Past Time to Remember Slavery

Ideas and Issues
memorial in Montgomery, Al

New Orleans   The scars of slavery haven’t healed.  Evidence abounds in the open wounds of blatant racism and deep-seeded, systemic discrimination towards African-Americans which manifests itself from top to bottom in our political, financial, and cultural experiences in the country that date from slavery until today, and, sadly, tomorrow.  The existence of slavery and its residue is the uncomfortable truth that continues to mar the American myth.

Bizarrely, surveys indicate that there are significant parts of the population that don’t even put the issue of slavery as the key cause of the Civil War more than 150 years ago!  There may be some hope though as some communities, rather than ignoring our shameful history, are finally acknowledging it.  This may be an indication of dealing with these realities more truthfully and finally seeking to confront their impact on us all.

Several years ago, a lawyer in Louisiana restored Whitney Plantation along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans as a museum that detailed the history and impact of slavery.  Georgetown University has been forced to offer some reparations for the selling of slaves owned by the Jesuits who built the college in Washington to sugarcane plantation owners in Louisiana by making amends including offering free tuition to the ancestors of those slaves.  Yale has been forced by students to downgrade their recognition of the racist, Civil War instigator and apologist South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, long honored as one of their graduates by taking his name off of one of their buildings.  These are all small steps forward, but there are many more that must be taken.

More dramatically a museum has now opened in Montgomery, Alabama that catalogues the lynching of hundreds of hundreds of African-Americans, adding injury and pain to the legacy of slavery and shame to any and all that allowed these injustices to go unpunished.  I haven’t visited the museum yet, but the reviews describe its power to teach, including steel obelisks with the names of each victim that “bleed” in the rain.  I want to see that.  We should all see that.  In New Orleans on the 300th anniversary of the city historical markers are being unveiled that clearly document the city’s dominant role in the slave trade from receiving port to auction block to plantation and domestic labor.

We need a lot more of these kinds of markers everywhere so that no one ever tries to pretend again that the Civil War was not about slavery.  The legacy of slavery endures until fully recognized and resolved.   The opposite side of the struggle throughout the South to remove monuments to Confederates must be an effort to force contemporary populations to face the facts of slavery.