A Student of History

January 26, 2007

Virginia, Slavery and Saying Sorry

Following up on an earlier post on Lee’s 200th Birthday, in which I mentioned a Va. assemblyman who said that blacks should “get over it” when it comes to slavery, there’s been some more news.  Turns out the delegate, Frank Hargrove of Hanover Co., “had a great-grandfather who owned a slave,” according to a news item in the Richmond Times Dispatch

Is it really “news” that old Virginia families owned slaves?  The RTD seems to want us to think that.  This is not to say that it was OK, good, positive, etc., just that we should be shocked at the notion that we should be surprised that people in Va. owned slaves!  Hargrove’s comments:

Hargrove’s great-grandfather owned a slave. An 1850 slave schedule lists Nathan D. Hargrove, a 22-year-old Henrico County resident, as owning a 60-year-old female slave.

Hargrove previously had said he didn’t know whether any of his ancestors had owned slaves. Yesterday, after asked by Times-Dispatch reporters about the genealogical research, Hargrove said he wasn’t surprised and that there could be others.

“I didn’t know that. I never heard that. That’s probably true,” he said of his great-grandfather.

Hargrove opposes an apology for slavery.  He also said that asking the state to apologize for slavery is akin to asking Jews to apologize for killing Christ. For an opinion piece in today’s RTD, click here.


  1. You know, if you go back far enough, you’ll find that mankind as a whole did things of which today we disapprove but in those days were considered perfectly natural and normal. Egyptian kings married their sisters to keep the blood line pure. Today, we look aghast at such goings on. Certain primitive tribes ate their enemies for ‘religious’ reasons. Of course, aside from the occasional nutcase, we frown upon ‘long pig’ being placed on the menu. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Europeans and Americans (North and South) owned slaves or ‘indentured servants’. It was the way things were and no one – even those who opposed the institution of slavery – considered it to be amazing or unusual.

    The problem with all of the contretemps visited upon us today is that far too many people are making judgments about the actions of those who lived in the past in light of our present moral ethic. This is not only foolish, but wrong. Just in law one cannot be accused of a crime that was NOT a crime at the time of its commission, so too one cannot pass judgement on people using criteria that did not exist during the time in which they lived.

    Parenthetically, if the process were to be reversed, we might find that WE fall far short of the moral ethic existing in THEIR time especially with regard to our present culture’s abandonment of ‘moral absolutes’ which has certainly contributed to the dishonesty and corruption that seems prevelent in just about all of our cultural institutions.

    But be that as it may, we may not only NOT pass judgment on people whose cultural mores permitted their behavior, we cannot use that legitimate behavior to belabor and condemn their descendents because it defies OUR cultural mores. Again, to do so is not only totally unreasonable but downright wrong. Whether or not the family of the gentleman in question owned slaves is irrelevant. Worse, the very attempt to address that question presupposes its legitimacy in the current debate. Only that man’s involvement in the slave trade – which, by the way, still exists – is of any relevance here.

    Should Southerners ‘apologize’ for slavery? Only if everyone else including the Africans who sold black slaves to whites, the New England mariners who ran the ‘Triangle Trade’ (molasses to rum to slaves), the governments – including that of the United States – which permitted the trade and everyone else who was complicit in the matter ALSO apologize. But since no one who actually WAS involved in slavery (at least the particular type of slavery under discussion) still lives, it is pointless to demand that the descendents of only ONE aspect of the institution ‘apologize’ for all of those involved in the entire system.

    There was certainly an admission by most people in the past that slavery was wrong and that it should have been ended sooner rather than later. I’m afraid that there isn’t much else that can be done or, in fact, SHOULD be done about the matter. If the re-establishment of slavery is ever again raised (and one has to doubt that it will be) there is enough precedent to put down any such wicked plan but that is about all that can be ‘done’ regarding what happened in the past. We have hopefully learned the lesson that no man should be deprived of basic rights because of what he IS (race, religion, gender, nationality etc.) rather than what he has DONE such as the commission of a crime. If we have learned that much from the issue of slavery, then we have accomplished a great deal.

    It is indeed time to get past what has happened and to look ahead. Continued fixation on ‘compensation’ for past wrongs is not only useless, but harmful. Just about every national and/or racial group can find ‘past wrongs’ which, if the precedent be established, will require ‘compensation’; in that way lies cultural, social and economic chaos. Furthermore, efforts to ‘make things right’ might well awaken and/or reinforce old (and not so old) prejudices and open old (or not so old) wounds in the society as a whole. Should that happen, the ones most likely to suffer from these ‘awakened’ prejudices and hatreds are the very people demanding ‘compensation’for ills from which they personally did not suffer and thus negating whatever strides have been made in overcoming said prejudices and hatreds. In other words, the proposed ‘cure’ may be worse than the old disease and, in fact, reinfect the Body Politic with the very social ills from which it has only lately by and large recovered.

    Comment by Valerie Protopapas — January 27, 2007 @ 3:59 pm | Reply

  2. You have a point about judging the past by our own standards. However, it is certainly within bounds to judge those in the past based upon the standards of their own time. Thus, all (but a crazed handful) knew slavery was unjust and immoral, as the past 4 decades have shown us in historical scholarship. The uneasiness of Jefferson and Washington about slavery; the attempts by John Laurens and Nathanael Greene to emancipate slaves for military service during the early 1780s; as well as abolition societies in the North all show us that we are not “making judgments about the actions of those who lived in the past in light of our present moral ethic”; we’re doing it for the most part with theirs. That is why TJ wrote about slavery:

    “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

    That quote by the way is the title for a new book by Ronald Hatzenbuehler: “”I Tremble for My Country”: Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia Gentry,” Univ. Press of FL. It is part of the Southern Dissent Series. It is available at http://www.upf.com/book.asp?id=HATZES03.

    Comment by John Maass — January 29, 2007 @ 11:02 pm | Reply

  3. There certainly were those who questioned the morality of slavery but as well, there were others – bolstered by the Bible – who did not have the same moral problem with the matter. And, of course, one must remember that NO white person in that era – North or South, slaveowner or abolitionist – considered the Negro as in any way the equal of the white man. Many whites (not all of whom owned slaves) believed that only within the context of slavery or some other structured environment – such as a colony limited to Negroes – run by whites could the Negro survive and that, if left to his own devices, he would soon starve – or worse. This was a rather universal view of the state of most Negroes in the 19th Century; it was NOT limited to those who lived in the South. Indeed, Lincoln believed that freed Negroes should be returned to Africa or moved to colonies created for them in the West Indies.

    Furthermore, slavery was LEGAL and therefore, whether or not one WOULD have owned slaves was quite beside the point as it was legal for those who DID own slaves to do so. It is very much like the abortion debate today in which many people say that while they would never have or counsel for an abortion, as the procedure is legal there is nothing that can be done about it. God knows, there are many – perhaps even a majority – of people who believe that abortion is morally wrong but who dismiss the matter from their concern by saying that as it is legal there is nothing they can do in the matter.

    My problem in the matter of ‘apologies’ is the ‘black on white’ definition of the issue. The simple fact is, whites were not the only people who owned and/or trafficked in slaves. Free blacks in the South ALSO owned slaves and were involved in the trade. Even more importantly, the black slave trade BEGAN in Africa BY AFRICANS, not Europeans. Black Africans owned and traded slaves among themselves and sold slaves to Arab and European slave traders. Therefore, to demand that only whites need to ‘apologize’ for slavery – even when no one in their past had anything to DO with the institution and perhaps even DIED in the war to end it – is not only unjust but frankly constitutes more of an effort to promote present day agendas than to settle old wrongs.

    Comment by Valerie Protopapas — January 30, 2007 @ 2:41 pm | Reply

  4. Wow where do i begin the words that the previous writers used to explain their point were very well stated and executed. I think that i will first begin by defending the point of why slavery should not be apologized for. looking from an objective view. I think that if we are looking from a straight legal point of view yes a stat should not have to apologize for slavery because it was well within the rights of every white man to own a slaves and while the law making it legal they were not bound by any legal,ethical, or moral culpability. with that being said.

    I am not asking for an apology I really do not want an apology but today is november 4th 2008 one of the greatest days that possibly has come for the black americans. we have witnessed a mixed american run and sustain a candidacy for the president of the United States. The fact slavery was legal does not give the united states an out for apologizing. the fact that slavery was legal is but a excuse for people to sleep at night. what about the 1970’s the black panthers who in their own right were free black men trying to provide for their community and ran up aginst propaganda from their own country trying to deny them the right to stand up and make a change in our community. what about the soaring poverty rates for blacks over whites. what about the billions that those slaves made for america. what about the slaves that were hanged. no we are not asking for an apology from the average ordinary joe. we area asking for an apology from the United States Of America. Will this help to bring everyone on an equal playing feild no it wont. At least that the United States would try to make a mense for something that shouldn have even happend. when you harm someone what do you say Sorry. when you accidentally do something what do you do you say sorry. Millions of black americans are walking around with white slaveower names and you say that slavery happened so long ago I say that it was only but a moment ago. My grandfather is 78 years old grew up in tuscogee,Ala i once asked him what do you do if a white person calls you nigger he said that you break their teeth now me being a little more conservative felt the pain in my grandfathers voice when answered me for you see the scars of slavery still live on in the black community everyday even until today november 2008 and to be apologized to from the united states would start the healing process in a way that you can only start healing or forgiveness by apologizing. but to simply say that we will not apologize because it was legal and everyone else was selling slaves and they didnt apologize is simply passing the buck.

    Comment by Gabriel Hargrove — November 4, 2008 @ 3:28 pm | Reply

  5. I’m Italian Irish. Do I owe an apology for my ancestors. Please tell me since it is not in the text books. All white people should feel guilt…right. How many European countries were involved and whi are they? Please educate me.

    Thank you.

    Comment by anonymous — December 25, 2008 @ 9:21 pm | Reply

  6. This country apologizing for slavery is a joke!!!Slavery in the U.S. terror program enforced by first england during almost 200 years of colonialism .Then the U.S. by the biggest terrorist and head of the u.s. national terrorizatin of black people program known through it’s code name slavery.This program made whites and this country enormously wealthy .The black so called masons (they really are white supreemist aka uncle toms)are the ones who introduced this joke to erase the white man quilt at no price just saying I’m sorry.You just go to the supermarket steal a loaf of bread get arrested and tell the mason aka judge (white supreemist)you are sorry!Watch they lock your ass up !Here they (masons) white supreemist for hundreds of year raped my family,stole our wealth,slaughtered the vast majority of my family and you are going to excuse yourself of all that and qualify yourself justified enough to pass judgement on me.For the fact white are not sorry. Slavery to them was a god send !!!In no history of the caucasion race have they done so good as when they road the bloody backs of blacks here in satans seat aka. america.Christianity is satanism which benefits white people with there pagan religion(how many black people know that you are practicing a pagan religion which 1000% benefits whites!!)We black americans send our children to pledge alleigence to the same flag that flew over slave plantations and enforced slavery!!We buy new clothes,cars,houses,fake strait(white) hair,bleach our skin,vote in a political systems that is desiegned to only benefit whites(compliance instead of revolution)we (black americans)Must stop trading our capital for nothing(allegence we must stop saluting the white supreemist flag!) The white over here enemies is not our enemies.We must learn russian make freinds with the communist(the white man sure made freinds with the biggest communist state that ever existed CHINA!!!When it benifitted him!!!And these so call civil rights organizations are just secret spy agencies to inform the white man about all our movements funded by the jews.jesse jackson jr. just admiited that he was a secret spy for the u.s. government(white man).

    Comment by jimmy dean — December 29, 2008 @ 3:28 pm | Reply

  7. The so called black masons (white supremist aka uncle toms )must be destroyed in the black american community.Their blood must flow in the streets.They are the ones who helped the white man defeat nat turner,marcus garvey,informed on black people who were planning to escaped slavery,was given control of the black church by the u.s. terrorist program implamentors aka slave owners because these black masons aka uncle toms are the white mans secret to control black america!they are the”reverends”,”deacons”in the church for the churches are just a secret mason(spy and covert organization against the black community).What the hell do we owe the white man and his uncle toms.We can do a million times more damage than anyone else to this cracker paradise so lets start fucking up whitey’s world like they are allway’s fucking up our’s!!!

    Comment by jimmy dean — December 30, 2008 @ 4:39 am | Reply

  8. I was born and raised in the south and i’ve heard about how white people are so racist all my life, especially with our new president elect being black and if you don’t like him you’re a racist. I believe that the blacks are the true racists always saying that whites are the racist when we make the littlest slight towards so-called “African- Americans” who probably have never been to africa. So apologizing for slavery isn’t what they need to be satisfied it’s getting compensation, because the first only happens once a month.

    Comment by Southerner — January 8, 2009 @ 3:32 pm | Reply

  9. I’m a black desendent of slaves.Obahma is not,his mother is white and his father is from africa.Obahma went to private schools,and ivy leauge institutions that were build by money made by slave labor!!For crying out loud he grew up in hawaii!Him getting elected don’t mean shit to me!Just like the slave owners half white kids living with him in the same house or the one he had built next to his (with dark skinned black people slave labor)didn’t mean shit to my dark black slave ancestors!We black people were the poorest,most exploited,people in this country 400 years ago!!! And are still that way now!!!We still own less than one percent of the wealth of this country the SAME as during slave days!!! SO WITH ME IT’S BURN BABY BURN!!!

    Comment by jimmy dean — January 13, 2009 @ 2:14 am | Reply

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