I am going to feature this video with just a little commentary. Some of what Gates says here is just bizarre. Free blacks were “unmolested” by the Confederacy. Tell that to historian Clarence Mohr. In addition, according to Gates, the “dirtiest little secret in African-American history is that a surprisingly high percentage of the free Negros in the South owned slaves themselves.” Perhaps one of you can tell me what “high percentage” means in this context. Continue reading
I couldn’t be more excited to share Common-place’s latest issue on the Civil War sesquicentennial that I had the pleasure to edit with Megan Kate Nelson. We are confident that each of you will find something of interest in this issue. The essays cover a wide range of topics and will hopefully both enlighten and entertain. Special thanks to all the contributors to this issue. We had the pleasure to work with an incredibly talented group of historians and educators, who were both committed to producing their best work and patient with our suggestions and numerous emails. Thanks also to the wonderful editorial staff at Common-place, especially Paul Erickson and Trudy Powers. Continue reading
It is being reported that some of the descendants of slaveowner William Prince Ford are not happy with how he has been portrayed in 12 Years A Slave.
One was his great-great-grandson, 77-year-old William Marcus Ford, who described the film as ‘too dark and exaggerated’. He added: ‘By all accounts, my great-great-grandfather treated his slaves well and did his best for them. ‘He was born at a particular time in history when slavery was accepted throughout the South. ‘It wasn’t illegal. That doesn’t make it right or moral by today’s standards but back then it wasn’t an ethical issue. Northup saw him as a kindly person. He was a highly moral man.’ The film, says Mr Ford, ignores the fact that ‘slaves were regarded as valuable pieces of property and that it wouldn’t be in an owner’s interest to treat his slaves badly’. He said: ‘Good field-hands had worth. They were valued. A skilled craftsman like Northup would have been valued. There might have been a few bad apples, but I don’t think there was widespread brutality.’
The past few decades has witnessed an incredible outpouring of scholarship on the complexity of the master-slave relationship. The institution varied widely depending on both time, place and a host of other factors. No one should be surprised that as much as 12 Years A Slave has made room for meaningful discourse about the history of American slavery, it has also reinforced deeply entrenched positions and ideologies. For many a continued defensive stance is the only response. Continue reading
A couple of years ago I tried to track the frequency of references to “black Confederates” on the Internet by using Google’s Ngram application. Unfortunately, it is no longer available, but I did recently come across Google’s Trend application, which functions along the same lines. It also includes more recent data. Back in September I discussed the possibility that this narrative has finally peaked.
The spike before 2010 corresponds to the Washington Post report on a Virginia textbook that included a reference to thousands of blacks fighting with Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. You will also notice a spike in the middle of 2011, which is when History Detectives aired its segment debunking the story of Silas Chandler.
Click here on how to interpret Google’s Trend Graphs.
The movie has been in limited release up til now, but I suspect that with Golden Globe Award for Best Drama and nine Oscar Nominations that this is going to change very soon. This is wonderful news for what is clearly the most important Hollywood movie about slavery to appear in decades. A number of my students have seen the film and they all come back wanting to talk about it. Even given the nature of the violence depicted in this film, I have no doubt that 12 Years a Slave will eventually be used in classrooms across the country. It already is through the textbooks, documents, and other primary sources that history teachers utilize
On a related note, I highly recommend checking out NPR’s ongoing series of conversations from their Race Card Project. I’ve caught most of them on my way to work in the morning. Yesterday I used this discussion at the beginning of my Civil War Memory class on the subject of antebellum slavery.