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Re: Slave Narratives

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  • Brian Kelly
    Several points regarding Mr. Allen s objections to the pc interpretation of the slave experience. First off, he should at least admit fom the outset that he,
    Message 1 of 16 , May 5, 1999
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      Several points regarding Mr. Allen's objections to the "pc" interpretation
      of the slave experience. First off, he should at least admit fom the
      outset that he, too, has an agenda, albeit one that has only emerged in
      bits and pieces thanks to Dr. Storey's persistence: to uphold the "truth"
      about the benign impact of the slave system on the slaves themselves, to
      minimize its importance in antebellum southern society, to dismiss it as
      the central issue in the Civil War. One thing that should be
      acknowledged is that all of this _was_ quite widely accepted by
      historians, and by American society generally, until the rise of the
      civil rights movement forced the academy to have another look, with the
      experience of slaves and ex-slaves themselves at the center of the
      picture. The attack on "pc" in the academy is aimed at making the tired,
      old, -and, yes - racist shcolarship respectable once again.

      Michael Fitzgerald's comments about the context of the Slave Narrative
      interviews - the depression-era South - are important, but one other thing
      should be added. The overthrow of Reconstruction, which Michael has
      documented as well as anyone in his magnificent _Union League Movement in
      the Deep South_ ushered in a period of unparallelled racial violence. The
      antebellum social order, which left little room for doubt about
      which race was on top, and which relied for its survival upon the steady
      application of what might be called "low-level" racial violence (except in
      cases of insurrection, when the gloves came off), achieved a certain sort
      of equilibrium which was upset by emancipation. The Jim Crow era, which
      lasted well through the period when these interviews were conducted, may
      indeed have seemed like a step backward to many of those who had lived
      through slavery, been discouraged by the triumph and seeming invincibility
      of white supremacy in the decades which followed, and (as Micheal pointed
      out) left destitute by regional and national indifference.

      On the character of the war its hard to know where to start. The best
      place, of course, is with CSA VP Alexander Stephens' "cornerstone speech,"
      in which he identifies quite clearly slavery (and more generally racial
      inequality) as the central issue of the War. Nobody queries rank-and-file
      Serb or American troops on their reasons for fighting to determine the
      "causes" of the conflict in the Balkans. Union and Confederate soldiers'
      perceptions, while historically significant as a gauge of morale,
      motivation, the effectiveness of respective governments' propaganda, etc.,
      don't explain the causes of the Civil War.

      Finally, I want to make it clear that while I disagree strongly with Mr.
      Allen's perspective, and believe it to be discredited by the best
      scholarship in the field, I welcome the chance to discuss these issues.
      There are certainly vital questions at stake in weighing the use of
      primary sources in reconstructing the past, and probably nowhere are these
      questions so vital as in debating slavery, the Civil War, emancipation,
      etc. But the verdict is in on whether slavery was a benevolent
      institution, and on whether the social order which rested upon it was
      compatible with democratic institutions. We should not surrender that
      judgment lightly.

      Brian Kelly
      Florida International University
    • Dean Costello
      ... the ... Ummm, the few Confederate newspapers I have viewed from that period appear to make it perfectly clear that the war was indeed based on preserving
      Message 2 of 16 , May 5, 1999
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        ><< I'm not sure I understand what revision you wish us to adopt in light of
        >this--however you cut it, slaves constituted 45% of Alabama's population; in
        >all but the most mountainous counties of the hill country, slaves were
        >prevalent throughout the state. What is your interpretation of the
        >statistics? What do you believe they reveal to us about history?
        >
        >My daughter's 8th grade history book stated 32% of Alabamians owned slaves.
        >This is not true! I think the revisionist do this to give credibility to
        the
        >erroneous idea the War for Southern Independence was fought to preserve
        >slavery.

        Ummm, the few Confederate newspapers I have viewed from that period appear
        to make it perfectly clear that the war was indeed based on preserving
        slavery. It is the "revisionists" in the 1880s and the 1920s who started
        the move towards "The War of Northern Aggression" and other equally silly
        descriptors and tried to add the concept of State's Rights to defend their
        actions.

        As to the use of "revisionist" as an apparent term of denigration:

        There have been several changes of thought in terms of the reasons behind
        the Civil War. My personal research (which admittedly is not all the
        detailed since I have, well, a full-time job) tends to support the
        currently growing trend that the Civil War was fought over slavery.

        Depending on the period of time you are examining (e.g., Reconstruction,
        Woodrow Wilson and "Birth of a Nation", anti-segregation in the 50s through
        70s, the Reagan period of refusing to acknowledge racial problems, to the
        present), the common belief of historians range from a war to end slavery
        to a war to defeat rebel forces and/or a war to preserve State's Rights.
        From my evaluation of historical literature, there appears to be a cyclic
        approach to why the Civil War occurred.

        As a result, the use of "revisionist" to describe historians that you don't
        agree with is about as useful (and accurate) as describing anyone who is in
        favor of gun control as communist, e.g., it doesn't make a lick of sense.
        -
        Dean Costello
      • arque
        send NO more mail please ... From: DANptAL@aol.com To: alabamahistory@onelist.com Date: Wednesday, May 05, 1999
        Message 3 of 16 , May 6, 1999
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          send NO more mail please
          -----Original Message-----
          From: DANptAL@... <DANptAL@...>
          To: alabamahistory@onelist.com <alabamahistory@onelist.com>
          Date: Wednesday, May 05, 1999 3:11 PM
          Subject: Re: [alabamahistory] Slave Narratives


          >From: DANptAL@...
          >
          >In a message dated 5/4/99 2:40:52 PM Central Daylight Time,
          >costello@... writes:
          >
          ><< What do you mean by this? Portrayals of slavery run the gamut from
          > "Amistad" (which I have been led to believe is fairly close to 'actual')
          to
          > the absolutely hideous D.H. Lawrence "Birth of a Nation" (which led to the
          > celebration/approval of the KKK, supported the racist policies of Woodrow
          > Wilson, and was a "source" for "Gone With The Wind" [about which 'nuff
          >said]).>>
          >
          >My point is that slightly less that 6% of Southerners owned slaves (6.4% in
          >Alabama-1860 census). Then we have evidence in the Slave Narratives that
          most
          >have favorible things to say about slave days and their masters. Taking
          that
          >into account the percentage of Southerners that owned and abused their
          slaves
          >would extremely low and would surprise most people.
          >
          ><<< >"Roots" by Alex Haley and the "Civil War" by Ken Burns are prime
          > >examples. And that is where caution in interpreting should be applied.
          I
          > >will accept the words of the old slaves any day before I would those
          >current
          > >PC historians who have an agenda to promote.
          >
          > "...before I would those current PC historians who have an agenda to
          >promote."
          >
          > Boy, talking about agendas...
          >
          > Okay, let's see: "Roots" was written in the early '70s (miniseries in
          > 1977), >>>
          >
          >You are right about the date but the series runs regularly as a truthful
          >portrayal of slavery and Alex Haley was sued for plagerism and settled out
          of
          >court. It only took a moment to find the following on the net.
          >London Times 9/7/97
          >
          >American TV boycotts expose' of Haley's Roots
          >
          >by John Harlow
          >Arts Correspondent
          >
          >AMERICAN television networks are boycotting a BBC documentary exposing the
          >extent to which Alex Haley falsified his family history in his best-selling
          >book, Roots.
          >
          >Network executives admit they are worried that the program, which will be
          >broadcast in Britain next weekend as part of the Bookworm series, could
          cause
          >racial tension - especially in the Deep South where Haley, who died five
          >years ago, is most revered.
          >
          >Roots was billed as the true story of Haley's family, traced back six
          >generations to a west African called Kunta Kinte who was captured by slave
          >traders in The Gambia and sold to American plantation owners. It was a
          >cultural phenomenon when it appeared in 1976 and earned Haley 200 literary
          >prizes, a 32 million dollar estate, the friendship of President Jimmy
          Carter
          >and the gratitude of black America. Within a year, however, doubts started
          >surfacing.
          >
          >In 1977 The Sunday Times tracked down a folk historian in The Gambia who
          had
          >been a crucial source for Haley. The investigation exposed both men as
          deeply
          >unreliable. Other revelations about Haley's occasionally slipshod research
          >followed.
          >
          >The Bookworm program suggests that Haley not only made mistakes but
          >deliberately falsified his own records for dramatic effect.
          >
          >Philip Nobile, a writer who has spent years cross-checking the sources in
          >Roots, regards Haley as a shameless hoaxer: "Virtually every fact in the
          >closing critical pages of Roots is false. Nobody would have challenged this
          >book if it had been classified as fiction, but Haley defrauded the very
          >people he claimed he was championing."
          >
          >Academics in the field of pan-African studies, where Roots is an essential
          >textbook, reluctantly agree. "We have accepted we must honour the spirit
          >rather than the letter of Roots, but to have it systematically demolished
          >would only play into the hands of white supremicists," said a teacher at
          >Tennessee University, where the records of Haley's 10-year search for his
          >ancestors are stored.
          >
          >The Haley family rejects all claims against the author, suggesting the
          >evidence is "trivial and malicious". But Henrik Clarke, a veteran black
          >historian, told Bookworm: "As a people short of heroes, we sometimes take
          the
          >best we can get and sometimes we exaggerate them into something
          >a little bit better than they deserve to be."
          >***********************************
          >I will post later on the remainder of your comments.
          >
          >David Allen
          >
          >------------------------------------------------------------------------
          >The possibilities are endless!
          >http://www.onelist.com
          >ONElist has something for everyone!
          >------------------------------------------------------------------------
          >Archives for the list can be viewed at
          >http://www.onelist.com/archives.cgi/alabamahistory
          >
        • arque
          send NO more mail please ... From: DANptAL@aol.com To: alabamahistory@onelist.com Date: Wednesday, May 05, 1999
          Message 4 of 16 , May 6, 1999
          • 0 Attachment
            send NO more mail please
            -----Original Message-----
            From: DANptAL@... <DANptAL@...>
            To: alabamahistory@onelist.com <alabamahistory@onelist.com>
            Date: Wednesday, May 05, 1999 3:11 PM
            Subject: Re: [alabamahistory] Slave Narratives


            >From: DANptAL@...
            >
            >In a message dated 5/4/99 2:40:52 PM Central Daylight Time,
            >costello@... writes:
            >
            ><< What do you mean by this? Portrayals of slavery run the gamut from
            > "Amistad" (which I have been led to believe is fairly close to 'actual')
            to
            > the absolutely hideous D.H. Lawrence "Birth of a Nation" (which led to the
            > celebration/approval of the KKK, supported the racist policies of Woodrow
            > Wilson, and was a "source" for "Gone With The Wind" [about which 'nuff
            >said]).>>
            >
            >My point is that slightly less that 6% of Southerners owned slaves (6.4% in
            >Alabama-1860 census). Then we have evidence in the Slave Narratives that
            most
            >have favorible things to say about slave days and their masters. Taking
            that
            >into account the percentage of Southerners that owned and abused their
            slaves
            >would extremely low and would surprise most people.
            >
            ><<< >"Roots" by Alex Haley and the "Civil War" by Ken Burns are prime
            > >examples. And that is where caution in interpreting should be applied.
            I
            > >will accept the words of the old slaves any day before I would those
            >current
            > >PC historians who have an agenda to promote.
            >
            > "...before I would those current PC historians who have an agenda to
            >promote."
            >
            > Boy, talking about agendas...
            >
            > Okay, let's see: "Roots" was written in the early '70s (miniseries in
            > 1977), >>>
            >
            >You are right about the date but the series runs regularly as a truthful
            >portrayal of slavery and Alex Haley was sued for plagerism and settled out
            of
            >court. It only took a moment to find the following on the net.
            >London Times 9/7/97
            >
            >American TV boycotts expose' of Haley's Roots
            >
            >by John Harlow
            >Arts Correspondent
            >
            >AMERICAN television networks are boycotting a BBC documentary exposing the
            >extent to which Alex Haley falsified his family history in his best-selling
            >book, Roots.
            >
            >Network executives admit they are worried that the program, which will be
            >broadcast in Britain next weekend as part of the Bookworm series, could
            cause
            >racial tension - especially in the Deep South where Haley, who died five
            >years ago, is most revered.
            >
            >Roots was billed as the true story of Haley's family, traced back six
            >generations to a west African called Kunta Kinte who was captured by slave
            >traders in The Gambia and sold to American plantation owners. It was a
            >cultural phenomenon when it appeared in 1976 and earned Haley 200 literary
            >prizes, a 32 million dollar estate, the friendship of President Jimmy
            Carter
            >and the gratitude of black America. Within a year, however, doubts started
            >surfacing.
            >
            >In 1977 The Sunday Times tracked down a folk historian in The Gambia who
            had
            >been a crucial source for Haley. The investigation exposed both men as
            deeply
            >unreliable. Other revelations about Haley's occasionally slipshod research
            >followed.
            >
            >The Bookworm program suggests that Haley not only made mistakes but
            >deliberately falsified his own records for dramatic effect.
            >
            >Philip Nobile, a writer who has spent years cross-checking the sources in
            >Roots, regards Haley as a shameless hoaxer: "Virtually every fact in the
            >closing critical pages of Roots is false. Nobody would have challenged this
            >book if it had been classified as fiction, but Haley defrauded the very
            >people he claimed he was championing."
            >
            >Academics in the field of pan-African studies, where Roots is an essential
            >textbook, reluctantly agree. "We have accepted we must honour the spirit
            >rather than the letter of Roots, but to have it systematically demolished
            >would only play into the hands of white supremicists," said a teacher at
            >Tennessee University, where the records of Haley's 10-year search for his
            >ancestors are stored.
            >
            >The Haley family rejects all claims against the author, suggesting the
            >evidence is "trivial and malicious". But Henrik Clarke, a veteran black
            >historian, told Bookworm: "As a people short of heroes, we sometimes take
            the
            >best we can get and sometimes we exaggerate them into something
            >a little bit better than they deserve to be."
            >***********************************
            >I will post later on the remainder of your comments.
            >
            >David Allen
            >
            >------------------------------------------------------------------------
            >The possibilities are endless!
            >http://www.onelist.com
            >ONElist has something for everyone!
            >------------------------------------------------------------------------
            >Archives for the list can be viewed at
            >http://www.onelist.com/archives.cgi/alabamahistory
            >
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