Charles Blow of the New York Times:
Sojourner Truth, in her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech, delivered in 1851 at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio, lamented: “I have borne 13 children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me!”
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History estimates that nearly two-thirds of slaves lived in nuclear households. However, those families could be broken up on a whim, and many slaves were bred like animals, were raped at will and could marry only if allowed.
How could they have been “happier” to meet the lash, to feel the flaying of flesh, to have it heal in dreadful scars only to be ripped open again until one had, as Sethe, the main character in Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” put it, a tree on one’s back?
It was not only the lash but also the noose and being chased down and ripped apart by dogs, and all manner of terrors. When the human imagination sets itself on cruelty there are no limits to its designs.
Americans have been trying to justify slavery since its inception, to make the most wrong of wrongs right, to no avail.
Robert E. Lee wrote in 1856: “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things.”
Others used religion as a justification, quoting verses and patting themselves on the back for saving the souls of the so-called savage.
But as Frederick Douglass pointed out, “The slave auctioneer’s bell and the churchgoing bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heartbroken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master.” Religion didn’t elevate enslavers; trying to justify slavery reduced religion.
“Happier”? How, Mr. Bundy, could you even utter such absurdity?
The very soil of this country cries out for us to never forget what happened here, for the irreducible record of the horrors of slavery to never be reduced.
Romantic revisionism of this most ghastly enterprise cannot stand. It must be met, vigilantly and unequivocally, with the strongest rebuttal. Slaves dishonored in life must not have their memories disfigured by revisionist history.
America committed this great sin, its original sin, and there will be no absolution by alteration. America must live with the memory of what its forefathers — even its founding fathers — did. It must sit with this history, the unvarnished truth of it, until it has reconciled with it.