Besides being the workhorses of a growing young nation, African slaves brought with them their music, art, culture, and food. All modern music can be traced back to roots in slavery and Africa: country, rock, jazz, and especially hip hop. The influences of African artistic expression and shared culture can easily be seen, but what is often looked over are the not so easily recognizable economic influences of African slaves.
At one point, when free labor was scarce and the trans-atlantic slave trade began to meet the labor demand, African slaves made up 40% of the American colonial population. Of the 6.5 million immigrants who crossed the Atlantic between 1492 and 1776, 5.5 million of them were African slaves. In our early history Africans filled the country that we now historically call white, anglo-saxon, and protestant. We talk about the start of our country as a haven for religious freedom, but where is that freedom represented in the 5.5 million enslaved African people? Now, we often talk about the foreign aid and development dollars that the US and other Western countries send to Africa, but what we often completely miss is how we gained that economic ability and power from the very people that we enslaved. Most every history book or other historical account will glide over the fact that while white Europeans were seeking new lives, the majority of the US population consisted of African slaves trapped in a structure that dictated their lives, and so the hypocrisy that is American began.
It is no mystery that African slaves brought many of their cultural traditions with them, but what many do not realize is the incredible impact those traditions have had and how those impacts continue today. The US used to grow and sell the top variety of rice, Carolina Gold. The first variety of rice ever grown in the US was brought over with African slaves. Owners of slave ships would take rice for the long journey to be able to deliver healthy slaves to the US .It is believed that this variety of rice has its origins in Africa. It is still unclear as to which part of Africa, but indicators are pointing towards somewhere in West Africa. This variety of rice was not only the first, but also one of the most lucrative crops in US history.
The National Geographic article states,
“The slaves used their rice-growing know-how to convert the swampy Carolina lowlands to thriving rice plantations replete with canals, dikes, and levies, which facilitated periodic flooding of the fields, McClung noted.”
Carolina Gold quickly became a top variety of rice because of its versatility and was a major export to Europe. The Carolina Gold variety of rice is just one example of how African slaves helped to build a US centered World Economy. From sugar, tobacco, cotton, and rice, African slaves laid the base for the production of agricultural commodities that would rule the colonial world and place the US at the top. Our economic power may come from the abundance of land in the US, natural resources, and our entrepreneurial spirit, but that spirit lay in the abilities of the African slaves, their agricultural knowledge and their utilization of the US land and other resources.