April 23, 2011 by David Gillaspie
Slaves built lasting cultural icons. The most uncivil institution built the touchstones of civilization, the Pyramids, the Great Wall, America.
But you know that, right? The most powerful got that way with slavery.
Friends, Romans, and countrymen didn’t conquer the world then welcome defeated nations into their empire as spectators. The cradle of democracy was not a think-tank of Jeffersonian ideals.
In other words, that Acropolis wasn’t about to build itself, slaves were.
The strength of the slave society may be difficult for some, but the evidence created speaks for itself.
What fills the disconnect between a lasting edifice and the labor that built it? What shame is there in recognizing the obvious? The only shame is not to.
You’ve met people who take credit they didn’t earn. You call them things like blowhards, liars, and bullshitters.
Thomas Jefferson spoke against slavery while he owned slaves. No one calls him names. When they do, it is a name like ‘The Smartest Man To Ever Live In The Whitehouse’ according to JFK.
Yet, even someone that smart fell into the disconnect gap. Don’t make the same mistake.
Instead, give credit where it’s due. Without slavery, King Cotton would have been a prince. Tobacco would have been a cottage industry instead of a cash machine. Instead of White Gold, sugar would have been White Fool’s Gold.
After the early American economy boomed with slavery, no one turned back. The young nation couldn’t risk falling behind due to a moral dilemma.
Would you? There are two places to find an answer.
Visit your local plantation. Choose a crown jewel with outstanding grounds. Did slavery build the house? Did slavery manicure the gardens? If the owner had 300,000 acres and grew sugar cane, you know he didn’t do it all by himself.
Admire the material objects inside the house. Either the master had money to start with, or he used his land’s profits to buy his treasures.
The more pristine the property, the greater tribute due the slaves.
If the tour guide says one owner was an Irishman who didn’t subject his slaves to the whip and shackle, he’s not being an apologist or turning a blind eye. It’s about the degree of ownership, not the degree of misery.
An exquisite property is a thing of beauty, a delight onto itself. A plantation is no different. But, why not give credit where it’s owed once you recover from the shock of grandeur. While the richest man in America lived in The Sugar Palace, he had plenty of help in the fields.
Find a southern rural life museum. Notice the array of tools and equipment used in the past. It was a hard life for everyone, but harder for slaves.
This is where history gets complicated. Rural life in the south includes slavery, which isn’t the same as a death camp. No one should make that comparison.
Walk the grounds in front of the slave quarters and imagine what it was like for them after a day in the fields. From a distant point of view, it is still slavery.
“I don’t how this museum survived.”
“What do you mean?”
“With the wooden slave’s quarters. How did the buildings not get burned down at some point?”
“Because they are a part of our history.”
“No vigilante has ever tried setting it on fire?”
“We’re not hiding slavery. This is how we lived. Right here. Burning it down is a denier’s move. That’s not who we are in the south. Slavery was a fact of life, it’s the shadow we still live under. Northerners, and people out west, come here and think they’re the first to discover what we already know.”
“Without slavery, America wouldn’t be the nation we see today. Without slavery, there wouldn’t have been a Civil War. We know that. You can’t change history, but you can find better context. Will slavery ever receive accolades for nation building? For the sacrifices that laid America’s foundation? Then the war. How many slave owning Confederate privates carried a gun? How many abolitionist privates served in the Union Army? The Civil War was about slavery, fought by invaders from the north and defenders in the south who followed orders. We get that. It’s time the rest of the country gets it too.”
After 150 years, it’s not asking too much, is it?
By David Gillaspie