On Labor Day 1999 professor and scholar John Hope Franklin wrote the final preface to his great book From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans. His death in March of 2009 made the eighth edition of the book the last of his life. Although his work is well known and has been read by millions of students of African American Studies, there is a lesser known work that captures the history of American labor by Charles H. Wesley that is also very important on Labor Day.
“The period during which the Compromise of 1850 was operative was one of the most critical periods in the development of American Sectionalism. Plantation economics and the domestic system were firmly established in the South while the industrial system had taken deep roots in the North and East,” Professor Charles H. Wesley wrote at Howard University in September of 1926.
The United States Department of the Census assisted both John H. Franklin and Charles H. Wesley in their research on American labor. Negro Labor in the United States was copyrighted in 1927 by Vanguard Press Incorporated.
Wesley’s book is an impressive combination of census research and scholarly insight into the complex system of American labor. The work is a classic book and includes information from the Compendium of the Census of 1850 which indicated on page 2 of the work that the free Negro population of the United States in 1850 was 434,495. The number was smaller than the District of Columbia population in 2014. The total African-American population according to the 1850 census was 3,638,808.
The present writer’s great grandfather, an American slave, Samuel Metze, was part of the labor force in 1850. “The labor of Negroes, slave and free, has been one of the most important factors in the economic development of the southern part of the United States. The brawn and muscle of the Negro population created the basis for Southern wealth which was derived in the main from the cultivation of the soil. The greater part of the Negroes; therefore, found employment in agriculture,” Wesley wrote.
The book, Negro Labor in the United States is a very valuable book. The copy owned by the present writer is signed by Charles Wesley on April 19, 1927 at 21 Claremont Park in Boston, Mass, and was purchased from a private collection on August 11, 1992. It is one of the reasons that books are the most important resources on the history of the United States of America despite the amazing advances made by the computer and digital age.
Professor Wesley was a brilliant Howard University professor and scholar; however, one of his best decisions was his decision to marry a brilliant woman by the name of Dorothy Porter Wesley. Porter-Wesley helped to establish one of the greatest collections of African-American research and history known as the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University.
In February of 1990 Porter Wesley helped to identify and document that Daniel Alexander Payne was the first African-American published poet from South Carolina. She signed her husband’s book for the present writer on August 19, 1992.
The excellent labor history and research work found in the 343 page book by Charles H. Wesley documents the history of African-American labor in America. Any American who wants to know and understand the development of American labor can find the answers to their questions in Wesley’s incredible book. For example, on page four of the book Wesley writes, “Says A.H. Stone, “In truth, it was not slave labor which was, at bottom responsible. The contrast between North and South was not contrast between free and slave labor, but between white and Negro labor. The fact is, however, that slave laborers of every race have been unsatisfactory workers, and slave labor as compared with free labor has always been less efficient, whether it was the slavery of Europeans or Africans,” Wesley said.
The role of the Census Bureau of the United States in helping both Wesley and Franklin complete their research work was crucial. For it was the 1920 Census that provided the information on the writer’s grandfather who was born in 1881 to a father who was an American slave. The documentation provided in From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans was first published in 1947 (ISBN 0-325-40671-9). The eighth edition of the work was published on April 11, 2000. Franklin wrote, “When this work made its appearance fifty-two years ago, it was dedicated to Aurelia W. Franklin. Although she departed this life on January 27, 1999, her influence over this undertaking remains alive and strong, as does her memory.”
When Franklin was born in Oklahoma in 1915, John H. Wesley was already on his way to becoming a distinguished Howard University professor. Yet both scholars used the door to door collections of information from Census workers to write two landmark books on labor in America. The knowledge that is available about labor in the United States of America comes directly from the United States Census. Census workers are vital to the nation.
This Labor Day 2014, as America pauses to remember the labor of all Americans, it is important to read and study the books of men like John Hope Franklin and Charles H. Wesley. The written history of American slavery can be traced back to men like Olaudah Equiano from Guinea who was kidnapped at the age of eight and sold into forced labor as a slave but lived to write and tell the world about his life as a slave in The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African. The birth of Equiano in 1745 provided the world with a life that would go on to provide an inside look into the life of an American slave from the viewpoint of the slave. The present writer taught the work for a decade at Howard University and during the fall of 1992 on loan to the University of Maryland at College Park as a Howard University faculty member. It is also an important work in understanding the origins of slavery in America.
For more information on this topic go to: www.randomhouse.com . Negro Labor in the United States by Charles H. Wesley is in the author’s private library collection and is no longer available in print.
All District of Columbia city offices are closed today for Labor Day.
Happy Labor Day, America.