no choice but to accept that this was how things were for them. It presents white people to be holding all of the power, but who put them on a pedestal? It raises the question of who, disregarding the colour of their skin, thought that treating other human beings as slaves would be an acceptable thing to do? What did these people do to deserve the way they were treated? 

"But what then?" Exactly the question that would've kept them doing as they were told and in order. What could they do? They wouldn't know anything outside of the plantations, they wouldn't know where the next town was, they wouldn't know if they'd be accepted outside or thrown straight back to work, or worse. These people could have fought back and revolted or run away but, in Dr Fields' words, "what then?" 


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