The Forgotten First Step Toward Freedom for Slaves
Ms. Appleby is an emerita professor of history at UCLA and co-director of the History News Service. She is the author of A Restless Past: History and the American Public (2005).
Although few know it, the anniversary of one of the world great human rights milestones occurs this week. On March 1, 1780, the government of Pennsylvania became the first in the world to pass a law against slavery, affirming that no child born after that date could be permanently enslaved.
The British, who did not form their first antislavery organization until seven years later, are usually credited with this accomplishment, having banished slavery in their remaining colonies a half century later. It's time to reclaim this achievement.
The legislative authority of the people of Pennsylvania, a sovereign state before the creation of the U.S. Constitution, struck down an institution as old as the Bible -- one that many had inveighed against, but few had imagined so vulnerable. Only the sustained turbulence of race relations in the United States can explain the neglect of this landmark law.
The American Revolution had provided the impetus for America's first antislavery movement. The tension generated by demanding liberty yet tolerating human bondage provoked an avalanche of words. "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?" the famed English lexicographer Samuel Johnson asked. Mindful of this debate, enslaved men and women in the North began petitioning successfully for their freedom.
A system of coerced labor that had spread in the British colonies with scarcely a murmur of opposition suddenly appeared like a blot on the escutcheon of the new republic. Action supplanted high-minded talk in the years that followed. From the simple preamble of the Massachusetts state constitution to more intricate statutes elsewhere, every Northern state found a way to phase out unfree labor. New Jersey was the last to do so, in 1804.
In New York City, where one quarter of the laborers at that time were enslaved, abolition represented the largest peaceful intrusion upon private property in the annals of government. New York's law also demonstrated the power of a democratic people to deliberate and move in novel areas.
To be sure, these path-breaking acts compromised with the grim reality of slave owners' property rights that came with legalized human property. The Pennsylvania statute required the children of slave women born after March 1, 1780, to serve their masters until they reached the age of 28.
Gradualism represented the politics of the possible. Even so, emancipation tested the law-enforcement skills of Northern states compelled to check the felonious dispatch of slaves to the South.
The successes of these measures removed the incubus of slavery from Northerners and left white Southerners with a "peculiar institution." The old surveyors' boundary between Maryland and Pennsylvania -- the Mason-Dixon line -- became a symbolic divide between free labor and slavery.
For a while it seemed possible that principle might trump skin color as the basis of American nationality. A freed slave, James Mars, exuded confidence in his diary that "the time is not far distant when the colored man will have his rights in Connecticut."
The possibility of achieving freedom lured many Southern slaves to liberate themselves by escaping to the North. New African-American churches, schools and mutual help associations sprang into existence, but racial prejudice intensified with the increase in the number of freed men and women. The doors to full citizenship that had seemed to be opening wide in 1780 slowly swung shut. Emancipation appeared to many white Americans a dubious accomplishment.
A small minority of reviled abolitionists kept the cause of human freedom alive while the Southern planters' drive to expand slavery's realm brought on the Civil War. The North's victory put an end to slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation became the icon for the future.
Reconstructing the rebellious states and preparing freed men for citizenship exhausted the nation's moral energy. When white Southern representatives returned to Congress, they pressed hard for acceptance of their white supremacist views.
Racial prejudice reappeared in the virulent form of legal segregation in the South and informal segregation in the North. With a new, white consensus that emancipation had been a political necessity but a social failure, there were no calls for celebrating the nation's first path-breaking acts to extend freedom to all. School books rarely mentioned Northern abolition, preferring to emphasize the climatic conditions that made slavery less attractive in the North.
Reintegrating the South into the union came at the cost of any serious study of its peculiar institution. At the most advanced center for historical scholarship of the day, Johns Hopkins University, historians construed slavery as a boon to the slaves and a responsibility for slave masters.
When historians in recent years turned their attention to the North's experiment with abolition, the virulence of anti-black hostility and the gradualness of the process of emancipation loomed larger than the legislative measures themselves. And so Pennsylvania's ground-breaking law again went uncelebrated.
Playing the race card in the United States has always entailed downplaying the historic campaigns to rid the nation of slavery, for to praise the abolitionist was to demean the Southern grandee who held men and women in bondage. Eager after the Civil War to rehabilitate the defeated Southerners, American leaders neglected one of our proudest achievements -- being the first people in the world to legislate against slavery. When all of us finally agree that citizenship should have not have a color, we'll be ready to commemorate March 1, 1780.
This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.
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Nathaniel Brian Bates - 3/10/2005
It is important to remember that first great wave of emancipation that swept the North during and after the Revolution. It is often forgotten for some reason.
Nathaniel Brian Bates - 3/10/2005
It is important to remember that first great wave of emancipation that swept the North during and after the Revolution. It is often forgotten for some reason.
Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 3/5/2005
I honestly think you have completely gone off the deep end here, buddy. You obviously have a serious problem with black people, who you seem to believe have gotten all “uppity” and out of hand do to all those liberals getting crazy ideas of equality into their fragile little minds.
The last few lines of your lat post were the smartest you have ever said. I agree 100% with Bill Cosby, although if I were a betting man, I would bet the bank that he would agree with almost nothing that you have said here.
Your rants about liberals and blacks are beyond foolish, they are as racist as they are irrelevant to anything about the article or the discussion.
I appreciate your final “surrender” of sorts, but I am sure Derek will agree that these discussions are not about winning or loosing, and I don’t believe either of us needs any validation from a man who believes that civil rights activists in the 60’s likely ended up as rioters or criminals.
Vernon Clayson - 3/5/2005
Moshe and Catsam, not quite as catchy as flotsam and jetsam, but it does have a kind of cachet. Even though you are probably white, you are remindful of the young Blacks on their soap boxes, shouting at and challenging passerbys in student unions in the 1960's. Most of us thought they were kind of novice Malcom X's, ranting against the man. Most weren't serious students, most were outsiders taking advantage of the forum the college provided. My guess is that many of those individuals eventually became involved in the riots in any number of cities during the 1960's and early 1970's, or ended up in prison for other angry and deadly acts. I wonder if any of them are as embarrassed by their actions during that time as so many of the so-called hippies of that era are now, probably not, the liberals still need them to think they were right. In closing, I think the two of you should take a lesson from Bill Cosby who has gotten away from his song and dance act and now uses his celebrity to espouse the need for adults to become more involved in guiding their children into the mainstream and away from the self-pitying subculture of hip-hop speak, ill-fitting clothing and violent gangs. I will speak no more of this, I give up, you win.
Derek Charles Catsam - 3/5/2005
Once again you draw an awful lot of assumptions about where I have or have not lived, walked, traveled and otherwise. You keep plugging your biography as if you are the only one ever to have lived on the street, been in inner cities. Please refrain from idiocies like "cloistered hall reading and writing," which in addition to not actually making any sense, bear no reflection on reality. If you'd like tro compare our street experiences off line, I'll gladly do so. But knock it off with baseless assertions about people whom you don't know. You have no idea where I have lived, the neighborhoods I have frequented, and so forth. Don't hide your vaguely racist categorizations about African American neighborhoods behind some claim to be "street." Say the dumb things you've been saying on the street even in a middle class black neighborhood with no crime and you'd likely get your teeth kicked in - and rightfully so.
What you are talking about when you mention "liberalism giving a free pass" is beyond me. A free pass to what? From whom? Will they validate parking? Who asked for or presupposed a free pass from whatever this free pass protects? What on earth are you talking about? Start making sense. For the love of God, start making sense.
Niothing is fatuous about sayiong blacks are part and parcel of the Democratic Party. That was my argument to begin with. What I said was fatuous was your assertion that the Democratic Party infers that slavery still exists and the silly, poor, reasoning you used to get there. Try to represent your own arguments honestly before mischaracterizing the arguments of others.
Vernon Clayson - 3/3/2005
Mr. Catsam, on your comment of March 2nd, It appears I did have you and Mr. Moshe lumped together, maybe because birds of a feather, etc., or perhaps because I was kind of rushed when I commented last and didn't bring my "A" game. Anyway, what's actually fatuous about thinking Blacks are part and parcel of the Democrat party, you are not likely to deny that whites are part and parcel of the Republican party. If it escaped you that Bill Clinton was obviously condescending in his approach to Blacks, you were not paying attention. I admit Republicans are reaching out to minorities but it isn't nearly so blatantly hypocritical, they at least try to make it appear that it's a two-way street, but not Massa Clinton, he danced the buck and wing, swayed with the choir and, for the purposes of political expediency, became our first black president (but not really). You indicate you are white and a liberal, and therefore more understanding, if what I see and read is correct. I'll tell you what, how about if I point out areas in Watts,CA, Liberty City, FL, and Detroit, MI, and a dozen other cities, and you walk them any evening and see if that liberal status gets you a free pass. The majority of black adults bar their doors and don't venture out, I think when they are as safe as they would be in most white neighborhoods and you can walk black neighborhoods safely in your liberal white understanding, I will soften my rhetoric. In closing, it appears that you think a person can't express an opinion that hasn't been held and written before. My thoughts are my thoughts although many rather astute persons share my feelings. I survived years of life on the street, viewing it from there rather than from some cloistered hall reading and writing - although I've also done that, it's much less fearful, frustrating and confusing.
Oscar Chamberlain - 3/3/2005
I'm honestly having trouble reading the Somerset case in the link because of the way material is interspersed in it
My understanding before today was that it stated that slavery could not exist in the absence of positive law. Colonial acts were subject to veto by London, and the acts establishing slavery stood. Whether we like it or not, such positive law existed in the United States.
It is pretty clear from British history that the government in London did not think that Somerset alone eliminated slavery in the other colonies. However, I would never deny the importance of the case in influencing attitudes in both politicians and the judiciary, in the US and in Britain.
As far as the broader claim is concerned, that slavery had been outlawed for a millenium, I think this is a case of mistaking a line of precedent for a fuller historical truth. They can be identical, but quite often are not.
Oscar Chamberlain - 3/3/2005
I don't know about Pennsylvania, but generally, such gradual emancipation did keep the child of the slave with the mother. To what extent that child was treated as a slave or as the child of a servant or farm laborer probably depended upon the specific owner, unless the statute had some provision for this.
And, in the context of the times, it was a big step.
Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 3/2/2005
Fist off, I would like to thank Derek for his generous appraisal. I had assumed that your post was addressed to me.
Now on the “substance” of your post.
1) “surely you realize that any number of Black spokespersons within the Democrat Party, and you said that 90% of the Blacks vote Democrat, frequently refer to slavery, slavemasters and the ubiquitous JIM CROW policies of the various governments and employers, ipso facto, ergo, any number of Democrats infer slavery is still with us.”
I agree that slavery remains very much a part of black culture and ideology, just as the Holocaust remains very much a part of Jewish culture and ideology and the American Revolution for most Americans (how often are the Founders, or “founding principles” evoked by politicians of both parties?). However, references to this does not signify any attempt to portray Democrats as somehow more “anti-Slavery” than Republicans (the party of Lincoln).
Furthermore, I believe that you are confusing black ministers, who often carry a political role, and actual political candidates. I personally have never heard a Democratic candidate infer in ANY WAY that slavery is still here or that Jim Crow is still around. I have heard however, a prominent Republican Senator suggest that the nation would have been better off had a racist segregationist been elected president in 1948.
Racism, on the other hand, still does exist, a reality very much appreciated by blacks and perhaps not so much by as many whites. Thus when courting the black vote, reminding them that you agree that racism still exists is simply good politics (and accurate too).
2) “You speak of race card, that is another example of what I said earlier, race means non-whites when liberals speak of it.”
I agree with Derek’s point on this. However, I also think that race means non-white when conservatives speak of it as well.
3) “As for the Republicans, if they try to promote a black or hispanic person, or a female of any race, that automatically makes them anathema to Democrats - you inferred that yourself with your mention of Clarence Thomas and Miguel Estrada”
Actually, my use of those people were used to prove simply that Republicans are more than willing to use race when they benefit from it. Also, why would you accuse liberals of disliking minority candidates? Do you have any evidence for this, or do you assume that they must since they hesitated when it came to some candidates who also happen to be minority? If this is the case, are you not “playing the race card” yourself??
4) “- and what were the Democrats, especially that terrible Democrat Senator Boxer and that boring Senator Kerry trying to prove when they put Condoleeza Rice through the ringer?”
“The terrible,” and the “boring.” Rather petty and silly comments, don’t you think? Why not just go the extra step and call them “poopie-heads”? In any event, they were trying to prove nothing. If you listened to their questioning, they were attempting to hold Rice accountable for her statements and judgment as National Security Advisor, a perfectly legitimate role.
5) “Had she been a Clinton candidate, the praise would have been through the roof.”
You are probably right about this. That is the nature of partisan politics. After all, had Clinton invaded Iraq based on false intelligence, he would have been impeached, right? After all, if Republicans held investigations and spent millions in tax payer money to hold hearings on potential wrongdoings from the day he was born to then, imagine if he actually made a mistake of significant consequence? Where we part ways is that you seem to believe that Democrats hold a monopoly on partisanship. Even a brief look at the years 1992-2000 will demonstrate the factual error in this assumption.
6) “You again gave examples where you feel aggravated, and shame, for the usual atrocities, those that play to the Jews and Blacks, and included slavery again - as I have come to expect from you, as you can't seem to get away from that.”
You make it sound as if I simply brought up the subject arbitrarily. I would remind you of your own statement which I was responding to. You said: “It is completely unrealistic that anyone today should feel responsible, or feel aggrieved, for those persons caught up in the policies and practices, acceptable at the time, of a now ancient culture.” I agreed in part and disagreed in part.
If you have “come to expect” from me that I will address the points that you make as clearly and thoughtfully as I can, than I take the comment as a compliment (although I suspect it has less than generous intentions).
7) “Jesse Jackson, or maybe Al Sharpton, would have been there in a matter of hours shouting Jim Crow and hate crime.”
I cannot help but notice that you use those two people an awful lot as representatives of “liberals” and “Democrats.” It is worth noting that many liberals disdain those people and when both ran for their party’s nomination, both lost. They are no more representative of liberals than Pat Robertson is of conservatives. They are liberals, to be sure, just as David Duke is a conservative, but this hardly gives you the right to exaggerate their significant beyond all proportions simply to continue a straw man argument.
8) “As long as people like you continue to tell Blacks, especially the young and impressionable, they are being treated inequitably and have something coming because their great-great-grandparents were slaves, many of them will ride that race card.”
I am afraid you are allowing your prejudice to make several assumptions in the above statement. Allow me to point them out:
- You assume that blacks are not exposed to racism and that the concept must be told TO them by “people like” me, without which they would never know about inequality
- You assume that recognizing that racism exists means that they have “something coming because their great-great-grandparents were slaves.” Can’t people desire an end to racial inequality without thinking that they have “something coming” to them.
- You assume that after slavery was abolished, racism itself was abolished and that all of the grievances some minorities have must be caused by slavery alone, which of course ended long ago
Those assumptions are incorrect and thus the entire premise of your argument is incorrect.
9) “How about saying that the majority work at honest jobs and live the same lives as the majority of the white population?”
How about saying that? I agree entirely.
Derek Charles Catsam - 3/2/2005
Um, Vernon -- I think Adam's post was excellent and that he ought to get credit forbeing the one to whom you are responding.
Your logic is wretched, complete with misplaced latin phrases. 90% of blacks vote Democrat (true). And I did say that. But i did not say nor have you come close to ever showing that 90% also invoke slavery as a prime concern in their politics. Thus the rest of your assertion trying to tie Democrats in with claims that slavery is still with us is utterly fatuous.
Race means "non whites" when liberals speak of it? Really? When I talk about race my emphasis is on black white, with no lack of discussion about whites. I am white. But it seems rather bold of you to assert that I do not speak about Hispanics or other minority groups, who, as Adam has pointed out, have often been lumped with blacks for the purpose of discrimination. It might be nice to know what you are talking about when you write about what others do or do not, have or have not said about the matter of race.
The rest of your post is a bit difficult to comprehend. And since I'll trust that before long you'll learn to differentiate the names "Adam" and "Derek", I'll let Adam take on from here if he so chooses to confront your cavalcade of anecdotes which not only do not even begin to prove your larger thesis, but that at points do not even mean what you presume they mean.
Vernon Clayson - 3/2/2005
Mr. Catsam, you are indeed a tough taskmaster but I will try. You ask if I have evidence that the "Democratic" Party" has inferred that slavery still exists; my thought on that is it may not be a stated part of the Democrat's rules for campaigning but surely you realize that any number of Black spokespersons within the Democrat Party, and you said that 90% of the Blacks vote Democrat, frequently refer to slavery, slavemasters and the ubiquitous JIM CROW policies of the various governments and employers, ipso facto, ergo, any number of Democrats infer slavery is still with us. You speak of race card, that is another example of what I said earlier, race means non-whites when liberals speak of it. As for the Republicans, if they try to promote a black or hispanic person, or a female of any race, that automatically makes them anathema to Democrats - you inferred that yourself with your mention of Clarence Thomas and Miguel Estrada - and what were the Democrats, especially that terrible Democrat Senator Boxer and that boring Senator Kerry trying to prove when they put Condoleeza Rice through the ringer? Had she been a Clinton candidate, the praise would have been through the roof. You again gave examples where you feel aggravated, and shame, for the usual atrocities, those that play to the Jews and Blacks, and included slavery again - as I have come to expect from you, as you can't seem to get away from that. I watched some reverse Jim Crow last evening on the O'Reilly Factor, a 295 pound black man beat a much smaller white man in a restaurant line, had it been the other way around, it would have been called a hate crime. Jesse Jackson, or maybe Al Sharpton, would have been there in a matter of hours shouting Jim Crow and hate crime. They both wouldn't have come because they obviously don't share pulpits, or collection plates. When I said Al Sharpton was used, it isn't like he didn't know it, he doesn't seem to mind playing that stepnfetchit role, for him it is a sound financial plan - the used is also a user and gets his TV face time, a little like Sammy Davis Jr. with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, except Bojangles Al was with John Kerry, Edwards, Dean and that strange little man from Cleveland. As long as people like you continue to tell Blacks, especially the young and impressionable, they are being treated inequitably and have something coming because their great-great-grandparents were slaves, many of them will ride that race card. How about saying that the majority work at honest jobs and live the same lives as the majority of the white population?
Leroy John Pletten - 3/2/2005
Slavery was actually ALWAYS unlawful, i.e., unconstitutional, in the U.S., in both the colonies and later called states. The law had been the same, i.e., anti-slavery, for over a millenium in the legal system followed in the U.S. under Britain. The British high court years before Pennsylvania, in Somerset v Stewart (1772). precluded slavery constitutionality. This followed prior precedents including one under Queen Elizabeth I, Matter of Cartwright (1569). References are at http://medicolegal.tripod.com/slaveryillegal.htm . Pennsylvian was NOT taking a first step. It was FOLLOWING MANY steps, many prior precedents.
Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 3/1/2005
You raise some important issues in your post, but the one I would like to address is the following:
“I wonder why it is that some Historians want to tell American History, with no input about slavery? They want to tell the story only from the European point of view. Just as many Americans do not want to discuss the Massacre of Natives, or that America was built on land stolen from Natives, and worked by slaves. Why are folks so uncomfortable with the truth.”
I think the reality is that all nations, the US included, tend to highlight the more noble aspect of their history and try to minimize the negative realities of 17th, 18th, and 19th century morality. Indeed, I would argue that nations behave very similar to individual citizens in the regard. A recent study indicated that when individuals who were shown a series of news stories about American history in which the US was perceived as “good,” and others in which the US was perceived as “bad,” respondents tended to remember those stories which conformed to their preconceived bias. Those who are highly cynical of the US and American interests tended to recall more stories where America had behaved poorly; respondents who were highly patriotic tended to be able to recall more stories where America had behaved morally.
The social revolution in the 1960’s has revered a lot of the national ignorance about the darker sides of American history but unfortunately, people continue to view history through their own ideological prism. This is why it is so important to have courses in History and Political Science where professionals are sensitive to the biases inherent in academic research.
Anita L Wills - 3/1/2005
It is interesting that one responder called Jesse Jackson a race baiter. Don't forget that Jesse was born in the Jim Crow South, and knows first hand about racism.
Yes, Pennsylvania passed a law against slavery, and several Free Black communities sprang up. Just because there is a law does not mean it is adhered to. For instance in 1830 African slavery was outlawed in America. The Southern States got around that law by having slaves sent to the Caribbean, and seasoned. They were then sold in the Deep South, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi, as Caribbean slaves. My own Great Great Grandmother was sold into slavery in 1830, after it was outlawed. She was taken from Guinea, to Bermuda, seasoned, and then sold in South Carolina. Yes, there are laws, but somehow folks manage to get around them.
In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Law was passed by Congress. That law allowed Southern Slave Owners to enter Northern States, and seize runaway slaves. On September 11, 1851, a slaver from Maryland, Edward Gorsuch, accompanied by a Federal Marshall, knocked on the door of William Parker, a Free Black. William Parker resided in Christiana Pennsylvania, just over the border from Maryland. An arguement ensued, as Gorsuch demanded his property, and Parker told him that no man could own another.
A gunshot in the chest ended Gorsuchs life, and began brought the Fugitive Slave Law into question. Gorsuch was mortally wounded, and his son beaten almost to death. The Federal Marshall and his posse scattered. They had entered what was known as the Hub of Abolitionist activity, Lancaster Pennsylvania. The Feds attempted to over rule states rights, and on that day they lost. They also lost at trial, after attempting to charge, the mostly black prisoners with Treason. In fact shortly afterwards, the Fugitive Slave Law was abolished.
I wonder why it is that some Historians want to tell American History, with no input about slavery? They want to tell the story only from the European point of view. Just as many Americans do not want to discuss the Massacre of Natives, or that America was built on land stolen from Natives, and worked by slaves. Why are folks so uncomfortable with the truth. Jesse Jackson, and any other historians have a duty to tell their truth. Of course it is more comfortable to hear a history in which certain folks are heroes, but that is not the history of America, nor the world.
By the way, Jesse Jackson is a Minister, not a Historian. There are many distinguished African American Historians, but they usually do not get the publicity Jesse Jackson gets.
Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 3/1/2005
I don't know if I would agree that it was small. The law ended the practise of a perpetual slave class by guarenteeing a growing population of free blacks.
While in the South, the law virtually precluded the possibility of free blacks (particularly after the fugitive slave law) thus maintaining the belief that slavery was just a "natural" part of life, ordained by God, in the North, the PA law made full emancipation in the state inevitable, as the moral justification would diminish with each passing year.
bai ren - 3/1/2005
It seems to me that the Pennsylvania law was a very small step. It did not abolish slavery, it limited it to 28 years.
What was the position of the next generation? While women were waiting for freedom at age 28, were their children similarly bonded for 28 years?
Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 2/28/2005
1) “However the subject of slavery will not be dropped anytime soon because race baiters, e.g., Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, etal., plus the Democrat party, need the inference, if not the substance, that slavery is alive and well in these United States.”
Do you have any evidence that the Democratic Party has “inferred” that slavery still exists today, or are we to take this at your word? And I notice that you ignore the numerous examples of Republicans who would seem to fit the description.
For example, When Clarence Thomas was fighting charges of sexual harassment, he declared his opponents “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves.” More recently was Democrats who opposed the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit being accused of being anti-Hispanic. To reject Estrada, said Sen. Charles Grassley (Republican), "would be to shut the door on the American dream of Hispanic-Americans everywhere."
How about Bush’s strategy of selling social security reform when he said recently that “African-American males die sooner than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people,” or when Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch declared "Every Hispanic in America is watching," as the vast majority of Senate Democrats voted to oppose the nomination of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general.
Aren’t these Republicans “playing the race card” just as much as Democrats?
I am not suggesting that you are wrong to say that the Democrats need race, but as the Republican party starts making inroads to minority communities, I notice that they need it just as much.
2) “It is completely unrealistic that anyone today should feel responsible, or feel aggrieved, for those persons caught up in the policies and practices, acceptable at the time, of a now ancient culture.”
I feel aggravated when I read about the murder of Jews in the Holocaust, the slaughter of Tutsis in Rwanda, and the Jim Crow laws that have existed from the Civil War to very recently, why should I not feel aggravated to read about slavery? Your position seems to be that we should not only feel free of responsibility, but free of any shame that our country once practiced slavery. That may be your belief, and you are entitled to it, but it is not mine. I feel no responsibility for slavery, but I do feel shame that my country practiced it, and even greater shame to know about the 100 years AFTER slavery “ended.”
3) “Mostly, it's time this particular minority realized they are being used and the only thing the Bill Clintons and John Kerrys of the world want is their vote and they will say anything, promise anything to get it.”
I ask again: Is there any substantive difference between Clinton and Bush? Does Bush and Republicans not pander to their bases just as surely as Clinton and Democrats do? Hasn’t Bush “said anything, promised anything” to get the vote of Evangelicals? Remember that while in office, Clinton cut the welfare rolls and became the first president to seriously address affirmative action reform (remember, “mend-it-don’t-end-it”).
I know the following was actually addressed to Derek (whose post I agree with completely), but I hope neither he nor you will mind me addressing the points:
4) “I understand that, in your case, race only means Negro, or Black, or African American, whatever the current label is, and not Caucasian or Mongoloid, races that also continue.”
It is not just Derek that considers race to mean primarily “black” and “white,” it is over 400 years of American policy and official law. The name of the case escapes me as of the moment, but I recall a SC case in which an Asian family went to court so that their daughter could attend a “white” school rather than the dilapidated “colored” school. The decision: Anyone who is not 100% white was declared to be legally “black.” This, for almost all of American history save the past 2 or 3 decades, race does indeed only mean white and non-white, usually black (any guesses as to what bathroom Indians, Latinos, and Arabs had to use?)
5) “Anyway, none of my ancestors owned slaves so I feel no guilt.”
Neither the article, nor myself, nor Derek has suggested that you should feel guilty about slavery, and yet this is the second time in as many posts you have made it a point to say that you feel no guilt. Are you sure there is not some deeper issue here?
6) “By the way, he was still doing farm work into his eighties, it was a way of life for many generations, and he probably never heard of the "horrors of Jim Crow" while basically living a life similar to those who, now, resent that their ancestors endured hard work for similar room and board and financial pittance.”
Unless your grandfather was either extremely isolated or completely illiterate, I find this extremely difficult to believe.
7) “Jim Crow is an overused excuse, get over it, move on.”
You throw this sentence out and just leave it at that? In what way is it “overused,” and how is it used as an “excuse”? Who should get over it and move on? Everyone? Jim Crow existed whether you care you learn about it or not and it existed up until the 1960’s and into the 1970’s. The people who grew up under its banner are still alive and well and its effects are still with them. You may deny this basic reality if you like, just as you may deny the fact that soldiers in WWII and Vietnam are still effected emotionally and psychologically from their experiences, but in any event, it happened.
8) “As far as Al Sharpton, you probably need to do a little research on how he gained access to the campaign. You may be proud of him but he was used”
You might be surprised to learn that in the primary system that we have, entering the race is essentially self-selection. Sharpton raised the necessary funds and got the necessary signatures to be put on the ballot and that is why he was there. Who are you suggesting “used” him and why would they?
9) “Sooner than you think, that 90% percent of African-Americans voting Democrat will be merely a token, overshadowed by the influx of Hispanics who will nearly equal the political power of the WASP's.”
You are probably right, but do not believe that the Republicans will not have to pander and play the race card in order to do it. They already have, and guess what? It is paying off big time.
Vernon Clayson - 2/28/2005
Mr. Catsam, of course there is a continuum of race, that speaks for itself as all races continue. I understand that, in your case, race only means Negro, or Black, or African American, whatever the current label is, and not Caucasian or Mongoloid, races that also continue. Also my comment is hardly a screed, it's rather brief. Anyway, none of my ancestors owned slaves so I feel no guilt. As a matter of fact my grandfather is listed as a servant in several census records because he worked for room and board and his pay, if any, would have been a pittance. Life was tough in the 1800's and early 1900's for most people, and I don't believe I'm owed anything, financially or morally, for his having been in servitude as a farm laborer for part of that time. By the way, he was still doing farm work into his eighties, it was a way of life for many generations, and he probably never heard of the "horrors of Jim Crow" while basically living a life similar to those who, now, resent that their ancestors endured hard work for similar room and board and financial pittance. Jim Crow is an overused excuse, get over it, move on. As far as Al Sharpton, you probably need to do a little research on how he gained access to the campaign. You may be proud of him but he was used, he was little more than a foil, a stepnfetchit, tolerated by the Democrats to show how they reach out and welcome the endlessly suffering (in his case, not much)minority. Sooner than you think, that 90% percent of African-Americans voting Democrat will be merely a token, overshadowed by the influx of Hispanics who will nearly equal the political power of the WASP's. Taken together, my first comment and this one, approach being a "screed."
Derek Charles Catsam - 2/28/2005
In your partisan screed you seem to miss a larger point -- that there is a continuum of race in the US that extends from slavery, and thus that trying to compensate for slavery is also to try to compensate from the horrors of Jim crow, the injequities of segregeation. these things did not end in 1863 or 1865, and their concrete legacies did not end in 1964 or 1965.
As for Hillary accepting Sharpton, I'm not quite certain I get your point. How could she prevent a candidate from being part of a primary process that she did not control? What a silly, silly little argument you make. never mind how patently offensive it is to assert that you know better than the 90% of African-Americans who vote democrat what is good for them.
Vernon Clayson - 2/28/2005
My bet is that very few, if any others, will comment on this subject. That's mostly because slavery has long been illegal the United States and, therefore, not a current concern to the majority of American citizens. However the subject of slavery will not be dropped anytime soon because race baiters, e.g., Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, etal., plus the Democrat party, need the inference, if not the substance, that slavery is alive and well in these United States. It is completely unrealistic that anyone today should feel responsible, or feel aggrieved, for those persons caught up in the policies and practices, acceptable at the time, of a now ancient culture. I've read that someone, perhaps the "very" Reverend Jackson, brought up the quaint notion that freed slaves were cheated out of an 1860's promise of 40 acres and a mule, and not getting that, all Negroes, Blacks, African Americans, whatever they want to be called, alive now, should receive some kind of restituion. I can't see the restitution but I think any one of them who feels deeply about the forty acres and a mule should get them, but only if they promise to never ask for anything else, perhaps the exception might be to ask for a real job when the mule consumes more fodder than the forty acres produces. Mostly, it's time this particular minority realized they are being used and the only thing the Bill Clintons and John Kerrys of the world want is their vote and they will say anything, promise anything to get it. I've been wondering recently if Hillary Clinton will tolerate having Al Sharpton do his soft shoe Bojangles comedy routine on the campaign stage with her as he did with Kerry, Edwards, Dean, and the strange little guy from Cleveland.
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