The Arrival of West African Slaves

Memphis was one of the largest slave trade centers, with 1/4 of the city’s population being comprised of slaves. It was Tennessee’s largest slave trading city, its location on the river lending itself as a prime location for ships to stop and engage in the buying and selling of West African bodies.

As the video states, slaves began arriving in the United States through subjugation and forced migration across the Atlantic Ocean. Memphis, conveniently located on the Mississippi River, acted as one of the slave trading hubs of the south.

Memphis, with the invention of the cotton gin, also became a hub for the cotton trade.

With this economic revolution came Memphis’s new reliance on the cotton industry which correlated directly with slave trade. Slaves built the culture of Memphis through the cotton industry’s necessity for their work.

Today, Memphis still celebrates its connection to the cotton industry through “Carinval Memphis” or, as it was formerly known, “The Memphis Cotton Carnival.”

As seen in the video above, participants in the Cotton Carnival were and still are mostly white. Even though the industry was completely built on slave labor and would not have been successful without it, white people, who only reaped the benefits of cotton trade and experienced none of the labor, celebrate the cotton industry. They look back fondly on its economic benefits, almost completely erasing black involvement.

In Tennessee, especially Memphis, the slave trader’s goal was to “buy more Negroes to raise more cotton to buy more Negroes to raise more cotton.” Even when there was a law against domestic slave trade from 1826 to 1855, it continued in Tennessee.


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