Using drugs to handle life’s realities can destroy experiencing the joy of who you are cold sober. Who are you without the drugs, can you handle life? Can you reach your purest self without chemical stimulation? You are who you are without drugs or alcohol. If you can sing, you can sing, if you can act, you can act, if you can play sports you can play sports. If chemical substances are needed to deliver performance, then you are cheating yourself and your audience. Learn to love and accept the authentic self without chemical alteration, it is there you find peace and true love. Someone will accept you with all your flaws, missed notes, missed dance steps, high sports achievements and a face with no make up. Performing for the wrong crowd could destroy the self that is you. Men survived difficult circumstances, because what they had to endure did not define who they were. In my ancestral literature my great great great grand father wrote, that although he was in Bondage, he was never a slave, and that spiritual freedom enabled him to purchase his whole family out of Bondage ( Alexander E. DeBose).

The idea that someone has the power to program, control and predict a human beings behavior through the development and use of a behavior altering substance is frightening. It suggests that with the use of drugs, legal or illegal, you are a puppet and someone has the controls over the strings of your existence. Some say they cannot handle the requirements of life without drugs, suggesting that the demands of extending the self beyond human capabilities would not be possible without drugs. Why would an individual want to go above and beyond normal capabilities? Sing and dance to your best, few appreciate spending hundreds of dollars to go to concerts and sports events to watch the performance of chemicals. And Ah, the challenges and stress of day-to-day family living and existing in hostile environments, it is impossible to cope and handle life without the assistance of the chemical advances of science. The question becomes, how did other stress societies handle life without drugs. Perhaps looking a one of the most difficult periods in American life requiring strong and planned neurological, psychological, sociological and spiritual skills not producing drug dependency. How did the American slave make it without legal or illegal drugs?

 

Surviving Slavery, it is in the most difficult times that man discovers who he is and it is that discovery that prevents him from becoming a victim or an addict.

The most important thing to be said about slavery from the perspective of the enslaved is that millions of African Americans endured slavery by making a world for themselves in the midst of their bondage. By 1776, a viable African-American culture had emerged out of slavery, fashioned and shaped by the slaves themselves partly out of the African past but mainly in response to slavery as an institution. At the foundation of this enslaved culture stood the black family. Because of the nature of the work performed in slavery and the scarcity of labor, slaveholders usually allowed slaves to live in family cabins and to observe family connections. Slaveholders did this for simple economic reasons and to make it easier to control the slaves. Whatever the reasons, slaves took advantage of the opportunity to use the family environment as a refuge and as a source of cultural endurance.

Although slave marriages had no legal standing, most slaveholders allowed slaves to select their own mates. Enslaved men usually courted their girlfriends and married them in ceremonies conducted by enslaved holy men and local black preachers. Frequently slave marriages involved “Jumping the broom,” a ceremony more Old World European than African. On large plantations, such marriages typically occurred among slaves from different plantations until the nineteenth century when stricter rules of travel in the neighborhood began to be enforced.

The extended family network within which most slaves lived emerged principally as a way of coping with the separation of family members in slavery. Offspring from a slave marriage became the property of the slaveholder who owned the enslaved mother. In many cases, slaveholders placed with a functioning slave family a child left behind by a parent’s death or recent sale, or those children recently purchased from slave traders. Parents tried to name their children after family members, usually a father or uncle or grandfather who lived elsewhere or aunts or grandmothers who had died or had been sold off the place. Later on, when some slaves began using surnames, they tended to take the names of the slaveholder who had originally owned them or their parents.

 
   
 

Enslaved children learned family history from their parents by the stories told to them while they worked along side their mothers in the fields or at night in the slave cabins. Among the survival skills taught them were proper work habits, respect for elders, reverence for a spiritual world, and how to deal with whites by “putting on the massa.” Parents often demonstrated these lessons by acting ignorant and even silly around whites while mocking them when they were out of sight. In this way, black parents showed their children how to cope with slavery by fooling the master without losing one’s self respect.

In addition to relying on the strength of family networks, the enslaved turned to religion as a means of coping with slavery. During the colonial era, most enslaved Africans retained as best they could their indigenous African religions or Islam in the cases of those who had come from Muslim countries. It was not until the mid-eighteenth century that large numbers of Africans began converting to Christianity during the religious revival movement that swept over the English colonies.

During this Great Awakening, English Methodists and Baptists (later) preached an evangelical style of Christianity that appealed to the emotions and offered salvation to all who embraced Christ regardless of one’s class or race. This new emotional religion blended nicely with African spiritual beliefs and religious practices. Its emphasis on singing, emotional fervor, spiritual rebirth, and total body immersion in water during baptism was especially attractive to enslaved blacks. Those white slaveholders who embraced this evangelical Christianity allowed blacks to attend white churches as long as the enslaved Christians sat apart form them and took communion at separate tables.

Although perhaps as many as 15 percent of all enslaved Africans were church members by 1780–usually attending the churches of their owners, many more practiced their own version of Christianity out of sight of whites. Gathering in “brush arbors” after dark, black Christians sang, danced, shouted, and clapped to the preaching of black ministers, usually illiterate holy men from the plantation or the neighborhood who conducted Christian marriages and burials. Black funerals reflected the African perspective on death as a moment of transcending life in which the dead returned to their homelands to be reunited with their ancestors. As a result, their funerals were joyous events with much dancing, music, drinking, laughter, and merriment. On the eve of the Civil War, most slaves practiced a form of evangelical Protestantism identified with Baptist and Methodist religions. The version of Christianity that they embraced emphasized the story of Moses and the delivery of God’s chosen people from bondage over those sermons that taught submissiveness to masters, turning the other cheek, and obedience to worldly authority.

Within the world of slavery, blacks taught themselves a new language, practiced new art forms, and played a new kind of music that enabled them to endure the horrors of their bondage. Although most slaves had lost their African languages over the generations, some managed to hold onto parts of their old ways of speaking. In those areas where fresh infusions of African slaves arrived as late as 1808, like the coastal low country, Sea Islands off Georgia, and the lowland marshes of Louisiana, African dialects hung on throughout the slave era. The Gullah and Geechees dialects, which are still spoken today, employ African words and grammatical elements within a basic English structure. More importantly, the loss of African language found blacks fashioning a kind of Creole slave language that enabled them to communicate with one another. Most whites looked upon this new language as crude and ignorant instead of seeing it for a new language rich in sense of place and meaning for the enslaved. This Creole English (or Enslaved English) enabled blacks to communicate with each other in ways not easily understood by their white overlords.

The same point can be made about the music that came out of the slave experience. In attempting to keep enslaved Africans from communicating with each other, whites banned the use of drums. In their place, the enslaved perfected an African based dance and music that reproduced the rhythms and cadences of African drumming. They substituted hand clapping, body slapping, tapping the feet-or “pattin’ juba,” and rhyming shouts to accompany jigs, shuffles, struts, and backstep dances. They played gourd fiddles and banjo, bows, bells, and the bones-all African-American inventions or innovations. Much of their musical expression occurred while worshipping, at funerals and weddings, and while socializing in the evening after work. The songs they sang while they worked during the day helped regulate the pace of their work-especially the call-and-response style of singing. And their spiritual songs blended a style of sadness and jubilation that produced moving lyrics and uplifting messages of liberation and freedom. As a result, a viable African-American music emerged in ante-bellum America that soon became one of the world’s most original art forms and the basis of modern day blues and jazz music.

Slavery in North America differed significantly from slavery in the rest of the Americas. In the first place, far fewer slaves were brought into what became the United States, only around 500,000 compared to perhaps 12 to 13 million imported into the Caribbean and South and Central America. Most of these imports to North America ended by 1770, moreover, except for a burst of activity by a few southern states after the American Revolution. Secondly, the fact that the English people had little experience with slavery in comparison to the Spanish and Portuguese meant that little historical reference existed for them to draw upon in the early years. Initially, the first slaves in the Virginia colony were looked upon as workers rather than as property, and some of them were treated much like white indentured servants. The enslaved Africans often worked along side the indentured European laborers in the tobacco fields of the Chesapeake region. Nor were the Africans especially valued. It was cheaper in the early years to bring in white laborers from England as indentured servants than to pay for slaves.

Leave a Reply