This morning The New York Times published an interesting piece that raises the question of whether ‘interracial love was possible’ in the South during the Civil War-era. The story will likely raise strong feelings that either affirm or deny the possibility of genuine other-regarding emotions between master and slave during this period. The very question demands careful attention to how we interpret the relevant historical context and the language we employ to describe the master-slave relationship.
Reading it reminded me of my own struggles describing the relationships between masters and camp slaves throughout the Civil War. I did my best to try to explain how the exigencies of war stretched and challenged the boundaries and expectations that both parties understood at the war’s outset. The biggest challenge was having to rely overwhelmingly on the masters’ perspective in describing this relationship, especially in those instances involving claims of other-regarding concern between the two parties.
This problem of interpretation was most pronounced in cases of camp slaves rescuing their masters on the battlefield, escorting a dead body home, and in cases where one or both parties fell ill. I never lost sight of the fact that violence and control defined the master-slave relationship, but on a number of occasions I was forced to acknowledge the possibility of genuine other-regarding concern.
It should come as no surprise that the publication of this book is likely going to upset the neo-Confederate community and those who still embrace the Lost Cause. But I also wonder whether I will be labeled a slave apologist or worse as a result of even suggesting the possibility of feelings of mutual care, empathy, and sympathy between master and slave.
I guess we will have to wait for Fall 2019 to find out.