Slavery & Savings

Grow Your Money Column of New Growth Magazine

When it comes to the topic of saving money, I hear quite a bit of excuses: “I just don’t make enough money to save. Every paycheck, I have to treat myself with a few nice things. My kids can’t live without Polo or Jordans.” After researching how slaves saved money, I can only imagine how slaves would react if they were to hear the excuses of their descendants.

When most people think of enslaved Africans who were brought to the Americas, they think of ignorant, unskilled, uncivilized, and primitive people who were forced to work for a slave master. Also, many people believe that enslaved Africans had no economic power and held no assets (such as money, land, or resources). The previously mentioned beliefs contribute to a lack of self-worth and an inferiority complex within the African-American community.

African slaves were brought to the Americas because of their agricultural knowledge and skilled labor. In 1860, prior to the end of American slavery, the economic value of all the enslaved Africans in the United States was estimated at $4 billion. The slaves’ economic value was greater than all the real estate in the United States of America. In short, slaves were one of the most valuable assets in the United States.

These slaves were not as ignorant as they are often portrayed in literature and movies. The Georgia Historical Society has documents which prove that slaves owned property. At the time, Georgia laws required that slaves have a person similar to a trustee to protect the slave’s property interest. Also, some slaves learned to use their skills to their advantage by renting out their services to other plantation owners.

Slaves would negotiate an agreement with their slave master to share the profits from renting out their services and the profits were used to purchase seeds and other required items to grow crops. Also, slaves would negotiate with their master for a small space to grow their own crops. After harvesting their crops, they would sell their goods at the local market.

This process of renting themselves out, investing their earnings into seeds, and saving their profits was how some slaves were able to purchase their freedom. While at the market, slaves had the option of spending their earnings on a variety of items, but many preferred to invest their money into seeds. Slaves recognized that saving and investing was their road to freedom.

According to “The African American Financial Experience”, a recent study released by Prudential Financial, African-Americans are not saving enough money. When Prudential Financial asked why they were not saving, the respondents said they did not have the resources to save. Also the survey found that 35 percent of African-Americans dream of starting a small business but they reported that they lacked the start-up capital to make their dream a reality.

I’m almost certain that slaves would ask the following question of free African-Americans: How are you free but you save less than slaves? How do you have access to financial information but when it comes to money you are dumber than slaves? Why are you physically free but you are enslaved by massive loans and credit card bills? Why do you have less of an entrepreneurial spirit than we did as slaves? As a community, I think we owe our ancestors answers to the previous questions.

I hope that this article will challenge African-Americans to revisit their views on slavery and rethink how many slaves developed a plan and worked hard to earn their freedom. Hopefully this article will create conversation within the African-American community and stimulate the desire to begin to save money, invest earnings, and reclaim our entrepreneurial spirit.

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