Uncle Tom (1814-1893), was a noted American slave and anti-abolitionist, who became famous for his stories about the good old days of slavery.
Uncle Tom, born Mustafa Mubutu-ibn-Jabezz al-Ifrica, was a fourth generation free black. Raised in Boston, Massachusetts, Uncle Tom lived at the heart of the abolitionist movement. However, as a young man, he began to question the assumption of racial equality, wondering if he, and other black people, were as good as white people. He is also said to have questioned if all white people were equal, proposing that some people, like kings, lords, and very wealthy, were in fact much better than common white people. However, Uncle Tom made peace with American democracy, viewing the question of the inequality of white people to be an issue better left to the white man to work out.
The turning point for Uncle came in 1831 when he heard of the atrocities of Nat Turner's rebellion. Viewing this as proof that racial equality only leads to bloodshed, Uncle Tom resolved to flee the relative freedom of Boston for slavery in the south. Leaving his family and possessions behind, Uncle Tom journeyed down to South Carolina, and sold himself into slavery to noted statesman and werewolf John Caldwell Calhoun.
After fleeing the schools of Boston for the cotton fields of South Carolina, Uncle Tom rejected his free name of Mustafa Mubutu-ibn-Jabezz al-Ifrica, for his new slave name of Purple Tom. Calhoun called all his male slaves "Tom" and all his female slaves "Jemima," as he felt that giving slaves individual names would make them too "uppity." To distinguish between the slaves, Calhoun made each slave wear of different color of clothing. Uncle Tom would not adopt that name until much later in life.
While Uncle Tom was happy with the slave life, enforced servitude was not without its problems. Only a few months after his flight from freedom, his parents tracked him down and sued Calhoun for the custody of their son. Uncle Tom pleaded with his parents to continue living the slave life, but they refused, demanding that Uncle Tom returns to Boston and study law.
Calhoun knew that he had no legal ground to keep Uncle Tom in slavery. However, the benevolent slave owner had a few tricks up his sleeve. He hired a cat-bugler to steal the al-Ifrica's freedom certificates and then claimed to be their owners. As slaves had no legal standing in court, Uncle Tom's parents were not allowed to contest Calhoun's claims. Calhoun was able not only to protect Uncle Tom from freedom but his parents as well. Soon after, Uncle Tom's parents, now called Magenta Tom and Chartreuse Jemima, were sold to someone in Louisiana and were never heard from again. From this day on, Uncle Tom would always be on Calhoun's plantation, unless Calhoun decided to sell him for whatever reason.
Uncle Tom lived on Calhoun's plantation for 19, until the latter's death in 1850. He was then auctioned off to Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney of Maryland. Uncle Tom was hesitant to leave the hard of the Dixie for a border state. However, years of slavery taught him that the white man must be obeyed. It was not as though someone would drag him north against his will.
Uncle Tom couldn't have been more wrong. In 1851, noted slave-stealer Harriet Tubman raided Taney's plantation. Uncle Tom initially refused to leave, even when threatened with a pistol. Uncle Tom said that we would rather die than live as a free man. However, a fellow slave, Old Leroy, reminded Uncle Tom that we were worth a lot of money, and committing suicide would be like killing his master's horses. Reluctantly, Uncle Tom followed Tubman north, praying that we would be captured. However, it was not to be, Uncle Tom was taken all the way to Canada.
Fortunately, Uncle Tom was able to escape back into the US. After the crossing the border, Uncle Tom flagged down the nearest justice of the peace and demanded his right under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 to be taken back to his master with all due haste. Despite some foot-dragging my anti-slavery Yankees, Uncle Tom was returned to his lawful owner within a month. For the voluntary return, Uncle Tom was punished with only 30 lashes for escaping.
To counter the effect of the Underground Railroad, slave owners in the south formed the overground railroad. This organization, which actually used the railroads, consisted of gangs of white men who would take a train into southern Pennsylvania, capture several free negroes, hog-tie them, and store them in a cargo car while they were smuggled into Dixie.
Uncle Tom worked as a conductor on the overground railroad. Unlike conductors on the underground railroad, who were slave thieves, a conductor on an overground railroad is a literal conductor. Because Uncle Tom had forgotten the evil art of reading, as he called it, by this time, his duties were limited to storing baggage and getting beverages. Additionally, he was normally shackled to the train car to prevent his escape or capture by underground railroad. Over a 10 year period, Uncle Tom helped over 1,000 escape from freedom in the north, in the sense that getting the white man some sweet tea is "helping".
Civil War and Later Years
During the Civil War, Uncle Tom hoped to aid the Confederacy and protect the beloved institution of slavery. However, his master, Taney, remained loyal to the Union. This greatly frustrated Uncle Tom, who was torn between his love of slavery and his duty to his master. However, Taney calmed his slave's anxiety by informing him that the Civil War was not about slavery but taxation and states' rights. Although states' rights are often used to defend slavery, a powerful central government is a two-edged sword. In the right hands, it can be used to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and the Dred Scot decision across the nation.
In 1861, Uncle Tom was loaned out to the Union Army. He valiantly supported the Union cause, losing his right leg at the battle of Gettysburg in a horrible shovel-swinging accident. Hoping that union could be restored without threatening slavery, Uncle Tom's hopes were dashed when the 13th Amendment was passed in 1865. Declaring that the air in America is too free, Uncle Tom fled to the Empire of Brazil, and spent the next 23 years back in slavery. Uncle Tom said that this was the happiest time of his life, as he spent his day protesting the rise of abolitionism in his new homeland and picking cotton. Around 1870 or so, he acquired the name "Uncle Tom," due to his old age and his habit of no longer wearing purple. However, his name was generally rendered as "tío Tome" in the Portuguese of his adopted home.
In 1888, slavery was outlawed in Brazil. Uncle Tom returned to the United States to see what 20-some years of Negro rule had done to his homeland. To his pleasant surprise, he found that white rule had largely been reestablished, with blacks possessing few civil rights or economic opportunities. Although black people weren't slaves, the situation was as close to slavery as one could expect. Black people were actually technically allowed to vote, but literacy tests and poll taxes effectively stopped such foolishness. When the KKK disbanded in 1870's, Uncle Tom was particularly happy that, once again, white gentlemen could lynch uppity Negroes in broad daylight without the need for masks.
Uncle Tom spent the last years of his life campaigning against minority rights and telling stories about the good old days of slavery. Writing (or rather, dictating, since he was illiterate) under the pen name of "Uncle Remus," his stories became the basis of the Disney movie, Song of the South.