BitterSweet: Linked Through Slavery is trying an alternative form of posting. For the first time, we offer a compilation of five people’s responses to a single question. We hope you enjoy the post, give it comments, and feel inspired to respond to the next question. Note: The authors’ names are shown as they requested.
Question: Why is it important to write and talk about the US history of slavery today?
It is necessary to talk about the history of US slavery today, because without truth there can be little or no reconciliation. Some of us learned that from people in South Africa.
It helps all of us, on both sides of the color line, to talk about the truth of slavery, as experienced by the enslaved, and as experienced by the slaveholders. By taking personal responsibility for our own feelings, and sharing them, by talking and perhaps by also writing about them, we are helping to create a healing of this deep wound that still lingers in this country. By listening to each other we increase the healing. And we don’t generalize or stereotype; we speak from our own truth, one by one.
By doing genealogical research on our own ancestors, we uncover truths, traumas, and connections to the past. This past when it remains repressed and hidden, contributes to fears, ignorance and bias. Some of us discover linked descendants, which shows that we are all related, after all, black and white and tan. A sigh of relief, “one cousin at a time.”
Julie (M. Finch)
Because, if we do not know our history, we deny the present moment, and all peoples who abide in that moment. The history of slavery is a volcanic wound, and in my Faith we refer to race issues in the United States as “the most vital and challenging issue.”
I have read deeply (since I was 28) books on African-Americans, memoirs, academic books, and I feel the souls of those who spoke have given me truth to imbed within my soul and to have a knowledge which is priceless and understanding.
The greatest gift we can give to others is the gift of understanding.
When I look at billboards, magazine ads, gatherings, I will see an absence of images of our black brothers and sisters. I try to write to the advertiser.
How else would we know the cruelty, a shuddering reality. How else would we see with the eyes of justice. I am 77. I am white. Since 1966 I became conscious. A daily path. I have to continue learning until my last breath. If we don’t know our history, we can’t stop the pain. We must acknowledge these truths; denying truth is a crime against humanity. Anyone who distorts history, slavery, religions, conditions is perpetuating great crimes against humanity. I am disjointed in this, but these are my thoughts today. Thank you for reading this.
Esther Bradley-Detally, San Gabriel, CA
North America has always had an ambiguous relationship with memory. We too easily reach into the attic of the past to pull out battle flags or the Declaration of Independence, while overlooking or ignoring slave inventories and shackles; too easily celebrate the lives of famous white men and institutions supportive of American pride while never speaking the names of the enslaved, whose labors made possible the fortunes and educations which fostered the white heroes of American history. For me, these unspoken names and shackled lives must be central to the discourse of a healthy nation. We cannot speak often enough of them or the system which benefited from their misery. By doing so, we keep the memory of America’s original sin alive, and the door wide open for truth and reconciliation.
Because slavery is America’s unhealed wound. Unless we acknowledge the bitter truths of history, we will never succeed in achieving an egalitarian society.
Sharon Leslie Morgan
Why talk about slavery? As Joseph McGill told me when I joined him last May on an overnight in a Georgia slave cabin as part of the Slave Dwelling Project, “We don’t ask this question about the Holocaust. We don’t ask it about 9/ll. Can you imagine,” he went on, “relegating those events to the slag heap of history just because they took place in the past?”
I’ve seen it done. Some years ago, I took a tour of one of those beautifully restored plantation outside New Orleans. Our guide – tastefully attired in crinoline and corset – talked about the “servants” who fanned the plantation owners during meals in their elegantly appointed dining room. But she said almost nothing about the system that sentenced those “servants” and their families to a lifetime of bondage.
When I mentioned this to a fellow tourist – a woman from Connecticut – I was told, “That was long ago.”
“Yes,” I said, “but it was a brutal system.”
“People were different then.”
I think of that exchange often. If a middle-aged New Englander can shrug off slavery as a quaint relic of the past, then yes, we need to talk about it–because slavery’s legacy, as we’ve seen again and again in the past year alone, is alive and flourishing. It is our collective heritage, one whose truths we neglect at our peril.
In the comments below, please share why YOU think it’s important to talk about slavery today. We look forward to your thoughts.