Nothing but a House Negro

The picture you see above depicts a distinct class of people from yesteryear.  These are what was known as “field Negroes.” This particular picture was taken in Oklahoma in 1897.  This class of slave would have been distinguished from the “house Negro.” House Negroes, as the name implies, worked in and around master’s home performing more domestic forms of labor as opposed to out in his fields.

It’s this latter term, “house Negroes”,  that’s the subject of this column.

Those who mock, insult & call us (conservative black-Americans) nasty, racially insensitive names –who, btw, are exclusively liberals, I/we’ve never once been called a derogatory name by a conservative)– have a relatively limited vocabulary of names and “house Negroes” is one of them. But this supposed insult is worthy of more careful examination. Who were the “house Negroes”?

The house Negroes were smart & the most educated of all the slave hands.  House Negroes were viewed as teachable in math, linguistics, & in some cases the sciences. This view of them by their masters was a high compliment as they were considered of an intellect that gave them value above mere field labor – they were of value because of their minds rather than just their muscle.

For the reasons mentioned above, house Negroes typically were the only Negroes who could read and/or write.  Master would charge his family members with or even hire instructors to teach them. This unique ability enabled the house Negro to read what was usually the only book they had access to – the bible. They evangelized their fellow (illiterate) slaves & brought them by the scores to the saving knowledge of Christ through the scriptures.

The house Negro was viewed by master as being highly trust worthy. After all, he kept them in his personal residence. They worked and in many cases lived in the same house right along side master’s wife and children.  Yet in that same house were forks, knives, other stabbing instruments, fire arms, flammable materials and a host of other items thru which an individual could do harm to master, his family and/or his property. Yet master allowed him/her to work & live beneath his roof because they displayed the most credible of human traits – trustworthiness.

So much did master trust the house Negro & so capable was that Negro that often master would allow the house Negro to manage affairs.

A code of the old south included what’s known as a “slave pass.” A Negro out alone in the towns on the roads or byways was given by his master a “slave pass” which allowed them to travel from one place to another unaccompanied. House Negroes were given these passes to travel to town for purchase or pick up of supplies, collecting guests from the dock, wagon or train station, etc.  In the former case master was also trusting the Negro with money; in the latter with the lives & care of his visitors.  He was also operating on the assumption that the Negro would not take advantage of his pass & make a run for it.

Such was the lot of the “house Negro” as opposed to the “field Negro.” Now no one is claiming that being called a “house Negro” is a compliment – it isn’t.  But is being called one truly an insult or is it a display of ignorance of history by those using it?

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