SLAVERY: TRUTH BE TOLD


Slavery 
An excerpt from Southern by the Grace of God 
By Michael Andrew Grissom 
 
Nowadays, the desired reaction to the mere word itself is revulsion, repugnance and antipathy, because that's the way we've been trained by Hollywood, the press, the schools, and sadly, most of the mainline churches, to react. It has become our common collective reflex. Due to the fictional portrayal of antebellum slavery that has become a regular diet, we are made to believe that plantations existed for the sole purpose of beating and killing black men, raping black women, torturing both by all sorts of sordid measures, and generally enjoying the depravity. If you don't react with the proper amount of moral outrage, then they will brand you as a Nazi, a white supremacist, or a bigot. 
 
But it hasn't always been that way. In the days of my youth, during which time the War for Southern Independence was less than 90 years in the past, still living were Confederate soldiers, former slaves, and even a few Union soldiers. In fact, Walter Williams, recognized as the last surviving confederate soldier, passed away in 1959 at the age of 117. Had the lurid details of Hollywood been circulating at the time, there were authentic voices who could have corroborated those enormities. After all, there were plenty of opportunities to do so given the constant media attention they were receiving as the last survivors of the Antebellum South; yet, no such confirmation was forthcoming. We simply understood slavery to be an outdated institution, no longer needed or desired in the 20th century. Slavery had been a legal American system whereby owners of large tracts of land could purchase workers for the fields and hold them in bondage. Contrary to the titillating tales of Hollywood, slavery had not died of moral outrage but as an adjunct of the War of the 1860s. 
 
In the south of the mid-20th century, most people went to church. We knew from our study of the Bible that God had instituted slavery among the Jews and that Jesus had urged slaves to “be obedient to your Masters,“ with a corresponding directive to masters to “give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.“ Who among us would have dared criticize God or taken Jesus to task for not condemning slavery in the New Testament? 
 
Writing many years after the War Between The States, Victoria Clayton of Barbour County, Alabama, whose family had owned a plantation, describe the prevailing Southern attitude toward Antebellum slavery. 
 
We never raised the question for one moment as to whether slavery was right. We had inherited the institution from devout Christian parents. Slaves were held by pious relatives and friends and clergymen to whom we were accustomed to look up. The system of slaveholding was incorporated into our laws, and was regulated and protected by them. We read our Bible and accepted its teachings as the true guide and faith and morals. We understood literally our Lord's instruction to his chosen people, and applied them to our circumstances and surrounding: 
 
Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. 
 
Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession. 
 
And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever: but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigour. 
Leviticus 25:44-46 
 
We simply and naturally understood that our slaves must be treated kindly and cared for spiritually, and so they were. We felt that we were responsible to God for our entire household. 
 
To be sure, slavery can, indeed, be a reprehensible operation if practiced as in Africa, for instance, by Kamurasi, King of Inyoro, Mutesa, King of Buganda, or Shaka, the notorious Zulu potentate whom PBS incredulously tried to trade as a brilliant African leader. Stanley Burnham of the foundation for human understanding reports that the Shaka of PBS and the Shaka of history are not one and the same. Citing English trader Henry Francis Fynn’s visits to the Zulu Kingdom, he notes some of Shaka’s routine activities. 
 
On the first day of Fynn's arrival at court 10 men were carried off to death, and he soon learned that executions occurred daily. On one occasion Fynn witness the dispatch a 60 boys under the age of 12 years before Shaka had breakfasted.... On one occasion between four and five hundred women were massacred because they were believed to have knowledge of Witchcraft... One of Shaka’s concubines was executed for taking a pinch of snuff from his snuffbox.... It was the rule in Zululand that no one might eat from any crop until the king had partaken of the first fruits of the year at a special ceremony.... At the ceremony, the King was accustomed to have many people executed for no other reason than to show his power and caused him to be feared.... During a period of one year after Nandi's [his mother] death, all women found to be pregnant were executed with their husbands. 
 
The lucky ones were the African slaves who were fortunate enough to avoid the execution; but these poor souls were forced down the rivers to the coast, where they were sold to slave traders who loaded them onto ships crossing the Atlantic. Slaves were, by far, the most valuable cargo ship could carry. Ships from Spain, Britain, Portugal, France, Denmark, Holland, and New England that competed for this lucrative business. Throughout the three hundred and fifty years of the Atlantic slave trade, nearly 12 million African slaves made the trip, 42% of them going to the Caribbean and 38% of Brazil. Only 5% were brought to North America. The first slaver sailed from Boston in 1644, carrying slaves between Africa and the Caribbean. By 1700, Rhode Island had entered the slave trade, and for the next century 60% of the ships carrying slaves would be based in that tiny little state. Many of the powerful families in New England made their fortune in the slave trade. An example is Elihu Yale, for whom Yale University is named. Yale was a notorious slave trader who orchestrated the slave trade in the Indian Ocean from Madagascar to Sumatra and grew rich from it spoils. While in India representing the East India Company, he instituted a rule requiring 10 slaves to be on every ship sailing for Europe. 
 
You can read the rest of this essay and so much more in the book Southern by the Grace of God by Michael Grissom.