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"The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation"
03-13-2015, 03:54 PM
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RE: "The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation"
Probably no other figure in American History has had the misfortune of being more described and psychoanalyzed than the black American. As Linda points out, the importance of the question "How dehumanizing slavery was to both the master and the slave," is widely debated in American History. It began with Ulrich B Phillips and his praise of slavery as a civilizing factor of quasi-barbaric Africans in the New World in his two volumes from the teens and twenties of the Twentieth Century, American Negro Slavery, and Life and Labor in the Old South. He was roundly attacked in his assumptions by Kenneth Stampp's The Peculiar Institution (1956), which asserted that the Negro slave was nothing more than a white man in a black skin.

Even more debated is the notion that slavery in the United States was the cruelest slave system in the whole world. The usual comparison is between North America and Latin America. The question was first popularized by Frank Tannenbaum in his book, Slave and Citizen. Its most important advocate in Latin America has been Gilberto Freyre and his study of Brazilian slavery, The Masters and the Slaves. In these accounts, the humanity of Latin American slavery is compared favorably with that in the American South, the epitome of evil.

But nothing hit the historical and popular study of slavery than Stanley Elkins’ Slavery. Here he asserted that American Negro slavery was so debasing as to create a new personality called Sambo. Sambo was the slave who was sort of a Step ‘n’ Fetchit (I am revealing my age, here), or a smiling, bowing version of what is now erroneously labeled an Uncle Tom (the real Uncle Tom died under the lash rather than rat on his friends). Child-like, always ready to please, never negative, carrying out the master’s orders, never looking at a white woman in the face, etc., etc., you get the stereotype, common in movies and minstrel shows. Elkins found this type common in Nazi Concentration Camps, hence its controversial impact on the historical world.

This brought on a mass of criticism, most of which is in Ann J Lane’s The Debate Over Slavery, where it was pointed out that a multitude of personality types existed in the slave community ranging from Sambo to Zambo, the rebellious bondsman or bondswoman. Many thought slavery was more like a jail term than a real personality changer.

Then came Eugene Genovese’s, Roll, Jordan, Roll, a massive study of the complexities of the slave community, which can be accessed in two shorter volumes, John Blassingame’s The Slave Community, and Peter Kolchin’s American Slavery. Hee slavery does not halt the creation of a purely African-American culture and family structure that made the American South the only slave regime that procreated itself without the necessity of constant African imports (although they existed illegally).

I think that many of these volumes approach what David Brion Davis wants to say in a much readable format. Davis is a first class historical intellectual and his The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (3 vols, with various titles) reads more like moral philosophy than mere history.

A new study, Edward E Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told, has the most recent politically correct account, using the terms Enslaver instead of master and mistress, and Work Camp instead of plantation, and Enslaved rather than slave. It is also a good study of how slavery dominated the US economy in the first half of the 19th century. The use of “correct” terms is endemic in the history of slavery and can be seen between Philips’ use of Slave Crime rather than Stampp’s use Slave Resistance for the same things.
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RE: "The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation" - Wild Bill - 03-13-2015 03:54 PM

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