California was a free state, right?
I knew that slaves had existed in California before it joined the Union…if one were to forget about the African Americans who were enslaved, the Native Americans were enslaved by the missions, who used to them build things, garden, gather wild sources of food, cook, clean, and do essentially everything. Records clearly indicate that California citizens held slaves both before and after the state joined the Union, and that there was a serious debate over whether California should be admitted as a free state or not.
Granted, California did not have slavery on the same scale that the Southern states did. But slaves were used to cook, clean, and collect gold in the mines.
When California became a state, it joined as a free state, but complied with the Fugitive Slave Act. Like many other free states. According to California: An Interpretive History (which might not be a reliable source, because to me, “interpretive” says “we made shit up,” and it’s a pretty good trick to get that book distributed as a major college textbook, if that’s the case), the Fugitive Slave Act was only enforced once. Even then, it ultimately failed, because a Judge in San Francisco rescinded the decision. Yay justice!
After California’s statehood, though, slaves still existed. Perhaps not in large numbers…but they were there.
That’s essentially what that whole Chronicle article I linked to is about. Many people, including Californians, are not aware of California’s slaving history. Californians especially like to think of themselves as above the curve, even back in the 1800s. Alas, no, the lowest common denominator holds true for California, as well.
The article also made me think about the use of cheap Latino labour on our farms, in our homes, and at our businesses. This may not always be the case, but I would not be surprised to learn that some of these men and women essentially are slaves, unable to escape poor working conditions and seeing no clear end to their servitude. What a depressing thought.