Dr. Sade Turnipseed, a writer and public historian, appeared on the Utica Campus of Hinds Community College last week to share what she has come to learn about cotton and slavery in America’s economic development. Before an audience made up primarily of young students, with a fair number of seasoned educators and grandparents, she discussed American and Black history. She talked about America’s forging ahead in the cotton industry.
Her multimedia presentation used video clips of quotations, photos, excerpts from historical documents, and both narrative and dramatic written text compiled from her years of research. The presentation lasted for nearly an hour and was punctuated by questions and challenges specifically geared to students.
Particularly informative, the presentation was jam packed with nuggets of little known or often neglected facts. Several of them are as follows.
(1) Cotton, its production and manufacture did not begin in America, but in Africa long before the advent of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Nevertheless, the English people soon realized its value and set-up factories in Lancaster and Manchester, among other places, processing tons of cotton, generating untold wealth for its investors.
(2) Forcing Africans who were familiar with cotton to work the cotton plantations led to the rapid spread of the cotton economy across the American south, creating spin-off wealth in even other geographical areas such as textile, shipping, banking, insurance, and policing. She was careful to point to the Gullah Geechee people in the region of Georgia and the Carolinas as a group that was greatly used in the early production of cotton in America.
(3) Native Americans were forced out of the southeast via the Trail of Tears in order for planters to expand plantations with the production of cotton, typified by President Andrew Jackson’s use of the military and Greenwood Leflore’s signing away of Indian territory.
(4) The invention of the cotton gin by Henry Ogden Holmes, a slave on the plantation visited by Eli Whitney, greatly multiplied the demand for cotton.
(5) In its early days, cotton came to account for nearly 80% of the American economy and 7/8ths of the world’s production of cotton, including the fact that the British royal family down through Queen Elizabeth owned one of the world’s largest plantations, Delta and Pine Land Company, the Scotland Plantation, in Scott, Mississippi.
(6) Wall Street was created in order to accommodate the hiring of enslaved African workers in New York and the accompanying distribution of the wealth created therefrom.
(7) The exploitation of Black people through the production of cotton was not confined to the days of slavery, but persisted long after the Civil War as share-cropping.
(8) African people resisted their enslavement and oppression from day one, whether it was uprisings on-board slave ships, running away, or staging revolts. Notably, many, such as Frederick Douglass, became abolitionists.
(9) White companies and families multiplied their wealth from cotton production, often using trusts to pass the wealth on to future generations while the exploited Black workers continued to toil and live in poverty, unable to accumulate such generational wealth.
In order to get the students actively involved in her presentation, Dr. Turnipseed developed four questions for them to ponder.
• What changes need to be provided in order to enhance self-esteem among Black students?
• What has to happen to get other people to understand and appreciate such history of Black people in America?
• Why have elderly Black people grown silent regarding their stories of struggling for justice and equality?
• What would be just reparations for the sweat equity invested in America by the generations of exploited Black cotton pickers?
The questions generated some discussion but more clearly revealed the serious generational divide in the community.
Dr. Turnipseed closed the session by informing the audience that she was in the process of helping to create a national Cotton Pickers Monument in the Mississippi Delta, especially since those cotton pickers have never been recognized or thanked for what they did over the years in developing America into the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world and for what they did to insure the survival and success of their off-spring.
After the session, the audience was invited to visit the Utica Institute Museum where the Drs. Leo and Gloria McGee Collection is on loan from her organization. Her presentations and the exhibit will be travelling to other campuses, including Jackson State University and Mississippi Valley State University.
Dr. Turnipseed is an award-winning history teacher and did an outstanding on the Utica Campus on June 6th.