When The Law Failed Pirated Enslaved Africans

Enslaved people on board a slave ship
William Anderson
December 18, 2020

When news arrived in Galveston, Texas that slavery had been abolished, the historical foundations for Juneteenth were laid. But the news arrived years late – and a disturbing part of history tied to the area shows why. The history of slavery in that area was brutally unique.

Pirates like the Frenchman Jean Lafitte, who fought for the U.S. in the War of 1812, forced enslaved Black people into the area and sold them. This illegal people-smuggling scheme circumvented the law by doing unthinkable things to victims of bondage.

These rogues were basically “flipping” enslaved people by exploiting loopholes!

As W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, “organized brigands … did not go to the trouble of sailing to Africa for their slaves, but simply captured slavers and sold their cargoes into the United States.”

Importing slaves had technically been abolished at the time, but pirates turned in captured people to customs officials. They were paid for “discovery,” and when the enslaved people went up for auction, their business partners bought them back at half price to sell them again legally!

The abolition of slavery and the slave trade were supposed to benefit Black people. But historically, white supremacy has gotten around and reconfigured oppression to continue our exploitation. The legal – and illegal – schemes stacked against us must truly be abolished!

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