As I continue to work on You Will Not Be Forgotten, each Wednesday I am going to post about something I’ve learned in the process of writing this book. Maybe it will be something about myself or about slavery or about history in general; I’m not sure. One thing I do know is this – writing this book has changed me in more ways than I will probably ever know. I hope you’ll check in each week to see what I’ve discovered in the process. I hope you’ll share your thoughts, too.
Slavery was wrong. Slavery is wrong. It doesn’t matter if it’s chattel slavery like we had in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries here in the States or if it’s the sexual slavery and human trafficking that is so rampant in our world today. Slavery is wrong.
I don’t think most people would dispute that (although I am continually amazed that people still say to me that the Christian Bible approves of slavery.). Slavery is wrong. In all forms. In all times.
Because I believe this, when I started writing this book, I came in with this mindset that my research would lead me to a clear indictment of the master on this plantation. I thought I would find some sort of evidence that showed a blackness at the center of his soul. I did not find that.
What I found was complexity, a man tainted by a system and a culture and an economic system that said slavery was not only normal but preferable to other economic systems. A man who truly believed that black people would not be able to survive in American society because of this society’s racism and the lack of education and training that the institution of slavery often made law. A man who believed that black people were, while human, at least inferior in some ways to white people. A man who taught the enslaved people here how to read and write and required that education as part of their hopes for emancipation. A man who freed some of his slaves but only on condition that they move to another continent. A man who returned home from several hundred miles away when his children’s slave nurse died.
Was chattel slavery in the U.S. wrong? Undoubtedly, yes. Did it scar and wound us as nation in ways we are still trying to heal? Absolutely. Did the people who owned other people do something wrong? Without question. Did some people stand up in the midst of this system and oppose it, freeing their slaves and dealing with the consequences? Numerous times.
Were slave owners evil? No. They were human.
I do not want to gloss over slavery, pretend it wasn’t horrific, act as if it’s just “how it was.” But I’ve learned that perhaps the only way to healing is to realize that indictment – my own desire to just write someone off because of what they did – doesn’t bring health – it brings more harm.
I wish this man had been held accountable for his actions; I wish he had come to see the brutality of the system he participated in; I wish he had emancipated everyone he owned and taken a stand against the institution. He did not. He, like so many of us, entrenched himself in his position and would not be moved. I wish I could portray him with glowing words; I wish his was a story of redemption. I wish it was that easy – evil or good. It is not. Not for him, not for any human.
So how do I see the master from this place now? As a man. Just that. A man who did selfish, horrible things. A man who did good things. A man.
How do you view people who owned slaves in the past?