Last Updated on August 16, 2003 by Paulette Brown-Hinds
New slave group arrivals to the Americas were designated by countries of origin — Guinea Negro, Congo Negro, Gambia Negro, Gullah Negro. To put slave buyers on notice, African Congo alone, and Guinea were used loosely to signify the more valuable because they spoke Pidgin English; New Negro and salt-water Negro — for those who did not.
Throughout subsequent history, both Negro (Spanish) and Black (Portuguese) were applied periodically to persons of African descent. In correct English, both Black and White should be lower cased because they are designations based on color.
However, to give offense and to keep reinforcing a minority subordinate status, Whites used Negro with a lower case even though correct English says designations based on race — e.g. Negro or African-American — are to be upper cased. Incidentally, today, many writers upper case Blacks and lower case White, even though the practice is inconsistent, in order not to give offense.
Once settled on the plantation, the slave became a field or hoe or house Negro — although Plantation Negro was the general term. The words slave and servant were often used interchangeably because at first, in the 17th century, White indentured servants worked alongside the slaves.
Hence, to make distinctions, Negro was put into word combinations — like Negro quarters — for a century before it was more common to say slave quarters. The house gang worked in the vicinity of the plantation owners home while the house Negro worked inside the home. Attractive female house Negroes often bore some of the slave masters children — called Mulatto or Mulattoes.
Those children who were very light-skinned were White Negroes or Albinos. A dower Negro was one given to a White bride as part of her dowry or that was owned by her at the time of her marriage. Descriptive names for dwellings included: Negro house or hut or cabin. Negro kitchen was the kitchen in which food for slaves was prepared. Such terms as Negro boots and shoes and cotton and cloth (also called plains — usually blue for house slaves and white for field slaves) described the special clothes.
Some clothing was made up on the plantation out of gunny sacks or crows (large sacks made from loosely woven coarse material such as burlap bags that rice or potatoes are put into). Punishment terms included cat-hauling painful and prolonged rough questioning and man-drover cruel people who rounded up any Black person for enslavement.
Pidgin English learned from the Southern gentleman and from the less educated dialects of White overseers served okay at the beginning but was inadequate for the next generation of slaves. Since their native tongues were useless for communicating with most of their fellow slaves, each of whom had different native tongues, African languages were largely lost.
A new and more expansive language emerged to serve the many functions of any language — to communicate thoughts and feelings about food and mealtime, intimacy and sexual activities, bodily functions, story telling and songs, gossiping and rumors, methods for surviving without resorting to self-defense, and concepts about the Whites man Christian religion (which most slave owners considered their duty to impose on their slaves).
As it turned out, although many slaves were brainwashed into accepting the religious hypocrisy and the White mans declaration of what God said (how would Whites know that beyond simply claiming it to be true?), some slaves extracted more from Christianity that their masters would have suspected. The reason is that there is a good deal of subversive talk in the Bible about people liberating themselves from slavery, smiting the oppressor, and so on.
Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D