Right now, cotton growers get 500-600 pounds of cotton out of an acre (source). At peak production, slave owners claimed to be getting 1,000 pounds of cotton an acre.
Which means we still don’t have a machine that picks cotton as well as a person.
This is at the heart of what Baptist means when he points out that we’re lying to ourselves when we say that slavery would have just gone away in thirty or forty more years. Even assuming that the U.S. wouldn’t have found a million other things to do with an enslaved workforce, some forms of agriculture see John Henry winning against the machine every time. All the time.
Still, if we were willing to do to the cotton pickers what was done to the cotton pickers in the 1000 pound an acre days.
That, to me, is the second most chilling thing about the book (1. being how important liberty was to white men and how, even with that goal and that philosophy in their hearts, it was so very rare for a white man whose goal was liberty to even consider the possibility of anyone not in that category as being a part of the project of this country, as it exists to make men free) is how easily it would have been, how likely it was, for slavery to continue and to spread country-wide.
It is really almost a fluke–just an overstep on the part of the South–that lead us to war and thus to ending slavery.
When you think of how very likely it was that slavery would continue and expand, how, if the scenario played out 100 times, 95 of them probably would have ended with continued enslavement of black people, it feels no wonder that we’re still so fucked up about race and unable to see our way out of it.