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Slavery good for blacks


by Clarence Page

WASHINGTON — Slavery was good for blacks.
It wasn’t about race. It was justified in the Bible.
American slaves were better treated than slaves anywhere
else in the world. Black slaves suffered less than freed
blacks suffer today from abuse, rape, broken homes and
So says Alabama State Sen. Charles Davidson. It is
painfully obvious that he is not a historian. He is a
restaurant owner who also is one of six Republicans running
for the Congressional District seat occupied by Tom Bevill,
a retiring Democrat.
Davidson made his arguments in a speech he
prepared for a state senate debate over his proposal to fly
the Confederate battle flag over the State Capitol. When
the measure was quickly tabled before he could make a
speech, Davidson passed out copies of his comments.
Davidson’s ancestors didn’t own any slaves, he says.
But they did fight for the slave holders’ side and he’s glad
they did.
He reached for Bible verses to justify slavery, not
only as good for blacks but also as God’s will. He referred
to Leviticus 25:44 — “You may acquire male and female
slaves from the pagan nations that are around you.” He
also quoted I Timothy 6:1, where it says slaves should
“regard their own masters as worthy of all honor.”
According to the Associated Press, Davidson said,
“The issue is not race. It’s Southern heritage. I’m on a
one-man leadership crusade to get the truth out about what
our Southern heritage is all about.”

THIS CRUSADE has more than one man in it. Jews
are plagued by the Holocaust denial industry. Blacks are
plagued by slavery deniers. Davidson sounds just like the
rest of them. He denies, incredibly, that slavery was about
race. He denies that he is a racist. He insists that the
public would know and understand his more cheerful “truth”
about slavery were it not for — guess who? “the liberal
Well, one should not have to be a liberal to see
slavery as evil — a monumental hypocrisy in the purported
“land of the free.”
Yet, from the days of slavery to the present, there
always have been experts” and pseudo-intellectuals who try
in defiance of common sense and decency to justify the evil
institution. For years Hollywood supported the distortion
with on-screen images of happy “darkies” strumming banjos
on the front porch singing the praises of “Massah.”
“The incidence of abuse, rape, broken homes and
murder are 100 times greater, today, in the housing
projects than they ever were on the slave plantations of the
old South,” Davidson wrote in his speech. “The truth is that
nowhere on the face of the earth, in all of time, were
servants better treated or better loved than they were in the
Old South by white, black, Hispanic and Indian slave
Better treated? better loved? One might say the
same about a dog. That doesn’t mean humans would enjoy
being treated like dogs.

IN FACT, THE CRUELTY of American slavery
varied in intensity from one part of the South to the next,
but, significantly, tended to be worse in the deep southern
states like Alabama. A tiny number of free blacks bought
slaves, largely to purchase their freedom.
The Bible? One does not have to be a theologian to
understand how slavery violates the most fundamental
principle of world religions, the Golden Rule: Do unto
others as you would have them do unto you.
With that, we get to the heart of a very telling aspect
of American slavery: No white criminal could be sentenced
to slavery. No white person, no matter how grievous their
offense, could be forced to live the life into which millions of
innocent blacks were born. Quite simply, slavery was for
If slavery had been about cold-blooded rational
economics, not race, as Davidson suggests, it would have
made perfect sense to sentence white criminals to slavery
for a time. But, that would be unthinkable for one simple
reason. White supremacy was deeply embedded in the
peculiar institution of American slavery, just as it remains in
ways many Americans would rather not think about.
“I just find it shocking he could have spent so much
time on this,” said Martha Foy, the state Republican
national Committeewoman.
Oh, it’s not so shocking. The human need to feel
innocent feeds our sense of denial. A small industry churns
out Holocaust-denial literature that purports to “prove” the
Nazis did not kill 6 million Jews. Some of it is produced
and distributed by Minister Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of
Islam to drive a wedge between blacks and Jews.
That figures. Davidson and Farrakhan have a lot in
common. Each uses distortions of history to relieve his
constituency of guilt feelings.
That’s the problem with modern race relations. Too
many of us are grasping for innocence. Too few of us are
reaching for responsibility.
Race relations are a two-way street. When
everybody is guilt-free, nobody is innocent.

The Chicago Tribune 5-13-96


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