It Takes A Villlage – VNV Tuesday: Why We Can’t Ignore the Legacy of Slavery 4/18/17

Slave Market, Atlanta, GA 1864

Today’s post is a response to two different, but converging, prompts. First, as I mentioned in a comment yesterday, is my reading of Eric Foner’s Reconstruction Updated Edition: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, a massive history (that I’m less than one-third of the way through) of an era that continues to reverberate today. The second is the continuing criticism by Sen. Sanders of the Democratic Party, and the inevitable response on Twitter by Bros who continue to argue for “economics uber Alles.” The inability to recognize and address white supremacy with any coherence is an issue for more than just white supremacists; it becomes a problem for those of us who understand that the base of the Democratic Party is women and persons of color. In general, the Base (and allies) understand the problems associated with patriarchy and white supremacy, because it is our lived experience. We further understand that systems of prejudice don’t go away with a wave of the economic wand, and our history demonstrates that. The thoroughly ahistorical arguments of BoBers are troubling, but I am convinced that for some, the absence of historically-grounded awareness is a matter of ignorance, rather than malice. Today’s post is a compilation of quotes from Foner’s book (whether his own words or drawn from commenters during Reconstruction) (with a few tweets to add “color.”)

“Southern whites,” a Freedmen’s Bureau agent observed, “are quite indignant if they are not treated with the same deference that they were accustomed to” under slavery, and behavior that departed from the etiquette of antebellum race relations frequently provoked violence. Conduct deemed manly or dignified on the part of whites became examples of “insolence” and “insubordination” in the case of blacks. (p. 154)

In the face of this pervasive violence, local leaders of society and politics remained silent, reluctant to hold other whites responsible for crimes against blacks. (p. 155)

Touring the South in 1865, Carl Schurz predicted that if freedmen chose to behave “as free laborers in the North act every day without causing the least surprise,” Southern whites would be seized by “a paroxysm of fright.” A federal officer investigating reports of impending insurrection in Kingstree, South Carolina, concluded that exaggerated fears “spring from dread on the part of the planters of the freed people asserting their rights of manhood.” Blacks bearing arms or,…marching “with the red colors flying” to demand better contract terms, symbolized the revolutionary transformation in social relations wrought by emancipation. (p. 156)

Howard [head of the Freedmen’s Bureau] also believed that local governments must learn to assume the responsibility for indigent blacks but would never do so “while the general government furnishes assistance.” Equally important in shaping the Bureau’s relief policy was his fear of lending credence to persistent charges that the Bureau sustained able-bodied blacks in idleness. “A man who can work has no right to support by government. No really respectable person wishes to be supported by others.” This injunction…epitomized the contemporary Northern view that poor relief undermined manly independence. (p. 184)

Yet the Bureau’s assumption that blacks wished to be dependent on the government persisted in the face of evidence that the black community itself, wherever possible, shouldered the task of caring for orphans, the aged, and the destitute, or the fact that I many localities more whites than blacks received Bureau aid. (p. 185)

Like Northern Republicans more generally, Bureau officers held what in retrospect appear as amazingly Utopian assumptions about the ease with which Southern labor relations could be recast in the free labor mold. Blacks and whites merely had to abandon attitudes toward labor, and toward each other, inherited from slavery, and the market would do the rest. (p. 188)

Perhaps the greatest failing of the Freedmen’s Bureau was that it never quite comprehended the depths of racial antagonism and class conflict in the postwar South. (p. 203)

Throughout his Presidency, Johnson held the view -not uncommon among Southern yeoman- that slaves had in some way joined forces with their owners to oppress nonslaveholding whites. “The colored man and his master combined kept [the poor white] in slavery,” he told the black delegation, “by depriving him of a fair participation in the labor and productions of the rich land of the country.” Blacks, he believed, identified with their former masters and looked down upon poor whites, while the latter feared and despised the freedmen. The most likely result of black enfranchisement would therefore be an alliance of blacks and planters, restoring the Slave Power’s hegemony and effectively excluding the yeomanry from political power. (p. 214)

And because every post should end with either Hillary or cuteness, I give you one of each:

About DoReMI 165 Articles
Now a Michigander, by way of Ohio, Illinois, Scotland, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania. Gardener. Sewer. Democrat. Resister.


  1. Thank you for this marvelous Village Post, DoReMI!

    Loved every word! And OMG, the photographs! The one of the slave market gave me the creeps. I remember being in a restaurant in Atlanta years ago and looking at the photographs on the walls. They were taken in 1864 or thereabouts: one showed a young slave, an African-American teenager with a head rag, at the side of the house. (The restaurant had once been one of those old Southern mansions, built and maintained by slave labor.)

    Spot-on observation: “…it’s our lived experience.” White males are so privileged they don’t even realize they are privileged. I think of that every time I see on the evening news that some unfortunate, innocent woman, usually a young woman, is murdered for the crime of going jogging by herself in broad daylight. Women pay the same goddamn taxes as men but do not have the same right to move freely through public spaces or even feel safe in their own homes.

    Never mind—stronger together, solidarity forever! We’ll get there. Just hope we aren’t nuked on the way.

  2. wonderful thought-provoking post this morning DoReMi, thank you so much. I’ve been pondering this issue and wondering if our country will choose to finish the civil war or will instead devolve into an oligarchy. We are making the choice now and I can only hope that our side that wants to move forward without hatred and bigotry prevails.

    • I see-saw between hope and despair (sometimes in the same day!), but overall I believe we are creeping forward. We’re in a backlash period right now, just as Jim Crow was a backlash to Radical Republicanism and reconstruction. But I truly believe that the arc of history bends towards justice, and the people are showing that we won’t be silenced. White folks like me have a lot to do in our own mostly-white communities, but if this past election taught me anything, it’s that silence is no longer an option.

      • I’ve taken to calling out bigots openly and publicly as that seems to be the one thing that will stop them in their tracks. And I always point out to people that those who can discriminate against POC will also find a way to discrimnate against all women so it’s personal with me. In my little town out here in west Texas folks are cautious around me because they don’t like getting called out in the very blunt terms I’m likely to use. It’s actually funny to me because I am a very small women but Bubba Gravelhauler is way scared of me and I think that’s a very good thing.

  3. Good morning Pond Dwellers and thank you, DoReMi for a plethora of information that I will read in more detail shortly. I just can’t believe the blindness that white males have to everything that doesn’t affect them. An attack on a female family member? They will scream bloody murder and/or seek revenge. Somebody they don’t know? A person of color? Crickets.

    High today expected of 69 with rain and thunderstorms. Off to finish my first cuppa. I’ll be back.

  4. {{{DoReMI}}} – thank you so much for doing double duty. The depth of your posts here in the Moose Village seriously brings up the important issues we must deal with to make more progress to the “Freedom and Justice for All” much less reach that goal.

    We “minorities” have the lived experience that was so dismissed by Extreme Left and all the Right during the election. We are only strong together, can only overcome Hate by working together, and the first step towards a true alliance rather than an uneasy coalition is acknowledging each others’ lived experiences.

    Gotta get some work done. Back when i can. {{{Moose Villagers}}}

    • Thank you, bfitz. It’s so much easier to do “think pieces” here, because I’m not worrying about dealing with hordes of mansplainers and BoBers descending like a locusts. Here I feel like we can have healthy discussions, even disagreements, without having to be on guard for blitz attacks. I do feel like I shortchange the Village at DK a bit as a result, but that’s the culture that has been allowed to proliferate (although I’m thrilled if Navajo has indeed been tasked with dealing with some of the excesses; I trust her to show good judgment in most cases).

      • You aren’t shortchanging anybody. It’s known in the DK Village that you are doing double duty with different posts and those who are interested in seeing the more in-depth stuff can come over here. Meanwhile what you are doing at DK is important and timely. The discussions we are going to have to have to turn this uneasy coalition into a strong alliance need to be done and they need to be done starting now – but they aren’t going to show measurable results until further down the line. The Science March is this Saturday. Whether or not it will show measurable results – and i think it will, especially with the Peoples’ Climate March the following Saturday – we shall see, but it has a firm deadline on this particular action.

        And yeah, I am glad that Navajo has been handed the job although I bet she isn’t. moar {{{HUGS}}}

          • Not new – added – as in she’s still doing everything else she’s responsible for too – but apparently she’s been handed the task of sorting through the attacks and accusations flung about DK by Bernie supporters and Hillary supporters. Which ones are valid, which ones are not, which ones are troublemakers making trouble. Poor woman. But I respect her and while I don’t expect to always agree with her I most certainly think we will stop seeing the “letter of the law for Berners, spirit of the law for Hillary supporter” rulings we’ve been seeing since jsfv declared.

  5. I echo the posts here DoReMI…a wonderful in depth post that I will read closer after I get my coffee…white resentment is a huge problem and I see it around me in my own family…

  6. Thank you DoReMI for tackling this bundle of issues.

    Last night my partner and I were watching the movie 1776 on TCM, since it happened to be on, she is on an American revolutionary period kick because of Hamilton, and nothing else of interest was immediately available. I’ve seen the movie before several times, it was released in 1972, and VonsterTX and I graduated HS as “bicentennial” graduates in 1976, so we had heightened interest in the period and the historical characters.

    The movie is a film version of a Broadway musical, and unlike the norm used the entire Broadway cast, instead of casting stars of the day, which was all to the good. It isn’t a very good musical for the music, in my opinion, which is admittedly unsophisticated. But the play influenced (not always accurately) a lot of my mental images of the persons such as John Adams, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

    In the play, Thomas Jefferson is depicted as saying that he has resolved to free his slaves, something he did not do, except for a few slaves freed after his death 50 years later.

    In the song Molasses to Rum, Rutledge of South Caroline points out (accuses) that the Northern faction who appear so opposed to slavery in fact represent colonies which also benefit from the slave trade.

    Molasses to rum to slaves
    Who sail the ships back to Boston
    Laden with gold, see it gleam

    Whose fortunes are made
    In the triangle trade
    Hail slavery, the New England dream

    It’s an uncomfortable song… if you are white.

    Last night I watched the love of my life cry real tears after watching a movie she had seen at least forty years before because discomfort cannot begin to describe what it feels like when you have to realize yet again (and again) that it is your great great great grandparents or their parents who are being described as subjects of that debate, of those lyrics.

    When considering Sen. Sanders, his campaign, and his “bros”, I find myself thinking of Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Sen. Sanders may be quite familiar with it, however I find it unlikely many of his followers are.

    My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture. I was taught to see myself as an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will. My schooling followed the pattern my colleague Elizabeth Minnich has pointed out: whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work which will allow “them” to be more like “us.”

    For me, white privilege has turned out to be an elusive and fugitive subject. The pressure to avoid it is great, for in facing it I must give up the myth of meritocracy. If these things are true, this is not such a free country; one’s life is not what one makes it; many doors open for certain people through no virtues of their own.

    Since the bros (who don’t acknowledge their male privilege much less skin privilege) are able to recognize that they feel some economic pressure, they seize on this as the only problem that exists, and assume that curing that (their) problem will of course solve all those others bothersome sex and race issues, which they may or may not actually believe are real.

    It seems to me that obliviousness about white advantage, like obliviousness about male advantage, is kept strongly inculturated in the United States so as to maintain the myth of meritocracy, the myth that democratic choice is equally available to all. Keeping most people unaware that freedom of confident action is there for just a small number of people props up those in power and serves to keep power in the hands of the same groups that have most of it already.

    And work awaits. Love to my Villager meeses.

    • Thank you for linking to the McIntosh piece. I haven’t read it in ages, but I will again because it’s a good refresher course.

      The Bros are restless on Twitter today; the Unity tour with Perez (being booed) and Sanders (being canonized anew) seems to have brought them out of the woodwork. But it’s still the same song, same lyrics. They’re becoming as predictable as Bernie’s stump speech.

      I adore 1776, even though I agree the music, for the most part, is meh. But Abigail Adams is worth the “price of admission.”

    • {{{MomentaryGrace}}} – been thinking of that show and that song myself recently. And having as much trouble dealing with it as any other white person. I think those of us who grew up poor have a harder time with the white privilege concept – especially when we knew people of color who were better off financially, as I did. But I did and do have the benefit of a mother who used to bring Black friends into restaurants – and leave with them when they weren’t served. She’d tell me about it, mentioning that the Black person in question could probably have bought the restaurant if she’d wished. So while I thank Denise for much of my education on white privilege, I thank my mother for doing the groundwork.

      I don’t think the white male Extreme Left will ever acknowledge either reenforcing set of privileges – simply because it demolishes the myth of meritocracy. It does a real number on the idea that you are where you are because of your own work and virtue.

      • {{{{{{{{bfitz}}}}}}}}

        I think those of us who grew up poor have a harder time with the white privilege concept

        That is certainly true or likely, because the concept is generally misunderstood from the first time a white person hears it.

        We understand “privilege” as something associated with wealth – rich folks have it. In Europe it would be better understood as also associated with class but here in the USA we’re taught that we have a classless society… which is of course a lie.

        But white privilege is close to the exact opposite – it’s a bribe built into the system (during Reconstruction) for the less affluent (or downright dirt poor) whites, to keep them from making common cause with poor blacks. And it works, because it is invisible.

        The white male Extreme Left can’t acknowledge it because because they are unable to see it, like a note pinned to your back.

        Sanders is smart enough, has been alive along enough and should have been exposed enough to be able to see it but he doesn’t educate his followers and for that I have no forgiveness to impart.

        • jsfv doesn’t see it – yes, he’s been around long enough but he’s still spouting the same 1960s Revolution crap complete with understood “a woman’s place in the Revolution is in the kitchen or on her back” – his followers love him for the same reason pvl45’s followers love him. Both of them give license to their followers to be their worst selves

  7. Wow Sher…Awesome thread…Wish i had your way with words….Thank you!

    Hey meese…Duck tape Bernie and put him on a plane to Moscow. Maybe then we can unite and get something done.

    Fuck you, Bernie!

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