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10 Disturbing Things About Slave Auctions in America You May Not Know


Searching for Signs of Intelligence

According to an account by Henry Bibb, an enslaved man who had made it to freedom only to be recaptured when he returned to the South for his wife and child, the most rigorous examination of the enslaved by the slave inspectors before sale was on gauging their intelligence. Intelligence was the most objectionable of all the qualities connected with the life of an enslaved person, Bibb said. Slave holders believed that when an enslaved Black person is intelligent, “it undermines the whole fabric of his chattel hood; it prepares for what slaveholders are pleased to pronounce the unpardonable sin when committed by a slave. It lays the foundation for running away and going to Canada. They also see in it a love for freedom, patriotism, insurrection, bloodshed, and exterminating war against American slavery.”




The Agony of Mothers and Fathers

In his account, a former enslaved Black man by the name of William Wells Brown told of the extreme sorrow of parents ripped apart from their children at auction. Brown witnessed what one mother did after her husband and children were all sold to different buyers, and she was kept with other enslaved people on a large steamboat on the Mississippi River — but someone forgot to apply her chains. “With all our care, we lost one woman who had been taken from her husband and children, and having no desire to live without them, in the agony of her soul jumped overboard and drowned herself.”

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