Saturday, June 24, 2017

"California’s Wine Industry was Built on Slave Labor"

The discovery of a gold nugget on the American River in 1848 prompted thousands of men to leave their homes and jobs, and rush to California’s gold fields in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. So many people were panning for treasure in the hopes of making it rich, quick, that there was nobody left to harvest grapes and other crops, even though the demand for food was great.

California, which had been part of Mexico until 1848, tried to solve the labor shortage in the spring of 1850 with a law that essentially enslaved Native Americans so they could be put to work in the vineyards.

Nicknamed the Indian Indenture Act, which was, in fact, the very first legislation that the state passed, cruelly stripped California’s Native Americans of most of their rights. It allowed any white man to identify a Native American as vagrant, lazy, or drunk, which would permit a marshal or sheriff to arrest and fine him. Since most Native Americans could not pay theses fines, a week’s worth of their labor would be auctioned off to the highest bidder, who would then pay the fines. The Native Americans couldn’t protest against their treatment because the law also prohibited them from testifying against white men in court