Lexington and Slavery

Lexington and Slavery

A few weeks ago, Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton appointed “The Commission for Racial Justice & Equality” to look at ways to address systemic racism. While that commission has created a number of subcommittees to look at various aspects of the matter, it has left one overarching issue to the vagaries of history. Lexington was one of the two largest slave markets in the South. Even more important was the fact that it was Lexington’s slave market which was the central site for selling slaves “down the river.” That means that slaves in Lexington were being condemned to lifetimes of servitude on the most vicious and brutal plantations of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

In 1850, there were 1,533 slave owners in Lexington who had 9,946 Black and 858 mulatto slaves available for the market. By 1860 that number had grown to 1,720 owners and 8,537 Black and 1,611 mulatto slaves. (The racial designations are those used in the original slave reports.) The fact is that “mulatto” slaves were conceived by women who were the property of their owners. By any definition the numbers reported are indicators of massive numbers of rapes by slave owners.

The wealth accumulated from the slave trade, more than tobacco, or horses, or any other endeavor created the massive disparity in economic, social and political privilege found today. It is not enough to simply apologize for those facts. Slavery was not, as the senator from Arkansas has claimed, a “necessary evil.” Lexington’s history as a slave market requires repatriation of social status, economic power, and political power.

Illustration: Stephan Crown-Weber