“There is no mystery that the slave trade was an economic institution … It was a racial and economic injustice,” Rich said.
Rich writes that the slave trade actually ebbed after the American Revolution, causing many slaves to envision that they, too, would get the “liberty” the war had given white Americans. The invention of the cotton gin–a marvel in its day for its ability to separate seeds from valuable cotton fibers–dashed those hopes. Cotton became king, and slaves were needed to pick it.
Angel Rich, the winner of CGPS's 2016 tech inclusion competition, poses with this year's winners - the teen startup Testify.
“America became the most capitalistic society in the world because of slaves and cotton. We had the cheapest and best cotton in the world, and we were developing it with free (labor),” Rich said.
Innovation was not the only thing that stymied blacks’ upward mobility; racism played its part as well. When the population of free blacks became too high in the District of Columbia (and other places throughout the country), Black Codes were implemented to punish African Americans for the smallest infractions, Rich said. And often when blacks did build flourishing business and residential communities, the white masses did not welcome their success. Rich pointed to Greenwood, a community in Tulsa, Okla., that was home to the so-called “Black Wall Street” until a white mob burned it to the ground in 1921.
“Anytime blacks try to come up economically, something happens,” Rich said.
Watch all of Rich’s address below.