Did Slavery Enhance The American Economy? : Tell Me More Host Michel Martin talks about TMM's recent trip to Rhode Island for a Freedom Festival, marking the bicentennial of slavery's end.
NPR logo Did Slavery Enhance The American Economy?

Did Slavery Enhance The American Economy?

Freedom Festival Image
Rhode Island Council for the Humanities

The Tell Me More crew is pulling up stakes and heading back to DC from our brief sojourn in Providence, Rhode Island where there was great food, great weather -- the leaves have not turned as much as we had thought they would by now but it's really fall up here.

As I said, we were here to participate in the Freedom Festival, a commemoration of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. Having marked the commemorative date on our program earlier this year I remain struck by the distance between what scholars "know" about slavery and its effect on this country, and what the public believes or has been taught.

At one point James Campbell, professor of history at Stanford University, told us about a book review he had written in which he pointed out that in the 18th century, two-thirds of all people who made transatlantic crossings were Africans. He was challenged on this by the editor who just did not believe it. He pointed out how pervasive slavery's root was in the economy -- all 13 colonies had slaves at the outset (although slavery was abolished in the north first, it existed). Yet when these issues are often brought to the public's attention, the reaction is anger, denial and resentment.

So I'd like to ask you: Are you open to the idea that slavery's effect on the economy and society is more widespread than most people have been taught? Are there ways in which you see the legacy of slavery today? And perhaps most important, how can this society best move forward? More education? More talk? Or, here's a thought, less?

And speaking of talk, we will be listening to and watching the presidential debate tonight, the second of a series of three. We are eager to get your impressions. What questions would you like to ask?

Let us know what you think.