Category Archives: African American News

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NYC to finally recognize It was home to a slave market

New York – Most people think of slavery and slave markets as being peculiar to our Southern states and being strictly a “Southern crime against humanity.” But New Yorkers are finally going to have to acknowledge their own role in the trade in human beings.

Big money trades hands every day in New York’s financial district, and to fortune-seekers, Wall Street is seen as the epitome of the successful. But it has been this way since the 1700s, except back then, trading wasn’t limited to shiploads of dry goods and merchandise.

Few people know that for the first half of the 18th century, New York City was the home of a slave market. That will soon change when a marker is posted at the corner of Wall Street and Water Street, acknowledging the existence of a slave market that was the “official location for buying, selling, and renting human beings.”

The marker will be unveiled at the 150th anniversary of the Juneteenth Celebration on June 19, 2015. “The slaves of that time and place helped build City Hall,” city councilman Jumaane Williams told WNYC. “Their lives should be celebrated and their deaths should be mourned.” The project will cost the city around $5,000. “In the $70 billion city budget, that’s like losing a quarter,” Williams said. “And the significance of it is priceless.”

Early 1600s in New Amsterdam included enslaved Africans

The original city map called the Castello Plan from 1660  showing the wall (Wall Street  today)  on ...

The original city map called the Castello Plan from 1660, showing the wall (Wall Street, today), on the right side.
Jacques Cortelyou, General Governor of Nieuw Amsterdam

Many companies we are familiar with today, like New York Life and J.P. Morgan Chase profited from the city’s slave trade which was in existence two years after the first Dutch settlers arrived in 1626. In 1626, The West India Company brought 11 African slaves to New Amsterdam. This bit of information may shock many, but it is true that white Europeans and enslaved Africans arrived in New York, then called New Amsterdam, at about the same time.

By the time 1700 rolled around, there were 5,000 people in New York, and 750 of them were enslaved Africans. But the numbers were to grow as the city grew. Over the following 50 years, several thousand slaves were added to the population. Slavery built Lower Manhattan, literally, from the ground up.

It was the slaves that cleared the land, widened Native American trails, turning them into roads, like Broadway, and constructing the wall that would become Wall Street today. Women slaves worked as domestics, and many slave children were bought by white colonial families and taught to do household chores.

Bringing order to the business – How the market got started

The first slave auction in New Amsterdam in 1655. By Howard Pyle 1917.

The first slave auction in New Amsterdam in 1655. By Howard Pyle 1917.
Howard Pyle (1917)

New York fell under British Control in 1664, and proved to be even bigger traders in human cargo, so that by the end of the century, there were 10,727 blacks in what is now New York City and Westchester County, with 77.3 percent of them being slaves.

You will notice from the above figures that not all the blacks were slaves. A small number were actually freedmen. New Yorkers in later years would say with a certain amount of pride that they treated their slaves with compassion and benevolence, much different than the slaves held by Southerners.

During this period, many families, to make extra money would send their slaves out into the city to rent themselves out, for short-term labor, and sometimes, for periods of several days. But city officials began to hear complaints from some of the whites that there were too many of the black laborers walking around on the streets, mingling with each other, and there were fears a rebellion could be brewing.

City fathers took the problem to heart and by 1711 had put an end to slaves roaming around looking for work for their master’s profit. A wooden pier had been constructed at the corner of Wall Street and the East River. It was soon to become known as the city’s slave market. Ships coming from the Caribbean would dock and the slaves would be marched through the streets to be sold at the Wall Street market. That market was to run for 51-years.

Because slaves were considered property, and were sold as such, interested buyers, and those “just interested,” could inspect the goods. This would lead to men inspecting the musculature of the men and doing a lot of inspecting of the women in their “private parts.” It was surely an indignity and ugly experience for the slaves.

New York City’s involvement in the slave trade rivaled the South

 Slave sale  Charleston  South Carolina   wood engraving  by an unknown engraver  page taken from th...

“Slave sale, Charleston, South Carolina,” wood engraving, by an unknown engraver, page taken from the Illustrated London News, 1856. Courtesy of the British Museum, London. It has been said that New York City’s slave market rivaled Charleston’s slave market.
unknown (after Eyre Crowe)

Chris Cobb, is an independent scholar, and contributed his knowledge in preparing the marker to be unveiled next month. Last year, he testified before City Council about the legacy of slavery in the city. Explaining how the city profited from the slave market, he said, “It was a city-run slave market because they wanted to collect tax revenue on every person who was bought and sold there,” he added, “And the city hired slaves to do work like building roads.” The slaves were a valuable asset, both for their monetary value, and the work they did.

Some people have even proposed that the city has benefited from the slave trade in many other ways over the centuries. Professor Alan Singer of Hofstra University points out that besides the Africans being responsible for building the city’s infrastructure, as in roads, canals, bridges and more, He says the city was a “major stop on the transport of sugar and cotton. So New York bankers and New York merchants were making money on the transport and the sale of slave-produced commodities.”

By the 1800s, before the start of the American Civil war, New York City was as important as Charleston, South Carolina in the Triangular Trade, a network that sent slaves and the goods they produced in a continuous journey across the Atlantic to England, then Africa and again to North America. New York’s ties to the slave trade only ended with the end of the Civil War.

But the slave market had been long gone already, for much of the same reasons that something considered an eyesore is demolished today. Back then, the slave market blocked a nice view of the river and was bringing down property values.



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Managing the Critical Voices Inside Your Head

At 8:20 am, my twelve-year-old daughter, Isabelle, was rushing to meet her ski group. She was 20 minutes late and stressed – she takes her skiing very seriously and was training for a race in a couple of days.Near the competition center, she ran into one of her coaches, Joey. He looked at her, then his watch. “If this were a race day,” he told her, with a disapproving scowl, “I would tell you to turn around and go home.”

His words stung and she burst into tears. A few moments later, she was greeted by another one of her coaches, Vicky, who saw how stressed she was.

“Honey, don’t worry,” she said. “This isn’t a race. It’s okay that you’re running a little late. You’ll just catch up with your group on top of the mountain.”

Two vastly different coaches, two vastly different responses. Who’s right? I bet you have an opinion.

But that’s not the point.

My advice to Isabelle? You will have Joeys in your life and you will have Vickys. They will show up as teachers, bosses, colleagues, and friends.

So, I said to her, it’s a good idea to get used to the different responses without getting thrown off balance. You can’t control how people respond to you, but you can control how you take them in and how you respond to them.

But let’s go one step deeper. The truth is, we all have a Joey and a Vicky inside, and they can both be useful.  Joey might seem unkind, but his high expectations and low tolerance for failure can be helpful in driving us to be our best. On the other hand, sometimes we need empathetic support. To some, Vicky may appear soft. But her comfort and reassurance can be useful, especially during times of stress.

Here’s the key: Be strategic and intentional about who you listen to  – and when – even if the voices are inside your head. In fact, especially if the voices are inside your head. Those can be the sneakiest. It’s pretty easy to call Joey a jerk and ignore him; it’s much harder to dismiss the voice in your head because, well, it’s you.

Try this tactic: when you hear the voices, give them names and personalities. Imagine a Joey on one side, a Vicky on the other.

  1. Notice the voices in your head as voices. A lot of the time, most of us simply believe what we hear – either from other people or from ourselves. If your inner voice calls you lazy, it’s hard not to think you’re lazy. It helps if you imagine it’s Joey calling you lazy instead.
  1. Resist the urge to judge whether the voices in your head are right. It’s impossible to know and it doesn’t matter anyway. Are you lazy? The truth is that you probably are, in some ways. And, in other ways, you’re not. But that’s not the right question.
  1. Instead, think about the outcome you want and ask this question: Is what this voice is saying — and how it’s saying it — useful right now? This is the same question you should be asking if you’re confronted by an actual Joey or Vicky. Is this voice helpful to me in this particular moment? If you think it’ll motivate you, listen to it. If it will demoralize you, don’t.

This is an important skill: the ability to ignore critical voices when they’re destructive, without discounting them entirely. They might be useful another time.

The goal is flexibility. Cultivate a varied group of critics and coaches, both internal and external. Be aware of who is speaking and when you should listen.

Comfort with multiple voices is particularly important if you are a manager. You need to be able to be Joey or Vicky, depending on the situation. Sometimes, people need to feel your high expectations and disapproval. Other times, they need your gentleness and empathy. Don’t default to one or the other. Pause to assess what’s needed and then make a choice.

“It’s hard,” Isabelle told me after we spoke about the different voices and messages they brought with them, “How do I stop from thinking Joey is just a jerk? Or that I’m lame for being late?”

“He might be a jerk and you may be lame,” I said, “but not because he said so. Here’s the question: Will you be more likely to be on time tomorrow because of what he said?”

“Yes,” she conceded. “But it felt terrible.”

“And, when you feel terrible, can you hear Vicky’s voice too?”

“Yes,” she said, beginning to smile.

“Then it’s a good thing you have two coaches,” I told her.

Because sometimes, both voices are the perfect combination.

Peter Bregman is CEO of Bregman Partners, a company that strengthens leadership in people and in organizations through programs (including the Bregman Leadership Intensive), coaching, and as a consultant to CEOs and their leadership teams. Best-selling author of 18 Minutes, his most recent book is Four Seconds (February 2015). To receive an email when he posts, click here.



The Best Leaders Are Insatiable Learners

Nearly a quarter century ago, at a gathering in Phoenix, Arizona, John W. Gardner delivered a speech that may be one of the most quietly influential speeches in the history of American business — a text that has been photocopied, passed along, underlined, and linked to by senior executives in some of the most important companies and organizations in the world. I wonder, though, how many of these leaders (and the business world more broadly) have truly embraced the lessons he shared that day.

Gardner, who died in 2002 at the age of 89, was a legendary public intellectual and civic reformer — a celebrated Stanford professor, an architect of the Great Society under Lyndon Johnson, founder of Common Cause and Independent Sector. His speech on November 10, 1990, was delivered to a meeting of McKinsey & Co., the consulting firm whose advice has shaped the fortunes of the world’s richest and most powerful companies. But his focus that day was on neither money nor power. It was on what he called “Personal Renewal,” the urgent need for leaders who wish to make a difference and stay effective to commit themselves to continue learning and growing. Gardner was so serious about this learning imperative, so determined that the message would get through, that he wrote the speech out in advance because he wanted “every sentence to hit its target.”

What was his message? “We have to face the fact that most men and women out there in the world of work are more stale than they know, more bored than they would care to admit,” he said. “Boredom is the secret ailment of large-scale organizations. Someone said to me the other day ‘How can I be so bored when I’m so busy?’ I said ‘Let me count the ways.’ Look around you. How many people whom you know well — people even younger than yourselves—are already trapped in fixed attitudes and habits?”

So what is the opposite of boredom, the personal attribute that allows individuals to keep learning, growing, and changing, to escape their fixed attitudes and habits? “Not anything as narrow as ambition,” Gardner told the ambitious McKinsey strategists. “After all, ambition eventually wears out and probably should. But you can keep your zest until the day you die.” He then offered a simple maxim to guide the accomplished leaders in the room. “Be interested,” he urged them. “Everyone wants to be interesting, but the vitalizing thing is to be interested…As the proverb says, ‘It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.’”

In these head-spinning times, even more so than when John Gardner offered his timeless advice, the challenge for leaders is not to out-hustle, out-muscle, or out-maneuver the competition. It is to out-think the competition in ways big and small, to develop a unique point of view about the future and get there before anyone else does. The best leaders I’ve gotten to know aren’t just the boldest thinkers; they are the most insatiable learners.

Roy Spence, perhaps the most interested (and interesting) advertising executive I’ve ever met, recently published a book called The 10 Essential Hugs of Life, a funny and moving take on the roots of success. Among his wise and folksy pieces of advice (“Hug your failures,” “Hug your fears,” “Hug yourself”) is a call to “Hug your firsts” — to seek out new sources of inspiration, to visit a lab whose work you don’t really understand, to attend a conference you shouldn’t be at. “When you’re a kid,” he says, “every day is full of firsts, full of new experiences. As you get older, your firsts become fewer and fewer. If you want to stay young, you have to work to keep trying new things.”

Spence cites as one of his inspirations management guru Jim Collins, who, as a young Stanford professor, sought advice and counsel from his learned colleague John Gardner. What did Spence learn from Collins? “You’re only as young as the new things you do,” he writes, “the number of ‘firsts’ in your days and weeks.” Ask any educator and they’ll agree: We learn the most when we encounter people who are the least like us. Then ask yourself: Don’t you spend most of your time with people who are exactly like you? Colleagues from the same company, peers from the same industry, friends from the same profession and neighborhood?

It takes a real sense of personal commitment, especially after you’ve arrived at a position of power and responsibility, to push yourself to grow and challenge conventional wisdom. Which is why two of the most important questions leaders face are as simple as they are profound: Are you learning, as an organization and as an individual, as fast as the world is changing? Are you as determined to stay interested as to be interesting? Remember, it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.


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How to Use Credit Cards Like the Wealthy

It seems like the wealthy wouldn’t have a need for credit cards since they can pay for everything with cash, right? Well, the wealthy didn’t get that way by leaving money on the table. They know that by using credit cards they can get big cash back for every purchase they make, up to 6%. But this strategy is not limited to the wealthy. All you have to do is use the right card for purchases that you’re going to make anyway. If you pay off your balance every month, you won’t be charged interest rates or late/penalty fees.

Those who want to maximize their earnings know to have a few “specialty” credit cards that give them the most cash back in different categories and to use those cards specifically in those categories, then have a general purpose card with a high base cash back rate they can use for everything else. For example, you can use a credit card that gives 6% cash back from supermarkets to do your grocery shopping, one that gives you 3% back on gas every time you fill your tank and one that gives you 2% on all purchases for everything else.

Best for Grocery Shopping: Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express

To maximize your earnings at the grocery store, get the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express. With this card, you’ll earn 6% cash back at supermarkets (for up to $6,000 in purchases annually), as well as 3% cash back for gas, 3% back at select department stores and 1% cash back on everything else. You’ll also get a $150 bonus when you spend $1,000 within the first three months, as well as a generous 0% intro APR for the first 15 months of card membership. This card does have a $75 annual fee, but it’s more than worth it for most cardholders. It placed first in our Cash Back Card Analysis.

Best for Gas: BankAmericard Cash Rewards Credit Card

If you commute every day or spend a lot of time in the car, you should get a card that gives you the most rewards on gas. The aforementioned Blue Cash Preferred card is a great choice for gas as well, since it gives 3% back for unlimited gas purchases. But for those that want to avoid that card’s $75 annual fee, the BankAmericard Cash Rewards Credit Card gives you 3% cash back on gas, 2% cash back on groceries (for the first $1,500 combined gas and grocery purchases each quarter) and 1% cash back on everything else with no annual fee. In addition, you get a 0% intro APR for the first 12 billing cycles, as well as a $100 bonus when you spend $500 within the first three months. Another way to make some extra money is to link your card to your Bank of America account so you’ll get an additional 10% cash back when you redeem your rewards directly into this account.

Best for All Other Purchases: Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard or Citi Double Cash Card

For those who want the convenience of one high cash back rate for all their purchases, or who just want to maximize cash back for purchases that fall outside of specific categories, there is the Citi Double Cash Card and Barclaycard Arrival Plus. Citi Double Cash gives you an effective 2% cash back on everything you buy with no annual fee.  We say “effective” because it gives you 1% back when you make the purchase and the other 1% when you pay for it (and for the math nerds, if you redeem for a statement credit instead of a check, you actually get 1.99% back).  Still, for most people, especially the wealthy who are sure to pay their full balance every month, this is 2% cash back, the highest base cash back rate we’ve ever seen for a consumer card.

For those who want to spend their rewards on travel purchases, you can’t beat Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. This card gives you effectively 2.2% cash back to spend on travel, which is the most overall rewards from any travel rewards card that we reviewed. It also offers 40,000 points when you spend $3,000 within the first three months, which basically equals $440 in travel expenses. Redemption is simple, you can simply apply your reward points as a statement credit against any travel purchase (hotel, air, rental car, etc.) so it really is like cash back to spend on travel. We should note that it does have an $89 annual fee but it’s waived the first year.

Best for Those With Less-Than-Perfect Credit:  Capital One Venture and Capital One Quicksliver

The cards we’ve mentioned so far require excellent credit (usually considered having a credit scorearound 750 or higher). But you can still get the benefits of a top-end card if your credit is merely “good” (usually around a 700 credit score) or average (around 650).  If your credit score is “good,” theCapital One Venture card will give you almost exactly the same benefits as Barclaycard Arrival Plus mentioned above. You can get the equivalent of a $400 intro bonus to spend on travel if you spend $3,000 on your card within the first three months.  You’ll also get 2% cash back to spend on travel for every purchase with no limits.  If you’re not sure you want to redeem your rewards for travel, Capital One Quicksilver will give you a straight 1.5% cash back on everything plus a $100 intro bonus when you spend just $500 within the first three months.

For those with merely “average” (a credit score of around 650 or higher) credit, the Barclaycard Rewards Mastercard can make you feel wealthy, giving you 2 points per $1 spent (effectively 2% cash back) on gas, grocery and utility purchases, and 1 point per $1 spent (effectively 1% cash back) on everything else.  Considering this card also has no annual fee, it’s our top pick for those with average credit.


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Curiosity Is as Important as Intelligence

There seems to be wide support for the idea that we are living in an “age of complexity”, which implies that the world has never been more intricate. This idea is based on the rapid pace of technological changes, and the vast amount of information that we are generating (the two are related). Yet consider that philosophers like Leibniz (17th century) and Diderot (18th century) were already complaining about information overload. The “horrible mass of books” they referred to may have represented only a tiny portion of what we know today, but much of what we know today will be equally insignificant to future generations.

In any event, the relative complexity of different eras is of little matter to the person who is simply struggling to cope with it in everyday life. So perhaps the right question is not “Is this era more complex?” but “Why are some people more able to manage complexity?” Although complexity is context-dependent, it is also determined by a person’s disposition. In particular, there are three key psychological qualities that enhance our ability to manage complexity: 

1. IQ: As most people know, IQ stands for intellectual quotient and refers to mental ability. What fewer people know, or like to accept, is that IQ does affect a wide range of real-world outcomes, such as job performance and objective career success. The main reason is that higher levels of IQ enable people to learn and solve novel problems faster. At face value, IQ tests seem quite abstract, mathematical, and disconnected from everyday life problems, yet they are a powerful tool to predict our ability to manage complexity. In fact, IQ is a much stronger predictor of performance on complex tasks than on simple ones.

Complex environments are richer in information, which creates more cognitive load and demands more brainpower or deliberate thinking from us; we cannot navigate them in autopilot (or Kahneman’s system 1 thinking). IQ is a measure of that brainpower, just like megabytes or processing speed are a measure of the operations a computer can perform, and at what speed. Unsurprisingly, there is asubstantial correlation between IQ and working memory, our mental capacity for handling multiple pieces of temporary information at once. Try memorizing a phone number while asking someone for directions and remembering your shopping list, and you will get a good sense of your IQ. (Unfortunately, researchshows that working memory training does not enhance our long-term ability to deal with complexity, though some evidence suggests that it delays mental decline in older people, as per the “use it or lose it” theory.)

2) EQ: EQ stands for emotional quotient and concerns our ability to perceive, control, and express emotions. EQ relates to complexity management in three main ways. First, individuals with higher EQ are less susceptible to stress and anxiety. Since complex situations are resourceful and demanding, they are likely to induce pressure and stress, but high EQ acts as a buffer. Second, EQ is a key ingredient of interpersonal skills, which means that people with higher EQ are better equipped to navigate complex organizational politics and advance in their careers. Indeed, even in today’s hyper-connected world what most employers look for is not technical expertise, but soft skills, especially when it comes to management and leadership roles. Third, people with higher EQ tend to be more entrepreneurial, so they are more proactive at exploiting opportunities, taking risks, and turning creative ideas into actual innovations. All this makes EQ an important quality for adapting to uncertain, unpredictable, and complex environments.

3) CQ: CQ stands for curiosity quotient and concerns having a hungry mind. People with higher CQ are more inquisitive and open to new experiences. They find novelty exciting and are quickly bored with routine. They tend to generate many original ideas and are counter-conformist. It has not been as deeply studied as EQ and IQ, but there’s some evidence to suggest it is just as important when it comes to managing complexity in two major ways. First, individuals with higher CQ are generally more tolerant of ambiguity. This nuanced, sophisticated, subtle thinking style defines the very essence of complexity. Second, CQ leads to higher levels of intellectual investment and knowledge acquisition over time, especially in formal domains of education, such as science and art (note: this is of course different from IQ’s measurement of raw intellectual horsepower). Knowledge and expertise, much like experience, translate complex situations into familiar ones, so CQ is the ultimate tool to produce simple solutions for complex problems.

Although IQ is hard to coach, EQ and CQ can be developed. As Albert Einstein famously said: ““I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an international authority in personality profiling and psychometric testing. He is a Professor of Business Psychology at University College London (UCL), Vice President of Research and Innovation at Hogan Assessment Systems, and has previously taught at the London School of Economics and New York University. He is co-founder of His book isConfidence: Overcoming Low Self-Esteem, Insecurity, and Self-Doubt.


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The Convict Settlement of Australia

Roderick Cameron explains how, during the 50 years that followed Governor Phillip’s landing at Botany Bay in 1788, convicts and free settlers turned New South Wales into a flourishing colony.

Women in England mourning their lovers who are soon to be transported to Botany Bay, 1792. National Library of AustraliaWomen in England mourning their lovers who are soon to be transported to Botany Bay, 1792. National Library of AustraliaWhen, in 1776, America declared her independence, England lost Virginia as a convict settlement. The Gold Coast was tried as an alternative, till transportation there was discovered to be the equivalent of a death-sentence; and, within a few years, English gaols became dangerously overcrowded. Captain Cook’s voyages suggested a solution of the problem; and Lord Sydney at the Home Office selected Botany Bay. Before Cook’s discovery of Australia’s Eastern shores, the whole vast Australian continent appears as an unfinished coast line, winding its vague way northwards towards the Gulf of Carpentaria, the uncharted spaces filled with dots. Cape York, still awaiting a name, lies doubled back, like a broken finger, against the Northern Territory; while the geography of Victoria and New South Wales is still a matter of speculation. Neither the Spanish nor the Dutch had shown any enthusiasm over their discoveries; and Dampier, describing New Holland in 1698, observes that the only pleasure he derived from his voyage was “the satisfaction of having found the most barren space on the face of this earth.”

It was, presumably, in a somewhat doubtful frame of mind that Governor Phillip set sail for the new colony, with a small fleet of eleven ships, six of which were convict-transports, the rest being a man-of-war, its tender and three supply ships. After a voyage that lasted exactly eight months, Botany Bay was sighted in February 1788; and, if one has oneself seen this forbidding country, it is not difficult to imagine the feelings of the men on board. Occasional spirals of smoke rising from native fires among the endless gum-trees were then, as now, the only signs of life in a desolate landscape that has never changed. Since Botany Bay proved too shallow an anchorage, the ships were forced to lie nearer the Heads, at the mercy of the great waves rolling in against them; and, during his search for a more suitable refuge, Governor Phillip discovered, to the north, the world’s most perfect natural harbour, calling it Sydney in honour of the Secretary of State, though Captain Cook, when he passed it by, had named the opening Port Jackson.

Many of the eight hundred male and female convicts had died on the outward voyage; more than a third of their number were ill with scurvy and other diseases; and they must have presented a sorry sight as they struggled with the hoary bush, hacking and sawing, the shouts of the two hundred soldiers who guarded them rising above the crash of trees. It is hostile, hard and cruel—this Australian bush. Everything that grows in it is tough.and spiky and will wound you if you touch it. Over low-growing plants and shrubs tower the gums, with their sun-refusing foliage, like dark, hardened flakes of rubber. The harsh sun pours down on them, and they stand up peeled and dry, incapable of tempering the glare. Indeed, their long curved leaves seem to intensify the light, reflecting it as it slides off their pointed ends, as from a thousand mirrors, to splinter on the ground below—a ground so dry that it echoes at every step with the sound of cracking twigs.

Once the bush had been conquered, and the land cleared for cultivation, the alarming discovery was made that none of the new settlers knew anything of farming—except for a single man, a servant in the Governor’s suite. Without his advice their labour would have been completely fruitless. As it was, the farming in which they engaged was of the very rudest kind. Even a highly experienced man could have done little to direct so many. The officers and soldiers might be smart enough on parade, but they were completely useless at farm work; while the convicts devoted all their ingenuity to robbing the stores or picking one another’s pockets. Only a trifling crop was raised; and to increase their difficulties, everything they used had to be imported; for no plant they found in Australia could be, or ever has been, coaxed into edibility; no animal indigenous to Australia yields milk fit for human consumption, and no native tree has ever been persuaded to bear better fruit.

Such were the inauspicious beginnings of the new Australian settlement. “Enterprise and dexterity,” writes one of the early settlers, “are, undoubtedly, valuable qualities in one who proposes to strike out for himself a new existence in a new and rough country; but the skill and nerve not to mention the frankness of the promising youngster who boasted of having picked his mother’s pocket while both were spectators at his father’s execution are not precisely those calculated to adorn or profit a rising community.” The Home Office, nevertheless, persisted in their hopes that the convict element, when reformed, would become the nucleus of its new domain. The first settlement had, perforce, a somewhat ephemeral air. The Governor occupied a canvas building. Behind him were encamped those women convicts whose innocence, according to his view, still deserved protection; and in front of him he set up the commissariat store, which he judged equally in need of his personal surveillance. While the officers lived in marquees, the convicts ran up wattle and daub huts, thatched with cabbage tree palm or rushes. Yet slowly the colony grew; and, when next we catch sight of Sydney, it is a white town set amid gardens and orchards. Pleasant villas push their way out into the scrub; so little is there to indicate a foreign clime, one might almost imagine oneself on the outskirts of Brighton or Cheltenham. The only concession to geography are the verandas that relieve the simplicity of private houses, and the brilliant caged parrots which adorn almost every window.

Lachlan Macquarie, appointed Governor of New South Wales in 1810, fresh from a successful army career in India and a short governorship in Ceylon, was exactly the type of man that growing Australia needed. A nabob, who arrived in this harsh new world with all the paraphernalia of his rank, he made astonishing progress during his twelve years of governorship. Besides constructing some two hundred buildings—from cottages to guard-barracks for a thousand men—he left New South Wales with three hundred miles of turnpikes and carriage roads. Macquarie was responsible, moreover, for the creation of eleven townships, most of them raised from the wilderness; and it is interesting to remember that he employed a convict-architect—Francis Howard Greenway, who had previously practised in Bristol. Extravagant, unable to resist the temptation of buying works of art, Greenway had run deeply into debt and been adjudged a bankrupt. Tried, and sentenced to fourteen years’ imprisonment for concealing his effects at bankruptcy, he had been transported to Sydney in the year 1814.

Owing to the shortage of skilled labour, it was the practice in the convict settlements to grant artisans, accountants, and farm labourers, providing that their conduct warranted it, what was called a “ticket-of-leave”. Since few of the convicts were desperate characters, it was a practice widely adopted, and meant that the convict chosen was, to a great extent, free. Although not allowed to quit a particular district without the Governor’s permission, he was at liberty to behave, to all intents and purposes, as if he had been pardoned. Emancipation was the next step up the ladder—freedom granted when his sentence had run out or he had received a direct pardon. No pardon, however, could be granted unless the wrong-doer had served at least a part of his sentence. To the colonists themselves, this supply of labour was an inestimable boon. It also relieved the treasury from the expense of maintenance, separated the convicts, and associated the better-conducted of them with reputable families.

Twenty years after the original settlement, the first object upon which the visitor’s eye alighted in an Australian town was its gaol, or “factory”—an imposing two-storied edifice built of brick. The census of 1833 gives the population of New South Wales as just over sixty thousand, twenty-five thousand of whom were convicts; and it was still a common sight to pass chain-gangs of silent, grey-clad labourers clanking along with a straddling gait, their close-cut hair covered with leather caps—each x marked with his number and the name of his station in large letters on his back. The disproportion of the sexes in the total population was remarkable—some forty-five thousand men as opposed to fifteen thousand women. This led to the habit of using the female “factories” as marriage markets; and in the Mitchell Library in Sydney there is an account of a visit paid with matrimonial intentions by a respectable farmer. At the entrance of the factory he was received by a dignified matron with a large bunch of keys, who conducted him to the central yard where fifty or sixty young women were lined up for his inspection. They were dressed in grey duffle with white mob caps, under which protruded, untidy wisps of short-cropped hair. As he passed down the ranks, the poor creatures saluted him with curtsies. Not a word was spoken. The farmer does not tell us whether or not he found a wife, but one gets the impression that he did not much enjoy his visit.

From the yard he was taken round to see the several courts, the solitary cells, the hospital and dormitories; and in one of the yards he was shown the more troublesome and notorious characters. The visiting-surgeon of the establishment had just found it necessary to prescribe half-rations, and a gende treatment of ipecacuanha, to a ferocious giantess who had let fly at him with a fine display of Billingsgate oaths. In another yard, he came across a group of women with their illegitimate children. They were sitting in an open shed sheltering from the sun, while they watched over some wooden cribs in each of which lay three or four babies, stowed away, head to tail, like sardines; others were curling about like a litter of kittens in a basket of straw. Another part of the prison was devoted to laundry work, with squads of women up to their elbows in suds, some displaying their thick ankles as they spread the linen over the drying lines.

As he was escorted along the avenues of solitary cells, there was a great unlocking of massive doors, in one of which a woman was carding, while in another a woman was combing wool. A third cell was opened and found to be in complete darkness. “It seemed empty,” writes the farmer, “so I passed within the door better to examine its contents. It looked like the den of a wolf, and I almost started back when from the extreme end of the floor I found a pair of bright, flashing eyes fixed on mine. Their owner arose and took a step or two forward. It was a small, slight and quite young girl—very beautiful in feature and complexion—but it was the fierce beauty of the wildcat.” At no period of his life, confessed the honest fellow, would he have “shared for half an hour the cell of that sleek little savage.” As the heavy door slammed in her face, and the strong bolts shot in the groove, the turnkey informed her visitor that this was one of the most refractory and unmanageable characters in the prison.

In 1840, we find that twenty-one thousand convicts were assigned to private service; and a further census taken in 1849 shows a free population of two hundred and forty-three thousand versus four thousand convicts. Meanwhile, free grants of land having been offered to encourage settlers, the population had swelled and the new colony was expanding. Tasmania was discovered, and a road wound its way over the Blue Mountains to the interior. Melbourne was founded, then Adelaide. At last, Australia has become the compact land mass familiar to us in our atlas. Once she established herself and her commercial future had been assured by the production of magnificent wool, the colony developed national pride, and began to display some sensitiveness on the subject of her humble origins. As the result of a petition to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, transportation was temporarily suspended in 1840, and finally abolished in 1850. Backed by the clergy, the Colonial Council had managed to convince the authorities at home “of the moral and social evil inherent in a penal colony and of the degradation attached to it in the opinion of mankind at large.” The “Hashemy”— “that Floating Hell,” as popular orators called her, with her “cargo of moral poison”—was the last convict-ship to drop anchor in Sydney Harbour. Exactly sixty-one years had elapsed since Governor Phillip had planted the Union Jack on precisely the spot where this last shipment of convicts now landed.

“Convict,” thenceforward, was a word seldom heard in New South Wales. The transportee was referred to as “a pensioner of the Crown,” an “old Hand,” a “Government Man,” or was merely described as having been “sent out.” These euphemisms were employed not so much for the benefit of the actual offenders as to spare the feelings of their descendants. Macquarie, with his liberal rule, had shown the way. Officers of the garrison were continually complaining of having to dine at Government House in the company with convicts, “dubious characters that one would avoid in the street”; and Macquarie was even accused of preferring their company. They may, indeed, have been more amusing, more nimble-witted than many officials and free colonists. A settler newly arrived in Sydney, say in the year 1840, must have been curious, and perhaps uneasy, regarding the degree of influence exerted on the social system by the numerous body of affluent emancipists; and here is a contemporary account by Colonel Mundy, Deputy Adjutant-General in Australia, author of Our Antipodes, of the situation as he knew it.

“It seems almost incredible (writes Colonel Mundy) that, living in the very midst of this community—in many cases in equal and even superior style to what may be called the aristocracy—possessing some of the handsomest residences in the city and suburbs— warehouses, counting houses, banking establishments, shipping, immense tracts of land, flocks and herds, enjoying all the political and material immunities in common with those possessing equal fortunes, of the more reputable classes—they are, nevertheless, a class apart from the untainted.

There is a line of demarcation by them peremptorily impassable. The impudent and pushing, and these are few, are repelled. The unobtrusive and retiring are not encouraged. Their place on the social scale is assigned and circumscribed. They have, humanly speaking, expiated their crimes, whatever these may have been, the nature of them has, probably, never passed beyond the record of the Superintendent’s office. They belong indeed to the common flock; but they are the black sheep of it. They are treated with humanity and consideration, but in a certain degree they are compelled to herd together.

The merchants and men of business generally meet them on equal terms in the negotiation of affairs in which their wealth, intelligence, and commercial weight sometimes necessarily involve them. They do not presume on this partial admission to equality, but fall back into their prescribed position when the business which has called the two orders into temporary contact has been completed. Official juxtaposition does not bring with it any plea for social intimacy… As I write this,” continues the Colonel, “there passes my window a well-known individual of this class in a smart new barouche, with a showy pair of horses caparisoned in plated harness, and a coachman and page in livery and laced hats.”

The brand was bound to wear out in the course of time; in fact, this is precisely what has happened; for it would be difficult at the present day to trace any family among Australia’s seven and a half millions whose ancestors are known quite definitely to have been convicts. Many of them, I am told, disabled by the hardships they had endured, died without issue.

Thus began the immense development of the post-convict period. Sydney grew from an outpost into a large modern city. Macquarie had rechristened her streets; Sergeant-Major’s Row became George Street after the King, and Windmill Alley Castlereagh Street. A town with Sydney’s future, he argued, could not go through life with so plebeian a nomenclature. There were, of course, frequent reminders of the Governor himself; while, beyond George Street, spread a network of streets named after royal dukes, Clarence, York, Kent, Essex, Cambridge and Cumberland. From an obelisk, erected in Macquarie Place, the mileage was measured, and new thoroughfares radiated out into the fast developing hinterland. The monotonous bush, subjected to the axe, took on a more gracious aspect. Rivers, banked with willows, meandered through rolling fields, and cattle grazed in rich pastures.

Driving today around the country, through the early grants developed by Australia’s leading families, one is astonished by the number of charming old houses, churches and inns. Since ships still took three months or more to reach Australia from Europe, building fashions were necessarily slow to change; and, well on into the Victorian era, the colony was still living fifteen or twenty-five years behind the times. Instead of the bad taste that had begun to manifest itself in English domestic architecture, we see Ionic colonnades of golden-yellow stone, six-panelled doors and twelve-panel windows. The sun filtering through circular bays falls on stone-flagged floors. Handsome cornices frame white plaster ceilings. From the shade of white porches we look out on to cloud-capped plains. As new townships extended in an ever-widening circle, explorers investigated the interior, and brought back reports of the excellent grazing in the great central deserts. Gold was discovered. Convicts became a thing of the past, a legend almost, a subject for humour. Australians today rarely speak of them. They have simply been forgotten. It is only the visitor who shows a certain curiosity.




The Key to a Good-Paying Job Is…Microsoft Excel?


Could this be the ticket to a good-paying job?

iStockphoto/Getty Images

Want a job that promises a living wage and a good shot at a middle-class life? LearnMicrosoft MSFT +0.13% Excel and other basic digital skills.

That’s the conclusion of a report released Thursday by Burning Glass Technologies, a labor-market analysis firm that reviewed millions of job postings to understand which skills companies expect workers to have. The report focuses on middle-skill jobs – roles that require a high school diploma but not necessarily a college degree.

Some 78% of these jobs, or about 6.3 million open positions, call for some fluency with technology, Burning Glass found. Those positions are also the most promising in terms of pay and job creation, including occupations in healthcare, technology, and operations.

The most commonly required skills are also the most basic ones: spreadsheet and word-processing software such as Microsoft Corp.’s Excel and Word, or the software from SAP SE SAP +0.14% and Oracle Corp.ORCL +0.36%, which large companies use to manage things like finances and human resources. (A worthwhile aside: Planet Money’s deep dive into the history of the spreadsheet.) Such expertise has become critical for office and administrative positions, retail supervisors, and store managers, among others.

Sixty-seven percent of middle-skill jobs demand proficiency with these tools.

“Effectively, entire segments of the U.S. economy are off-limits to people who don’t have basic digital skills,” the report notes.

Positions that require basic digital skills tend to pay 13% more than jobs that require no digital chops: median pay of $22.66 per hour versus $20.14 per hour.

Roles calling for advanced digital skills, such as customer relationship management (CRM) software like that offered by Inc.CRM +1.05% or a design tool like Adobe Systems Inc.ADBE +0.92%’s Photoshop, pay even more: a median of $27.73 per hour.

Middle-skill jobs have become the holy grail to economists who are concerned that the U.S labor market is becoming “hollowed out,” with employers adding mostly low-wage jobs for the two-thirds of workers without a college degree and high-paying jobs for graduates, but few jobs in between that can build and sustain a middle class.

The digital revolution has hardly affected prospects for workers in fields like transportation, construction and installation/repair. But wages and growth are lagging in those occupations, Burning Glass found, suggesting that middle-skill careers in healthcare, financial operations, sales, and management offer far more career and earnings potential.

The findings about basic skills should ease some worries among people who have become convinced that workers are sunk unless they learn to code. In fact, the report suggests that schools and other training sites should go back to the basics as they think about developing the future workforce:

Important challenges are being overlooked in the debate over how to invest in education and training. That debate often centers on high-tech industries, sophisticated computer skills (coding, for example), or specialized skill development for particular occupations. To be sure, these more advanced skills also represent important areas for workforce investment, but clearly a focus on the basics—such as widely used productivity applications and social media tools—would pay significant dividends for many workers.

Burning Glass reviewed nationwide job postings collected from December 2013 to November 2014. It defines middle-skill jobs as “those with less than 80% of job postings calling for a bachelor’s degree and with a median hourly wage above the national living wage of $15.” Part of the reason for the 80% cut-off score is that employers in recent years have exhibited “credential creep,” demanding college degrees for positions where the skills required don’t suggest a degree should be necessary.

The report was commissioned by Capital One Financial Corp.COF +0.20%, which on Thursday also announced that it will invest $150 million over five years in efforts to train mostly low-income individuals in digital skills via partnerships with technology school General Assembly and Grovo Learning Inc., a website that offers short training videos focused on skills such as using Google GOOGL +0.45% Analytics and Microsoft Office.

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