Event—Tour

Dennis Halpin, Virginia Tech

“Driven to Desperation:” African-American Labor, Navassa Island, and the Problem of Free Labor in the Nineteenth Century

“Driven to Desperation:” African-American Labor, Navassa Island, and the Problem of Free Labor in the Nineteenth Century

The 1889 Navassa Island Uprising opens a window on the exploitative transition to “free labor” following the Civil War. Beginning in the 1860s, the Baltimore-based Navassa Phosphate Company lured African-Americans to Navassa, located off the coast of Haiti, with promises of high wages, company housing, and benefits. The reality failed to live up to these promises The New York Times proclaimed that the company’s employees were in effect “slaves.” The plight of the Navassa laborers illuminates an early chapter in the black freedom struggle and helps us understand how Southerners adjusted their capitalist system after slavery ended.