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An open letter to White people who tire of hearing about slavery when they visit slave plantations: especially Suzanne Sherman.

Dear Ms. Sherman,

When I read your reflection in The American Conservative I was so sorry to hear that you had mistaken the museum at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello for a monument to the Declaration of Independence. This mistake clearly caused much despair to you, and I suspect, to your unwitting children, who later found themselves flung headfirst into the depths of their mother’s folly before a crowd of annoyed weekenders. And so, though it was due to your own mistake, I offer you my sympathy and am glad to hear, for the sake of your emotional well-being, that out of the glare of national attention, on a lesser known property, Jefferson’s Poplar Forest estate, you were able to receive the version of history which you most preferred. For the sake of people like you, if it would not be such a terribly expensive endeavor, mental health professionals might find it useful to maintain lovingly bowdlerized versions of historical exhibitions, lest your delicate intellectual constitutions be damaged by being forced to experience history in its full and living palette.

Slavery 1

With apologies to those who had hoped to learn about 19th century fashion.

I am only taking, (should I say seizing?) the liberty of writing to you now, because the accounts which you offer of your continuing misadventures in slavery’s land, lead me to believe that you may be putting yourself in a hopeless position if you continue your historical travels, and I want to take it upon myself to offer you a way out of this place of suffering. After finding yourself jilted at Monticello, you went to Madison’s Montpelier, then to John C. Calhoun’s home in Clemson, South Carolina and then to Peyton Randolph’s home in WIlliamsburg, apparently, still in search of a museum in which to discuss 18th century political theory, all in vain. Your fruitless sojourns lead me to reach out, for the sake of compassion, to explain something which may put an end to them: The preservation of historical homes is done, not to propagate the abstract notions which their owners may have harbored within their walls, but, to preserve for posterity a glimpse into the daily life and domestic situations within which history occurred. Monticello is not a monument to the Declaration of Independence, because there is nothing which one can learn about that document from peering into Jefferson’s kitchen which cannot be better learned from a book. Montpelier does not memorialize The Federalist papers and the Constitution, it relies on the words to memorialize themselves and on careful study, which gives a broader historical and intellectual context, to make their theory live again.

Patrick Henry

Liberty or death! Patrick Henry, slaveholder, speaking atop the soapbox of unwitting irony.

It was not America’s founding documents which gave these places daily life, nor the theories of Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau which created their domestic situation, Thomas Paine’s pamphleteering did not do the labor and make the profits which made such luxury possible, all this was the work of slavery, or, more precisely, the hundreds of enslaved West African men, women and children which your founding fathers forcibly held in bondage.

Montpelier

A Virginia slave labor camp.

I am the descendant of those people. My mother’s people slaved in South Carolina, my father’s in Georgia. As of now, I know nothing else concrete about them. I do know, that if you had visited any of these stately homes in their heyday, you would have seen far more slaves than free people. A uniformed Black man would have taken your coat and cordially led you deeper into the recesses of the place. You would have seen men and women of all ages, impeccably uniformed, hurrying to and fro, forced by the existential threat of violence, to attend to your comfort. If you had just stood still, you might have gone minutes, even hours, without seeing another White face. Madison had a wife and one son, which means that when the Madison family was home “alone,” if you exclude the one White overseer he employed and the overseer’s family who also lived on the estate, as many as 98% of the people living at Montpelier at any time were enslaved Africans. Which means, that while the story of Madison’s presidency and his intellectual contributions to the nation’s founding are his; the story of Montpelier is the story of its slaves.
I imagine that story may not mean much to you. You seem to want to treat it as being no more worthy of discussion than the wallpaper in Calhoun’s bedroom. But, as their descendant, I have no choice but to know that they were human beings, as I am a human being, with births and deaths as miraculous and tragic as any that ever were, with lives as filled with laughter and tears, loves and hates, aspirations and fears as any human lives. The inner mysteries of these enslaved souls were as great as the chasm between this world and the one beyond. The stealing of a single one of their lives, to say nothing of hundreds, is a crime of striking magnitude, which therefore makes up the most important story these buildings can tell. But on this, we disagree. I imagine you would be very disappointed by a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the 1.5 million Jews and Gentiles killed there are distracting from the all-important discussion of Mein Kampf and Hitler’s lackluster painting career. You probably think the Gallic war is the story of Julius Caesar’s trip to France, not thousands of Romans subjugating thousands of Gauls. You probably think the history of America’s Gilded Age is the the story of how Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt and Morgan made and spent their wealth, and not the story of men, women and children who had lived their lives in fiery iron dungeons, sweating to make the gilding. You would probably call the stories I suggest: revisionist history, no, it is history given vision, history which shows us the world as it really was, so we can see it as it really is.

 

Old Madison

James Madison, the purveyor of the above slave labor camp, his face withered by years of brutality.

You argue that had Madison freed his slaves, they likely would have starved, which I find to be an odd way of looking at things. Let us imagine the more quotidian aspects of James’s life, the life of a typical Virginia slaveholder. When he was born, he was likely to have been delivered by an enslaved midwife, after hers and his mother’s, the next arms to cradle the small, sickly, pale child would have been those of an enslaved Black wet nurse. From her body, he would have drawn the elixir of life, via the same mother’s milk which founded the strength of her own children, who would serve him all his days. Every stitch of clothing which would ever touch his body for the majority of his life, would be made by enslaved seamstresses and, after the boy was weaned, every bite of food he would ever eat at home would have been prepared by an enslaved cook, from food which was either raised or paid for by the slaves who did everything else for him, in his father’s house, which slaves built and then in the White House, which slaves also built. James’s first playmates would have been children too young to work, but still slaves, as he would learn when told of the immutable line which divided him from the people whose suffering and toil made up the very substance of his body. As James grew older, he might have, if it pleased him, seen fit to seize his first bit of carnal knowledge from the body of one of his wet nurse’s daughters. When he went away for the schooling which his family paid for with the wages of theft, a slave boy about his age went with him, to keep him from any acquaintance with the slightest labor. And it was with this education that his slaves paid for, that James rose through the ranks of the Virginia aristocracy to sire a constitution and lead a nation. And when James’s frail body finally gave way, it would have been lowered into a grave dug by enslaved men, in a coffin made by the enslaved people who had been carrying him all his life.

slavery 2

With apologies to those who wanted to learn about the role of rope in 18th century shipping.

Though Madison, like several of the nation’s most politically prominent slaveholders, agonized over the issue of what was to be done with the African slaves on which he and they depended, he never allowed his to go free; not because he was afraid that without him to carry around they might starve, but because he feared, quite logically, that without captives to carry the burden of his life, he, as a man accustomed to luxury and knowing no trade but politician, would starve.

You therefore have the matter exactly backwards. In death, the moral weight of this decision cannot even rely on the fictions of acolytes like yourself to support it. Though you valiantly tried when you said that manumitting slaves was illegal in Virginia, when, in fact, the Virginia legislature legalized manumission in 1782. Though for most people, it would go without saying, that whether it was illegal to free his slaves or not, this in no way bears on Madison’s guilt, as the one who actively held slaves. I am therefore as sorry that the tour guides could not correct your misinformation, as I am that they were unable to correct the several of your follies which I have striven to correct here.

WAR & CONFLICT BOOKERA:  CIVIL WAR/BACKGROUND:  SLAVERY & ABOLITIONISM

Though parted from his rural home, these signs of his master’s benevolence he shall carry the rest of his days.

To return us to the matter of starvation: As far as I know, there is no record of any mass starvations associated with the manumission of American slaves, though four million were freed at once by an act of congress in 1865. And, I can attest, that though my family has been free 151 years, in all that time, free of vicious little men like James Madison to carry about, we may have hungered, but we have never starved! My people work. They have earned the entirety of their substance in fields and factories, in classrooms and law offices and as soldiers of the United States. An honorable, clean way of living which all your founding slavers avoided by resorting to lives of gentrified brutality.

This is the history of the American South, which you, not being from this region, might find it convenient to avoid, but which you have no right to expect the nation as a whole to avoid so that you might miss it while staring it square in the face. Moreover, as it is the history of the material foundations of the United States of America, it is the only history you have this side of the Atlantic.

Sincerely,
V. R. Bradley

I am a radical Pan-African journalist in the process of creating his platform. I tweet @vblhe and I……Facebook….at The Negro Subversive

I’m a man of my times, the times just don’t know it yet.

If you’ve connected with this work,  your donation can help me create more of it.

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Discussion

63 thoughts on “An open letter to White people who tire of hearing about slavery when they visit slave plantations: especially Suzanne Sherman.

  1. Compellingly argued, eloquently stated. Looking at ALL of history is essential to an understanding of its lessons.
    May your straw (wom)an tourist actually read it and take it to heart !

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Daphne Williams | April 23, 2016, 4:25 pm
    • Thanks, I actually sent it to her before publishing it, her unsurprising response was: “I stopped reading after the first sentence as you are clearly blinded to anything not written by BLM>” Which is the kind of penetrating rebuttal one would expect.

      Liked by 3 people

      Posted by The Negro Subversive | April 23, 2016, 4:27 pm
      • Though I hate calling any human a “lost cause,” her response is exactly what I would have expected. Unreachable and unteachable, content in her ignorance and depraved indifference.

        Liked by 1 person

        Posted by Alan Haley | April 24, 2016, 4:45 pm
      • I guess I’m just old fashioned. I figured she’d at least read it and attempt a bullshit rebuttal. I guess it’s easier to show your open mindedness by attacking mine via ad hominem attacks.

        Liked by 1 person

        Posted by The Negro Subversive | April 24, 2016, 4:48 pm
      • This is beautifully written and it was worth the try, you never know when someone will take in what you said and maybe over time a seed will grow. But, in this case, even if it didn’t work with her, you no doubt will affect change in others as well as keep the rest of us inspired to continue trying. Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

        Posted by adulthoodnotevenonce | April 24, 2016, 9:26 pm
      • Bureau of Land Management? Ah, she’s one of those Oregon park takeover types!

        Liked by 1 person

        Posted by Betty Tyler | April 24, 2016, 10:20 pm
  2. Excellent article.
    “With apologies to those who wanted to learn about the role of rope in 18th century shipping.” Take a look at the history of Twine and slavery (or indentured service) in the Yucatan pennisula and the US penitentiary system. Rope played a significant part in that bit of slavery with international demand for wheat.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Sara Whipple | April 23, 2016, 4:45 pm
  3. My great grandparents were slave in the fields of Jamaica. Blindness of the sort is what allows African leaders to oppress the citizens that thry lead.

    Liked by 2 people

    Posted by Michael | April 23, 2016, 5:41 pm
  4. Nice article. Now, for fairness, do a similar article about how Irish (white) people were brought into this country…

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Brian | April 23, 2016, 5:47 pm
    • The vast majority of the Irish came to this country in the 19th century as voluntary immigrants.

      Liked by 6 people

      Posted by vblhe | April 23, 2016, 5:49 pm
    • I have one line of ancestors who were “owned” by an Irish family.

      Like

      Posted by Robert | April 24, 2016, 12:18 am
    • I never understand what people mean by conflating slavery with “Irish” immigration. When did the Irish become the model of noble assimilation? My Irish ancestors each lied about their ages (15 and 13), in order to book solo passages. Their parents sold their few meagre possessions for the tickets, desperate to get their surviving children out of a politically oppressed nation rife with starvation, to a land they believed would give them a chance at life. The streets were not paved with gold, as it turned out, those teenagers were poor their whole lives. They suffered religious and ethnic discrimination here too, but they had countrymen here, they could worship, they wrote letters home, they met and married and saw their children have better lives than they had. Their parents back in Ireland died without ever seeing them again, but they knew that they had saved their children. “Hard times, hard times,” my great grandfather used to tell my uncles, “But at least here we are white, and that’s not nothing, on the railroad, boyos.” It was supposed to be advice, I guess. The last part is still a saying in my family, “That’s not nothing on the railroad, boyos” They use it the way you’d say “Somebody else always has it worse.” Although I doubt most of the grandchildren know what it refers to.

      150 hears before that, when my Scots ancestor (from the other side) was “exported” as a war prisoner and auctioned off as indentured slave labor to work on Chesapeake plantations, he saw his indenture end (after 20 brutal years, which, admittedly, his captors probably did not expect him to survive, but he fooled them). At the age of 35, the boy taken at the Battle of Culloden at at 15 became a free man, claimed his clothes and a days food and walked away. He walked 8 miles to a gristmill where his master had loaned his labor out for many years, in repayment of a debt. He got paid work at the mill and married the millers daughter (who, it seems likely, based on the record dates) he had gotten pregnant several months before. His brothers and friends, either died at the battle that ended his birth-nation, in prison, or of illness or overwork sold off as prison labor. He lived. He beat the bastards. He got to start a story. Research the history of how and why people came to the US, and what happened to them here. So much to cry over, so much to feel pride in. But how does “fair” come into anything? Somehow, is the pain and injustice suffered by thousands, even tens or hundreds of thousands, (of indentured and prisoner-slaves, Native Americans and European) supposed to stand in “balance” against 10 million souls sold into an agricultural/industrial machine of chattel slavery that grew from the early 1600s and was only stopped by civil war in 1866? A numbers game? Even if by some brutal stupid undercounted math, someone could match the story of every abused Scot-Irish teenager with that of 1000 enslaved West African men, women and children, what is that supposed to accomplish?

      Liked by 5 people

      Posted by Janet Scudder | April 24, 2016, 3:43 pm
      • The most remarkable part of that story for me, is the fact that your Irish immigrant ancestors knew something that most of their descendants won’t acknowledge, which is that Whiteness was their most important possession.

        Liked by 3 people

        Posted by vblhe | April 24, 2016, 3:51 pm
      • Exactly!! And not every Irish immigrant had it unbearably difficult, especially if they could land where family already had established themselves, and could provide or direct the new arrivals to employment. “No Irish Need Apply” was an insult and a royal pain, but there were any number of ways around it. The worst cheating, overbearing employer in the world does not begin to compare to slavery. Not close to the same category.

        Liked by 1 person

        Posted by Pat Brennan Finnie | April 24, 2016, 4:42 pm
      • Precisely, and, aside from that, whenever Irish or Jewish people use their history of oppression to try and silence me I ask: If you are sincerely wounded by this history, as I am by mine, why I are you not on my side? Why have you not taken it upon yourself, as I have, to strike oppression from the earth, in the name of those who’s endurance made your life possible. Why hasn’t the record of your ancestors’ pain made you ally with the oppressed of the world instead of the oppressing of the world. Why do you dishonor them by trying to silence me?

        Liked by 3 people

        Posted by The Negro Subversive | April 24, 2016, 5:29 pm
  5. Thank you, for the insightful truth tho many white people will deny it and think themselves superior.

    Liked by 3 people

    Posted by Larry Thayer | April 23, 2016, 6:55 pm
  6. Mm…such ridiculous folly some humans partake in. Both sides are hideously one sided and overly opinionated to a fault. At least the woman almost had it right in looking for the intellectualism in it all rather than ranting over hardship – which every culture at one time or another has experienced. Your people’s struggle is nothing new, it just so happens to be more recent than her’s. I don’t need to go into detail for you to understand that since the two of you seem so well versed in history. In fact none of you, nor I myself, can say what life was like back then because we did not experience it. It does not matter what we have been told by family or even history books as humans are opinionated to a fault and will record it in the light they’d like it to be seen in. In reality there is no single reality but rather trillions of individual perspectives interacting with one another. You both argue over such frivolous matters. My open letter to you, Mr. Bradley and Ms. Sherman, is to accept that your realities will never be anyone else’s but your own. Please stop displaying to the rest of us true intellectuals, your petty brawls, taking stabs at opinions neither of you have even a whisper of hope at understanding. When it really comes down to it social decisions rely on fiscal undertones. No one is special, not slave descendants or “master” descendants, because the whole ordeal was simply a matter of money. Au revoir.

    Like

    Posted by Gaia | April 23, 2016, 7:04 pm
    • Congratulations on managing to cobble together that bit of disjointed, tone deaf, pseudo-intellectual drivel.

      Liked by 7 people

      Posted by vblhe | April 23, 2016, 7:08 pm
    • You, yourself said you are a true intellectual. I tend to disagree, based on your tirade against V.R. Bradley. Is that ok? Not that I am seeking your approval, because surely I am not.

      Liked by 1 person

      Posted by alvin bond | April 23, 2016, 7:15 pm
    • That was complete gibberish, conveying almost nothing but your own sense of self-satisfaction.

      Liked by 2 people

      Posted by Tim Hardcastle | April 23, 2016, 7:44 pm
    • You do of course realize that in your effort to convince other people that their “realities will never be anyone else’s but (their) own” that you have fallen into the same trap? That is, you insist that your reality, the world of “true intellectuals” and that “social decisions rely on fiscal undertones” is in essence the right one?

      You seem new to the idea of relativism but you are very close to discovering that it is a self-defeating system. If only you could take that extra step.Really, just go read some Wittgenstein and then congratulate yourself on the realization that in the attempt to communicate, write, speak, or even wave your hands you make an appeal to some kind of shared meaning. Thus you actually do think that there is a right way to think and that it is accessible to all.

      But…this is probably just my reality, etc. etc. I’m sure you are right and that everyone else isn’t and that if only more people were like you then all these stupid little problems about which you can’t be bothered would simply evaporate. It’s a shame then that we can’t all be so enlightened. But what are you going to do?

      Liked by 1 person

      Posted by janus762 | April 23, 2016, 11:45 pm
  7. Thank you V.R. Bradley. Well written.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by alvin bond | April 23, 2016, 7:12 pm
  8. A good piece – I wish Ms. Sherman had read it!

    I’ve been rather frustrated by a new statue to a city’s 1st mayor, the only mayor to have “owned” enslaved people while in office. The man whose project the statue was (white, naturally) left out all the bad stuff about his hero and exaggerated or invented much of the rest. I’m not sure he’d have been able to obtain $80,000+ if he’d been honest – at any rate I hope he would not have, as people knowingly donating money to such a cause is a tad disturbing.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Toff Philippo | April 23, 2016, 10:02 pm
  9. Nicely done. Wasted on the target for the most part and that’s unfortunate. While slavery is truly the US’s (and really all of North and South America’s “original sin.” Most people in the US especially have an extremely distorted view of it. Think of Disney’s Song of the South. Although sympathetic, it’s a study in soft-peddling a subject. However this is all of slavery to most people in the US. Some of them feel they understand the subject — after all they saw Roots! But the reality is almost too much for most people to grasp. Not the reasons, not the human toll or the impact to this day. Santayana’s Dictum is very much in effect in the US and unless a lot of noses are rubbed in this subject, it will truly be forgotten and probably repeated!

    Like

    Posted by lancelotlinksecretchimp | April 24, 2016, 2:15 pm
  10. Oh, do we need you! Love your response re: the Irish of the 19th Century; how sad the writer hasn’t availed himself of the thousands of volumes on said subject:) I have read and reread your incredibly well-researched response re: slavery and the Founders – and will share it with my scholars in a summer education program. They will be rising fifth graders, and for four years, people have tried to tell me it is too much, too upsetting, at their age, to learn about this part (others’ word, not mine)of American History. Huh. Most of my scholars are Black Americans, and the rest of them are immigrants from the Carribean islands, Africa, Central and South America. This information is taught alongside of a Young Adult novel that juxtaposes the Bicentennial of the United States in 1976 – a celebration of the Bill of Rights/Declaration of Independence, and the continued, not-always-subtle forms of discrimination still rampant in that not so long ago year. What you write of IS their history; we cannot wait until a child has been proselytized, blinded and brainwashed before presenting the facts, in age appropriate language, for them to ponder,process, question, and study. Then they can draw their own understanding. They will also never feel that they were deprived, cheated of the facts, and will learn to question and wonder, and to search out primary sources and well-vetted research, in order to continue their learning for their whole lives. Thank you so very much for continuing my education and understanding.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Pat Brennan Finnie | April 24, 2016, 3:14 pm
    • I cannot begin to tell you how gratified I am that you will be using this piece with your students. I know what an outsized influence the writers we are exposed to early in our lives have on our development as thinkers. I hope sincerely that what I have written will open many intellectual doors. Best of luck to you all!

      Like

      Posted by vblhe | April 24, 2016, 3:33 pm
  11. In response to your question re: your frustration with oppressed peoples not allying with you in your efforts to set the record straight: please know that there are SO many of us who agree with you, who are horrified, who are angered, who cannot bear to hear the misinformation, myths and lies repeated this far into yet another century. We really are out here, though. There are lots of us who believe we can change thinking, in time, with words, with experiences and with empathy for others’ plights, even though they aren’t, and never will be, our own experiences or histories. I don’t know how many of us there are, but I do know that it’s incredibly difficult to shake ALL of us from our ideas of how we see the world, rather than how it truly is. I also know that what we learned when we were small creates our cores, and thus, hearing the truth can be terrifying when it doesn’t match what the people we trusted most, taught us. I am so grateful for my father’s WWII experience in an unofficially inclusive setting; it changed his thinking forever. He tried to raise his children with open minds; it was the greatest gift I have ever received, and one that was meant to be shared. I am so glad you have not become discouraged, and that you share the power of your words so beautifully. Sometimes we just need a verbal gob-smack to get the brain into gear – look at the thinking you’ve instigated with just this one post – you have no way of knowing how many lives you have changed forever. – So grateful for your work.

    Liked by 2 people

    Posted by Pat Brennan Finnie | April 24, 2016, 6:26 pm
  12. Thank you for your perspective. My children are 19, 10, and 9. The oldest is of mixed race, the youngest two are white. They will all read this.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Mmm | April 24, 2016, 6:41 pm
  13. Thank you! May I print this out for my freshman comp students at Auburn U?

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Tom O'Shea | April 24, 2016, 7:10 pm
  14. This was a great reply to a woman wanting to white-wash the past. Slavery, indentured servitude, the kind of economic oppression suffered by the poor throughout the industrial revolution, all of that is the ugly underbelly of our recent history (US & Europe both).
    I do take umbrage at your designation “vicious little men like James Madison” – do you mean to say that every single slave holder must have been an evil man? Possibly. I say however that some very good and decent men (in most areas of their lives) convinced themselves that owning slaves was justifiable. We see the very same kind of rationalization today towards the exploitation of third world populations for economic gain. The ACTIONS are reprehensible – it is important to address the DECENCY inherent in most people in order to change those behaviors. This nearly happened in the US 30 years before the Civil War when the cotton laws governing pricing nearly passed Congress. Unfortunately there were truly greedy sociopathic people in power then as now. I do not think Madison counted among them.
    But I totally agree that slavery, the Holocaust, and any number of other atrocities must be taught as part of history, in order to understand the past and learn from it.

    Like

    Posted by teleriferchnyfain | April 24, 2016, 7:12 pm
    • I have neither the time, the insight, nor the inclination to attempt to plumb the depths of James Madison’s soul. I don’t think it mattered to the 100+ people he held in slavery whether he was constitutionally good or constitutionally evil, his position necessitated the development of a certain viciousness. Consider the following words penned by Madison to his overseer: “Treat the Negroes with all the humanity and kindness consistent with their necessary subordination and work.” In other words, treat them no more harshly than absolutely necessary to keep them on the level of pack animals so that their exploitation be not imperiled. Consider that when Madison was informed that a French visitor had “procured a Negro girl, and only wants a boy in order that they may breed,” he arranged for funds to purchase a “Negro boy.” Here, we have the viciousness of forcing teenagers to breed like horses. Whatever goodness there may have been in Madison, it availed his slaves very little. As their lives were dominated by that viciousness he may naturally have had in him, in collusion with viciousness he had to cultivate consistent with his station. I’ll leave the plumbing of the depths of Madison’s soul to you and others who have the luxury to undertake it. I can’t say I care one way or the other.

      Liked by 1 person

      Posted by The Negro Subversive | April 24, 2016, 7:24 pm
  15. An excellent read.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Surreal Life | Imagery | April 24, 2016, 8:48 pm
  16. Now to get this tattooed on the backs of every high-browed Jefferson worshipper who attends the University of Virginia…

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by tas | April 25, 2016, 1:57 am
  17. Not to detract from your point, but there was starvation after Emancipation. Though it certainly had more to do with how it was handled by those in authority than anything else.
    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/jun/16/slavery-starvation-civil-war

    Like

    Posted by Sara Amis | April 25, 2016, 11:04 am
  18. Very nice write up. I was disappointed to realize this history was glossed over when I visited Poplar Forest. I believe people choose to ignore history in order to stomach current affairs, unable to see any correlation. I admire those who lobby truth- Jack Johnson (the boxer), Lenny Bruce (comedian) and the writer of this piece are more important to America’s history than all founding fathers combined. Keep up the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Zack | April 25, 2016, 4:44 pm
  19. Having read Suzanne Sherman’s original essay [as well as your response], it seems fairly obvious to me that she trekked across the US in search not of history, but of opportunities to stir up controversy by joining paid tours at historical sites and monopolizing them with her brash, one-dimensional worldview. I am a Virginian. I’ve visited Monticello and Montpelier and taken in their historical significance and beauty and learned much about the lives of the owners and of the enslaved people without feeling the need to redirect the narrative being provided by the tour guides in even the slightest way. As a native of the Commonwealth, I’ve encountered slavery apologists aplenty and heard every explanation why, in their minds, slavery just wasn’t as bad as all that. Were not the slaves cared for and fed and clothed, they ask? What’s the big deal? These are the same people who believe that the shooting of young, unarmed black people by certain police officers just isn’t as bad as all that either. They are the same people who believe that calling out one or some police officers or departments is the exact same thing as calling out every single police officer on the planet who ever lived including their one cousin who never killed anybody. They cannot separate the two, so they instinctively ignore the issue. And, when touring the home of the author of the Declaration of Independence, they cannot consider more than a single narrative — the one they’ve been told their entire lives — and therefore ignore any other. And for some reason, people suffering from this type of ignorance can’t seem to shut up about it. Those who don’t understand history are destined to repeat it. Out loud.

    Liked by 2 people

    Posted by Chris Henson | April 25, 2016, 5:40 pm
  20. Her criticisms are pretty spot-on. Nobody goes to Monticello to hear how much it must have sucked for slaves to climb stairs with wood. There’s a difference between telling the story of slavery and slapping the story of slavery all over everything. It doesn’t interest most people.

    Like

    Posted by Eyerolling Latina | April 25, 2016, 7:30 pm
    • There’s a difference between omitting certain facts that “aren’t interesting” to some, and completely whitewashing over atrocities that occurred in order to cater to tourists. I’m a native Virginian and was shocked there was not one mention of Jefferson’s slaves at his Poplar Forest estate. If you visit the pyramids in Egypt, you will be told they utilized slave labor to construct those monuments. Not because it’s interesting, but because it’s historically relevant.

      Liked by 3 people

      Posted by Zack | April 25, 2016, 8:16 pm
    • The problem, Eyerolling Latina, is that in the united States of America the story of slavery IS “all over everything.” Like rock, jazz, blues, gospel, rap, or R&B music? Guess what. There’s slavery all over it. Like capitalism and free markets? Hello, slavery. Insured by a major US insurance corporation? Chances are pretty good they got their start insuring slave labor. Ever ridden a train in the US? Chances are you traveled over a railbed that was carved out by slaves. The list of modern conveniences, cultures and ideas with roots in American slavery is an extremely long one. The story of slavery may not interest you, and that’s fine. But if you would stop your eye rolling for just a moment you might notice that yours is not the only opinion that matters. Neither is mine, for that matter. But, I feel pretty safe saying that I don’t believe you speak for “most people.”

      Liked by 2 people

      Posted by Chris Henson | April 25, 2016, 9:32 pm
  21. Mr. Bradley,

    Your piece was powerfully written, thank you. I teach working class history at City College of San Francisco, and it would be very helpful if I had your permission to refer my students to it.

    To the commentators – Why don’t we consider the concept of relative levels of oppression? My Irish and Polish ancestors had tough lives, worked hard to make if as far as they did and deserve appreciation and respect. Acknowledging this, they also learned they had, took and benefitted from white privilege. It was the setup and, in a competitive capitalist system, it’s where the vast majority of them wound up, by choice and structure – on the favored side of the color line. We can even say it made sense for them to go there, but at what cost to people of color and, in the long run, to the task of building working class unity?

    The acceptance and continuation of white privilege needs to be criticized and transcended. The transcending part is our responsibility. If we work for racial justice today, we can be allies both to our brothers and sisters of color and to ourselves. I truly believe an injury to one is an injury to all and that a rising tide lifts all boats.

    Native American people were robbed of their land. African-Americans were enslaved and built this country with generations of unpaid labor. Mexican and Asian people were subject to both class and race-based mistreatment. Their situations were qualitatively worse than mine and my ancestors. That doesn’t mean I/we had it easy, or that the labor movement for whom I work shouldn’t be there for European-American workers. But it does mean that we must be there in an additional way, with great dedication and commitment, to the cause of working people of color. The pain of past oppression will only ease when its current continuation becomes but a distant memory.

    We can do this – we can contain more than one historical narrative of oppression at a time, and understand the qualitative differences among them. Overcoming the legacy of slavery must be at the very top of this effort.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Bill Shields | April 25, 2016, 7:34 pm
  22. I’m of the thread who believes it was a bad decision to eradicate the racist terminology from Mark Twains novel, Hick Finn. Not only does it reinforce that it’s acceptable to alter history in order to make modern readers “comfortable”, but even worse, it eliminates an important historical lesson of a racism indicative to the times in which the book was written.

    Like

    Posted by Zack | April 25, 2016, 8:20 pm
  23. This just got linked from historynewsnetwork.org:
    Amend, Alex. “How the Myth of the ‘Irish slaves’ Became a Favorite Meme of Racists Online.” Southern Poverty Law Center. April 19, 2016. https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/04/19/how-myth-irish-slaves-became-favorite-meme-racists-online

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by ckpalbany | April 27, 2016, 12:16 pm
  24. I’ve spent the past twenty years of my life talking about enslaved Africans and African-Americans in Charleston, SC (as has my husband) at a historic rice plantation. We talk openly and honestly about slavery and all of its facets. Most people are surprised to learn that enslaved Africans had skills (well, duh! Of course they did! How do you think they lived?) before they were brought here.

    I was fortunate to not get much flak (only once did I have to kick someone out of my shop–for using the N-word), but my husband encounters it almost daily, mostly from Southern men, who feel the same way that Ms. Sherman does. “Oh my gosh, there he goes, talking about slavery when all I want to know about is the tools.”

    An excellent rebuttal which I will share with said husband & his supervisor.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Parker Brown-Nesbit | April 28, 2016, 3:09 pm
    • As a South Carolinian, I congratulate you on your long battle to bring the light of history to my home state. Yes, the notion that the Africans brought here to slave were simply empty vessels explains so much about what has transpired since emancipation. I remember taking a tour of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, where the tour guide, in talking about an enslaved man who was the first person to make a map of the majority of the cave, who spoke several languages and served as an ambassador for the cave for decades, felt the need to say several times: “He wasn’t a slave because he was dumb.” True as that is, I was floored that this had to be emphasized, though I wasn’t surprised. Even though, I don’t recall reading any accounts of slaves being given IQ tests. People love to point out that we aren’t the only ones to have ever been enslaved. This is also true: The Romans used educated Greek slaves to teach their children. Intelligence, skillfulness and resourcefulness are in no way foreign to the enslaved status. The fact that people have to be assured that West Africans have brains shows how deeply the racist myths cooked up to justify American slavery have penetrated. Even now, few would believe that Africans are the most academically accomplished group of immigrants in America today.

      Like

      Posted by The Negro Subversive | April 28, 2016, 3:36 pm
  25. I’ve read both Sherman’s and Bradley’s articles and have been mesmerized. The self-delusion of the first, the reality of the second and ALL the comments that followed have engaged my thinking. Kudos to Mr. Bradley for writing his powerful article. I’m so glad he has given permission for its use with 5th graders!

    In response to Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, several years ago, my then 11 year-old African American friend and I read it aloud to each other in its original form. It took us a full year, reviewing and quizzing each other along the way. We then watched the original film together. While there were terribly troubling parts, we always discussed them directly – just being enslaved; Jim’s mistreatment by his father; Huck’s conscience and decision-making, etc. we talked honestly about them all. And though the dialect and use of the “n” word were challenges, it was on his middle school summer reading list and we were getting a head start. Robert is a junior, now, and, I feel, we are better people for having that experience together. (BTW, I’m a white, almost 75 year-old, so a “very old” friend of Robert’s.)

    Also, as a guide at Monticello since 2000, I am very proud the interpretation of Thomas Jefferson’s plantation life during his retirement years recognizes the many services enslaved field workers, laborers, and house servants provided him, as well as many of the hardships they had to endure. Jefferson was born into a slave-holding family in 1743. Without a lifetime of enslaved “servants,” how would he have been afforded the time to think, write, and serve the colonists and early Americans as a founding father?

    Since most enslaved people were not privileged to have been able to record their own history, it is only through Thomas Jefferson’s records, oral history, and artifacts collected through archelogy that, perhaps, a miniscule glimpse into their everyday lives and contributions become known. Really, is that such an unworthy endeavor?!

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Lois Sandy | April 28, 2016, 5:18 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Markierungen 04/25/2016 - Snippets - April 25, 2016

  2. Pingback: An open letter to White people who tire of hearing about slavery when they visit slave plantations: especially Suzanne Sherman. — The Negro Subversive – JEM FORUM ANALYSES - May 3, 2016

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