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Abstract

In 17th century Virginia, lower class whites and blacks coordinated on multiple occasions to resist the power of the ruling class elites. By the late 19th century, white laborers viewed the newly freed slaves through racist precepts and the two groups clashed on a regular basis. The aim of this essay is to explain how the shift from racial solidarity to racial antagonism occurred. Racist ideology originated in the minds of the elites and they attempted to separate the restless lower class along racial lines, first, by legal reforms, second, by creating a separate class of enslaved blacks. Anti-black racism was not accepted by lower class whites until after the latter took effect. This means we must rethink traditional interpretations that argue racism made slavery possible. While this is true for the elite class, it was slavery that made racism possible for the working class in colonial Virginia.

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