The passage of local reparations in places like Evanston, Illinois last fall and Asheville, North Carolina more recently are worrisome on many levels, not least of which because they invite potential for inciting even further racial division. Their passage also prompts the uncomfortable but entirely legitimately requisite questions of who is responsible for black enslavement in America and therefore who is responsible for paying?
A reading of the 1860 census reveals some fascinating details into the realities of slavery. While it’s universally known is that whites owned slaves in the early United States; almost universally unknown is that free blacks owned a fair number themselves.
In the lead-up to the Civil War, the free population of the entire United States, which also counted approximately 10% the black population (the other 90% of blacks were enslaved in 15 southern states), stood at just over 27 million. The slave population was just under 4 million.
Of the 25-27 million whites, 1.6% of them individually owned slaves. That number has been cited frequently as being misleading, given that most whites belonged to a greater family unit. And indeed, that is the case; when accounting for families as opposed to individuals, an argument can be made that about 7.4% of all white families in the United States owned slaves. Obviously, all of them were in the South, but it is worth sticking to nationwide totals given that the entire nation today is being held responsible for this sin. It wouldn’t be consistent for Black Lives Matter to say that just 25-30% of southern white families owned slaves while at the same time demanding fully 100% of all white families today repent for past wrongdoings.
Importantly, it needs to be observed that more than just 7.4% of white families were involved in the slave-based economy of the south. Whether that was through transporting slaves, selling slaves, or manufacturing cotton or tobacco products procured through slave labor, the prevalence of slavery dominated the southern economic infrastructure. more here