A Student of History

January 24, 2007

Slavery History News bits….

Due to time constraints, I am just posting a brief blurb and a link to some news stories about slavery I saw on the web:

The Virginia lawmaker who caused an uproar last week by questioning the need for a state apology for slavery proposed a measure Monday that would commemorate the freeing of the last U.S. slaves in June 1865.  Article in Wash. Post.

Are slave quilts “a myth, bordering on a hoax,” as David Blight of Yale U. says?  The quilt theory was first published in the 1999 book “Hidden in Plain View,” by Jacqueline Tobin, a journalist and college English instructor from Denver, and Raymond Dobard, a quilting and African textiles expert. These are supposed to be quilts with messages in them to help slaves get to the Underground Railway, but they have come under suspicion.  Click here.

See HNN for a story about Clarksville school officials who say they have ordered teachers to end a role-playing exercise on slavery for elementary students after a teacher complained one student took her role as a slave master too seriously.


  1. The study of the history of slavery should be just that – an actual study of the actual history of slavery and not just those bits and pieces that fit the p.c. mold. For instance, a book written by three Hartford (Connecticut) Courant journalists, Anne Farrow, Joel Lang and Jenifer Frank entitled ‘Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged and Profited from Slavery’ would be a good beginning especially for those who believe that the South alone was involved in that institution.

    Secondly, the origins and continuing history of slavery ON THE AFRICAN CONTINENT should also be explored. It might interest some people to learn that Africans sold their fellow Africans – albeit those from different tribes – into slavery and/or kept them as slaves themselves. Neither the Arab nor the European started the trade; they merely found it in place and profited by it.

    Third, it might be of interest to learn that slavery was not limited to African Americans nor is it ‘extinct’ on that continent while sexual slavery exists today in many parts of the world, especially in the Far East.

    Fourth, it might be of interest to learn that in the ante-bellum South, many free Negroes owned and trafficked in slaves. Also, in some situations, high ranking slaves had their OWN slaves and frequently were more cruel than those who owned them.

    Fifth, it might be of interest to learn that the position on the ‘equality’ of the Negro at the time of the ACW was the same in both the North AND the South. Contrary to what has been presented over the years, the Union was hardly a hotbed of egalitarianism or toleration. Prior to the war, some Northern states passed laws forbidding Negroes to migrate to those states to live. Indeed, Illinois – the “Land of Lincoln” was one such state – and there were others. Plans for the newly freed slaves included returning them to Africa or settling them in colonies established for that purpose in the West Indies. A fairly recent Civil War magazine ran an article on one such colony and its fate. It is also interesting to note that in the ‘Grand Review’ of the Army of the Republic, NO ‘colored regiment’ participated despite having served valiantly in the cause of the Union.

    And, of course, there is no doubt of Lincoln’s own positions vis a vie slavery. He was willing to accept the institution and even to guarantee its continuence in the South to preserve the Union. When that did not work, he still waited a considerable time before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation which freed slaves ONLY in the Confederate states. Slaves held by those who lived in states like Kentucky which had remained in the Union were not included in that document. Furthermore, upon issuance of the Proclamation, many Northern soldiers simply went home and some even went over to the Confederate side. One, Sergeant James Ames of New York, deserted and joined the 43rd Battalion Partisan Rangers of the Army of Northern Virginia. Ames stated that he had joined up to preserve the Union, not to fight for what he called ‘the eternal Negro’. Many other soldiers and their officers were of the same mind and Lincoln was roundly criticized for placing the morale of the Union cause and its armies in jeopardy by turning the conflict into one about ending slavery rather than the preservation of the Union. Unlike some other facts about the history of slavery, these are well known and documented albeit hardly ever referenced when the matter is under discussion.

    If this matter is ever to be resolved, it is not enough for just SOME people to acknowledge wrongdoing and admit blame if not personally, then at least historically. EVERYONE who wishes the matter to be fully aired must be willing to abandon some long cherished – and altogether wrong – conceptions and beliefs. Only in that way can there be a factual, reasonable and humane discourse on the subject leading, hopefully, to its final ‘resting place’ as one of those dark chapters in human history. However, if it continues to be a club with which to beat SOME people, the response is not going to be one of reason, but one of anger and nothing will be accomplished but continued bitterness and ignorance.

    Comment by Valerie Protopapas — January 24, 2007 @ 8:29 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks for writing your comments, but to be honest, much of what you mention in points 1-5 are in fact quite well known, certainly in the academic world, if not by the general populace. I have used a number of different text books throughout my teaching and every one of them does in fact raise these points. When you write that “It might interest some people to learn…” it implies that many are unaware of your (valid) points. I think many indeed are….

    Comment by John Maass — January 25, 2007 @ 12:24 am | Reply

  3. I never intended to suggest that these facts are obscure – to the educated or those desiring to BE educated. I have no credentials academically but have managed to learn them, so they can hardly be THAT obscure. On the other hand, however, they are hardly well known to the general public and I applaud you for teaching them as knowledge is a powerful tool in overcoming demagoguery and mendacity.

    But let us be honest here. These debates and disputes are carried on by people who often are familiar only with the misconceptions and falsehoods that exist on – and are perpetrated by – BOTH sides of the issue. Sometimes those involved are honest souls who are merely misinformed and, once educated to the facts, reassess their former positions. On the other hand, there are also those for whom the facts are of little or no importance relative to their long held and well cherished ‘beliefs’ and to these they adhere in the face of ALL evidence to the contrary. Unfortunately, I believe that the debate about slavery seems to be carried on in the latter rather than the former spirit – and that is why there seems to be no ‘headway’ in the matter despite the passage of so many years. No issue can be resolved by faulty reasoning and spurious information nor can people who are committed to both find any ‘common ground’ on which to agree.

    The problem is that the issue is carried forward generation after generation without the serious scholarship and rational objectivity necessary to achieve some resolution with regard to just what happened and why. Indeed, with the passage of years, the arguments coming from BOTH sides seem no different despite the considerable knowledge accrued over the years, knowledge that you yourself have taught and people like myself are able to access IF the desire for facts and truth is present.

    In other words, people who have no ‘vested interest’ in the debate and are not trying to foist a particular point of view on the public and history – and therefore can BE ‘objective’ – are often not the people framing the debate! Consider how much information has been and is being promulgated that is designed to foist upon the public one side or the other of the debate. Now consider the number of scholars who are actually attempting to reasonably and factually define the issue (not many, surely) and note that they are often castigated by BOTH sides for appearing to favor the OTHER side in the debate.

    None of the above conditions would ordinarily be problematic except for the fact that this matter involves the issue of race – a ‘hot button’ subject in our politically correct world. A ‘white’ author or historian who attempts to show that the issue of slavery was not nearly so straightforward or ‘simple’ as some believe (and have taught), is liable to be labeled a ‘racist’ no matter how impeccable his scholarship. If the author’s research cannot be imputed, then his MOTIVES will be if he doesn’t ‘toe the party line’.

    This is somewhat less of a problem for those on the other side of the issue, but it exists there as well, the only difference being that the ‘other side’ is itself politically incorrect and therefore lacks the necessary ‘clout’ in the public forum to bring home its assertions. Indeed, castigation by those who are perceived as lacking the necessary ‘sensitivity’ towards slavery can itself be a ‘boost’ for the ‘offending’ historian and/or author; the concept of ‘the enemy of my enemy’, comes into play here.

    Again, I do not believe that the matter can be defined, determined and ultimately resolved until a wholly objective study is made that includes many hitherto ignored or unknown elements, most specifically to my mind the fact that the enslavement of Africans began in AFRICA, not Europe. However, this point of view is seen as particularly egregious by some because it removes the very simple (and therefore useful) concept of ‘white on black’ tyranny. When those who instituted, practiced and profited from slavery are no longer limited to European or American WHITES, that nice, comfortable and useful concept goes by the boards and slavery becomes the difficult and complex issue that it actually is. Unfortunately, more people seem to prefer simplicity to reality – and that was the point of my original post.

    Comment by Valerie Protopapas — January 25, 2007 @ 11:33 am | Reply

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