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Mill Talks

Mill Talk: "Those Valuable People, the Africans"

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With support from: Lowell Institute
Date and time
Thursday, June 29, 2023
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This talk explores a key chapter in trans-Atlantic, U.S., and African American history. The title is from a quote from Malachi Postlethwayt, a British mercantilist theorist in 1745. The book on which this talk is based chronicles contributions made by millions of African peoples and their descendants to the vast “wealth of nations” that financed the economic and social progress of modern Western civilization called the “industrial revolution.” The same global process has been identified as one cause of the “underdevelopment” in Africa and other parts of the world. The phenomenal contribution resulted from the uncompensated labor of enslaved Black peoples across several centuries and on several continents. Prof. Bailey has coined the term “slave(ry) trade”™ to encompass an array of activities generally considered as separate developments. This includes the trade in Africans as commodities; commerce in slave-produced goods, especially sugar and cotton; trade among slave-based economies; production of manufactured goods from slave-produced raw materials; and related financial and commercial activities. The story is narrated in three “acts” focused the slave(ry) trade’s pivotal role in three key periods of global history. Act I is a chronicle of Europe’s journey—especially Portugal and Spain—out of its “Dark” Middle Ages beginning in the 9th century and into a new global system centered around the Atlantic Ocean. With a focus on Great Britain, Act II begins in a world of expanding commerce—the “Age of Reconnaissance” or “Age of Discovery” in the 1500s—the period of mercantilism and the “Triangular Trade” when the colonization of the Americas and other parts of the globe was completed. Great Britain emerges as the first global industrial power in the 18th century. Act III explores the American Revolution and focuses on the role of the slave(ry) trade and the global cotton kingdom in transforming colonial America into a world power as the independent United States, a process that continues with the Civil War in the 1860s.

Ronald W. Bailey is a Professor in the Department of African American Studies at the University of Illinois, serving as department Head from 2012 to 2022. He is a 1965 graduate of Evans County History School in Claxton, GA and a 1969 Phi Beta Kappa graduate with a BA in Liberal Arts (Cross-Cultural Studies) from Michigan State University’s Justin Morrill College. His undergraduate major included fluency in Russian and a certificate from Moscow State University. He holds an MA in Political Science from Stanford and a Ph.D. in Black Studies from Stanford, one of the first such degrees awarded in the United States. He has taught at Fisk, Cornell, Northwestern, University of Mississippi, and Northeastern, where he chaired the Department of African American Studies for eight years. He also served as Vice President for Academic Affairs at South Carolina State University and at Knoxville College, and as a senior scientist with the Education Development Center, Inc. Bailey’s publications include _Introduction to Afro-American Studies: A Peoples College Primer; Remembering Medgar Evers_ . . . _For a New Generation; Let Us March On: Civil Rights Photographs of Ernest Withers, Jr.;_ and B_lack Business Enterprise: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives_. His articles have appeared in the Journal of Social Issues, Journal of Negro Education, Agricultural History, Review of Black Political Economy, Black Scholar, Souls: Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society, and the Journal of African American History.

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