A new Negro for a new century About half of the nearly ten million African Americans living in 1900 had been born during the slavery period, and while slavery had not yet receded into the distant past, it seemed important to the former slaves and their descendants to stress the distance they had traveled from that past. Only forty years earlier, the overwhelming majority of black Americans - more than 85 percent - had belonged to and could be bought and sold by white owners, a deep-seated contradiction in one of the world's oldest democracies with a founding document that declared that “all men are created equal.” “Natally alienated” (to use Orlando Patterson's term), slaves were forced to perform unpaid labor, without any civil status that would guarantee them even such basic human rights as the right to marry, to raise their own children, or to learn how to read and write. Slavery was, and remained for a long time, a haunting and troubling memory, a scar of shame. Emancipation, which seemed like a rebirth from a state of social death, was indeed a “resurrection” from the tomb, as Frederick Douglass's famous slave narrative had represented his own transformation from the status of a slave to that of a self-freed man.
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