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By Rashad Phillips

When it comes to the topic of saving money, I hear quite a bit of excuses: I just don’t make enough money to save. I have to treat myself with a few nice things. My kids can’t live without Polo or Jordan’s. After researching and learning how slaves saved, I can only imagine how slaves would react if they were to hear the excuses of their distant offspring.

Slaves, unlike many of us, actually made money and saved it to earn their freedom and start businesses. Surprised?

When most people think of enslaved Africans who were brought to America, they think of ignorant, unskilled, uncivilized, and primitive people who were forced to work for a slave master. Also, many people believe that enslaved Africans had no economic power and held no assets (money, land, or resources). The previously mentioned beliefs contribute to a lack of self-worth and an inferiority complex within the African-American community.

African slaves were brought to the Americas because of their agricultural knowledge and skilled labor. In 1860, prior to the end of American slavery, the economic value of all the enslaved Africans in the United States was estimated at $4 billion. The slaves’ economic value was greater than all the real estate in the United States of America. In short, slaves were one of the most valuable assets in the United States.

Slaves weren’t as ignorant as they were often portrayed in literature and movies. The Georgia Historical Society has documents which proved that slaves owned property. At the time, Georgia laws required that the slave have a person similar to a trustee to protect the slave’s property interest. Also, slaves were allowed to rent their skills out to other plantation owners.

The slaves would negotiate an agreement with their slave master to share the profits from renting out their services. Slaves would use the profits from renting out their skills, to purchase seeds and other required items to grow crops. Also, the slaves would negotiate with their master for a small space to grow their own crops. The slaves would take their crops to sell at the local market.

This process of renting themselves out, investing their money in seeds, and saving the profits was how slaves were able to purchase their freedom. While at the market, slaves had the option of spending their earnings on a variety of items, but slaves preferred to invest their money into seeds. The slaves knew that saving and investing was their road to freedom.

According to the “The African American Financial Experience” a study released by Prudential Financial, African-Americans aren’t saving enough money. When Prudential Financial asked why they weren’t saving, the respondents said they didn’t have the resources to save. Also the survey found that 35 percent of African-Americans dream of starting a small business but they reported that they lacked the start-up capital to make their dream a reality.

I’m almost certain that the slaves would ask the following question of free American-Americans: How are you free but you save less than slaves? How do you have access to financial information but when it comes to money you are dumber than slaves? Why are you physically free but you are enslaved by massive loans and credit card bills? Why do you have less of an entrepreneurial spirit than slaves? As a community, I think we owe our ancestors answers to the previous questions.

I hope that this article will challenge American-Americans to revisit their views on slavery and rethink how many slaves earned their freedom. Hopefully this article will create conversation within the African-American community and stimulate the desire to begin to save money, invest earning, and reclaim our entrepreneurial spirit.

Rashad Phillips is a Certified Financial Coach and a Tax Accountant. For additional information about this article contact Phillips at

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