A People's History of the United States Questions and Answers
by Howard Zinn

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What is Zinn's main argument in Chapter 2 of A People's History of the United States?

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In chapter 2 of A People's History of the United States, entitled "Drawing the Color Line," Howard Zinn argues that the first black Americans, though technically considered servants, were likely treated like slaves from the time they were first brought to Virginia in 1619. Zinn also asserts that the circumstances in Jamestown agitated in the direction of the rapid institutionalization of racism and race-based slavery. Food was scarce, but the white settlers were not inclined to work and could not entirely enslave the local native population. They needed someone to farm corn for their subsistence and to grow tobacco, which they had begun to plant in 1617, for export. The black Africans had already been treated as slaves by the Spaniards and the Dutch for about one hundred years, so there was a precedent for enslaving blacks. Furthermore, the English settlers were in desperate straits and likely embarrassed at their inability to use their proclaimed "cultural superiority" to their material...

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