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With disbelief and sometimes sorrow, I listen to poor blacks and their welfare-state advocates give one excuse after another for dependency.

During the boom of the 1980s, some said they knew where work was available but complained it took too much commute time, or they had no one to take care of their kids, or it was a low-pay dead-end job. Life doesn't always deal a fair hand, but you just don't sit, surrender and rest on excuses. The least fair hand was dealt to our enslaved ancestors. But let's look at some of their responses, with an eye toward asking: How much sympathy should we have for those among their descendants who whine and make excuses?Historian Loren Schweninger's book, "Black Property Owners in the South: 1790-1915," gives numerous stories like: "Two ambitious Charles Town bricklayers, Tony and Primus, who spent their days building a church under the supervision of their master, secretly rented themselves to local builders at night and on weekends."

Several slaves owned by plantation owner John Liddell worked all day in the field. Under the cover of darkness, they'd steal away to work for wages, returning to the field the next morning to put in another day's work. When Liddell discovered this, he sought legal action, telling his lawyer, "I request that you would forthwith proceed to prosecute John S. Sullivan of Troy Parish of Catahoula for hiring four of my Negro men, secretly, and without my knowledge or permission, at midnight on the 12th of August last 1849 (or between midnight and day)."

In Tennessee, it was illegal for a slave to practice medicine; however, a slave called "Doctor Jack" practiced with "great & unparalleled success" even though he was forced to give a sizable portion of his earnings to his owner. After his owner's death, Doctor Jack set up practice in Nashville. White patients valued his services so much they petitioned the state Legislature, saying: "The undersigned citizens of Tennessee respectfully petition the Honourable Legislature of the State to repeal, amend or so modify the Act of 1831, which prohibits Slaves from practicing medicine, as to exempt from its operation a Slave named Jack, the property of William H. Macon, Esq., of Fayette County."

Many women were found among slave entrepreneurs. They established stalls and small stores. They managed tiny businesses as seamstresses, laundresses and weavers. A Maryland slave recalled, "After my father was sold, my master gave my mother permission to work for herself, provided she gave him one-half (of the profits)." She ran two businesses - a coffee shop at an army garrison and a secondhand store selling trousers, shoes, caps and other items. In the face of protests by poor whites, she "made quite a respectable living."

Black history is full of examples of people making a bad situation better. But compare the message then with today's. An 1848 black convention in New York resolved, "To be dependent is to be degraded. Men may pity us, but they cannot respect us.