How Slavery Has Shaped the Lives of African Americans


Slavery can be referred to as the condition in which one is forced to submit to others while working for them under conditions that are very harsh and receiving peanuts or not paid at all in return. This is the condition in which Africans found themselves in the US leading them to poverty. Slavery had cultural, political, social as well as economic effects on the lives of Africans. These were portrayed in the way in which they were treated with brutality lowering their dignity as well as value. Those effects have consequently shaped the lives of African Americans up-to-date.


According to (Kolchin, 2003), Slavery can be described as the period or state in which one becomes a servant, offering service while being controlled by someone else. Slavery was legitimized by the legislatures as well as the colonial courts making Africans servants of the whites, a status that was supposed to be taken on by Africans’ children. The whites were threatened by the freedom of Africans and thought that they would threaten their survival. The conditions that shaped their poverty are described to be as a result of three stages of their slavery which include the developmental, stage of high profit as well as the decadent.

Economic Results of Slavery

The economic situation in the south is described by poverty as it is where most of the slaves lived. After slavery was ended, most of them continued to live in the southern part of the country. During slavery, slave owners who were particularly whites did not allow slaves to have any money in their pockets and all that was got from the plantations went to their masters. Therefore, the black African slaves continued to get poorer as whites gained from their labor. The effects of slavery are still fresh in some African Americans who have not yet had a chance to enjoy wealth from their labor. This was caused by masters who owned slaves and especially during the phase of high profit, where slaves were treated mercilessly in the plantations as they were made to cultivate plants and harvest cash crops for export. In case a crop failed, it would mean loss of investment in slaves as well as land by the planter which would consequently result in bankruptcy. However, if crops succeeded, it would earn planters very high incomes which made slaves work more to a point that was hard to endure. The situation was even worse as their masters applied very inhuman calculations on the African slaves. They argued that it would be more costly to breed slaves than it would otherwise be if they bought new ones. This meant that it was a lot cheaper to have slaves worked to death after which new ones would be bought at a cheaper cost than it would be if they were made to live longer under habitable conditions, bearing more children hence increasing their numbers. In the decadent phase, plantations reduced their production due to the loss of nutrients by the lands. Large harvest would no longer be enjoyed which led to a reduction of the number of slaves needed to work on those plantations as well as the intensity of labor. The masters shifted their interest from cash crops to grain crops which demanded less labor making conditions of slavery a bit relaxed. Due to low income from the plantations, it became hard to maintain slaves in terms of food and shelter, and opted to dispose of them to survive on public charity. The decline in production, as well as change in crops, benefited slaves to some extent as they were made to operate under a new system known as a task system. African Americans have remained poor as their attitudes were changed and they accepted their condition of being economically domineered by the whites even after slavery. (Watkins, 1994)

Cultural Results of Slavery

According to (Litwack, 1979), slaves especially those in Virginia, completely lost their identity as their masters considered them as part of their property and at the master’s service. The impacts of lost identity have remained to date as whites do not regard blacks as of the same value as themselves. This has led to situations of racism where Africans are discriminated against. This is because; during slavery, blacks had become the most profitable cash crop as per slave owners of Virginia. It has been hard to find the exact area where slaves were bred and later sold, but there were as many slaves born as those that were sold in the south of Virginia. South was the worst place where a slave would be sold, as slaves were ill-fed, housed as well as cared for. Masters found it profitable to have all land cultivated than to give them some time and space to build shelter and grow some foodstuffs for themselves. Slaves were treated as a kind of machinery in the plantations where supervisors were assigned to them, who would be paid according to the amount of production. As a result, they became excessively harsh to slaves. Women and men, slaves were made to work very hard in the plantations, from very early in the morning to very late in the evening with more male slaves preferred as they were much stronger, working harder than female slaves. As a result, marriage was a big problem for those male slaves as they worked all time and could not get time to take care of their wives. Women were regarded as liabilities due to their female problems which included pregnancy as well as menstrual cycles. This made family life very hard for slaves as even the children who would be born out of their marriages were to become slaves as well.

However, slaves did not lose their entire heritage that was originated from Africa which made them frighten their masters as they could not understand them. Therefore, they made slaves abandon their ways of communication like drums as well as languages and were also denied rights to use their African names which were replaced with American ones. African slaves were therefore forced to take up syncretism, which was a mixture of cultural elements that were divergent, forming a completely new culture. Religion was in great support for slavery and masters wanted to be the ones to guide African slaves on religion as they believed that Africans’ ancestral religion was some kind of witchcraft which they would use to have Americans cursed. American masters justified their actions of making Africans slaves through Christianizing slaves who have assured salvation in eternity. The blacks were made to believe that it’s only the poor who will go to heaven, which has remained the belief of some African Americans, lowering their value for money and wealth. Since whites were not supposed to mix with slaves even in the church, it has made America have different churches for whites and others for blacks, otherwise known as the black church. However, some churches have been found to have a mixture of the two though it’s minimal. Christianity was selectively taught to slaves omitting concepts of responsibility as well as the freedom that were found in the Bible’s New Testament. The resultant version of African Americans’ religion was one of liberation as well as hope which they needed most.

Political Results of Slavery

(Watkins, 1994), argued that, the bigger part of the South had its politics shaped by the planters which were mostly based on beliefs as well as needs of those planters. Their greatest need was slaves for labor and democracy was therefore limited as planters influenced the rest in the casting of their votes regarding slavery. A law was passed by the state’s legislature that put forth slaves’ codes regarding slaves as human beings and not forms of property. However, the codes denied slaves the right to write as well as read which was used to reduce the chances of slaves rebelling from slavery. These codes played a big part in the present situation of blacks’ poverty. Slaves were also denied the right to give testimonies against white people in courts as well as to attend services in churches without being accompanied by the whites. African slaves were not allowed to move from their plantations without passes that were to be written by their masters. There was also a law that did not allow masters to have their slaves freed as free slaves were feared of inspiring the rest to rebel. Slaves were denied rights to own property which would give them some kind of independence driving them to rebellion. They were instead supposed to work and have the benefits go to their masters. The fact that masters had names of their slaves changed denied African slaves their rights to identify with their original citizenship. Therefore African Americans took American citizenship though some of the rights were applied selectively due to the impact of racism. (Kolchin, 2003)

Social Results of Slavery

The blacks in America suffer from racism, which is the ground upon which most of them have been discriminated against. African Americans have been made to become a second class of citizens which is of less value compared to the whites. This is because; initially the African slaves received a lot of discrimination from the Americans which was based on the fact that they came from an inferior race. They were made to feel valueless by having prices fixed on them in which were sold. All decisions were supposed to be made by their masters which included their religion. Africans were ill-treated in the plantations which were aimed to reduce their value of humanity. African slaves were also denied basic human rights which were quite demoralizing. African Americans still feel the impact of discrimination that prevailed during slavery as they are still discriminated against on the basis of color.


The life that Africans were made to lead as slaves has a great impact on African Americans who opted to remain in the US even after slavery was seized. This was because some of the slaves could not trace their African roots as they even had their grandparents as slaves. Therefore, the African Americans have led a way of life that portrays a combination of what they picked from slavery as well as the rights given to them after their freedom. (Pease, 1990)


Kolchin P, (2003): American Slavery: Hilland Wang.

Watkins M. (1994): The Tradition of African American that transformed American Culture: Simon and Schuster.

Litwack L. (1979): The Aftermath of Slavery: Knopf.

Pease J. (1990): Blacks Search for freedom: University Of Illinois Press.

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