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A heritage as good as hate: dismantling the Defense of the South

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A heritage as good as hate: dismantling the Defense of the South |

As mentioned, yesterday’s post was only the tip of the iceberg of Chapter 9 in The Problem of Slavery in Christian America. Thankfully, Joe Salant has followed up with the finalized audio for the whole chapter. Here’s his take on it:

Within the context of systematically dismantling the claims and moral credibility of perhaps American slavery’s most infamous apologist Robert L. Dabney, CH 9 includes the irrefutable record of rampant sexual sin committed against black female slaves, among other nuggets of filth incredulously minimized/denied in Dabney’s putrid writings.

Some of the worst has been saved for last. Gird your loins before delving in. You’ve been warned.

There is no doubt this chapter is tough to read. It was very tough to write, but in some ways was a beast of a burden to get off my chest, and was a great relief finally to accomplish. Some of the worst of the history was saved for it, and to say it is not pretty is an understatement.

Also, a few notes are in order. In the chapter, I describe why its nature is a bit different than the others:

The correction to all of these important aspects comes by knowledge. The main thrust of this book has been to address that problem head-on by conveying the unvarnished history of both the broader culture and the churches in such a way that a reader who has been misled either through political polarization or some form of ecclesiastical, theological, regional, or other romanticizing of the history can see the fuller context, as difficult as it is to receive in many cases. Such romanticized views of different partisan groups usually come to sympathetic constituents under the expressed intent of correcting the “revisionism” of some rival political or social group, yet curiously tend to produce even more erroneous revisionisms, or distractions, of their own. It is likely impossible to write a history fully free of one’s own presuppositions, limitations, and constraints; but it is certainly possible to demonstrate the larger errors indulged in by those who had an obvious ax to grind, but never the courage to test their own roots by the ax of truth.

To this end, the following chapter reviews some of the more astounding claims Dabney made about the South and her peculiar institution. Some of these will be easy to address by reference to history already written in previous chapters. In other cases, we have saved key discussions for this chapter, and thus introduce new material or information in greater detail. This, as the reader will see, is the proper place to consider some important claims about the practice of separating families and the vulnerability of female slaves. . . .

[T]he proslavery and racist defenses of men like Dabney do not only not come anywhere near proving their case, but as a barrage of half-truths and, as will be seen, conscious whitewashings, they stand as witness against themselves in the courtroom of almighty God. There is no defense for the indefensible, but Dabney and a whole host of others tried to make one. They failed, but they deceived many. It is long past time that the multitudes deceived, or even remotely or secondarily influenced, by them have the outlook necessary to move forward with new conviction and new confidence in the service of God, and if necessary, to repent themselves. Southern defenders today routinely chant, “Heritage, not hate,” but what is routinely called heritage is actually a mythology created for public consumption after the fact. It is a revisionism, and an easily disprovable one at that. It is impossible to build a Christian society on a heritage of lies, and perpetuating falsehoods is just another form of hate. The following review intends to help us abandon both.

The chapter goes on to review and refute various myths argued at length by Dabney in his Defense of Virginia, a defense of the whole South, including the following whoppers:

  1. Virginia and the South are blameless in regard to instituting slavery in the South. It was foisted upon them against their will.
  2. Southern slavery was not “chattel” slavery. That is a myth made up by abolitionists.
  3. Slaves enjoyed equal protection of the law, lived under the “same moral rules” as their masters.
  4. Most slaves were happy and content in their conditions.
  5. Any abuses of slaves were isolated incidents, “very infrequent,” exceptions to the rule.
  6. General public opinion in the South “sternly reprobated” any mistreatment of slaves.
  7. Marriages and families were “not often” separated.
  8. Separations of families were only incidental and prove only the sinfulness of the individuals involved; they do not reflect on the system of southern slavery as a whole.
  9. There was not a single case recorded of white man raping a black woman in the South. The crime was unheard of among white men in the South.
  10. “All men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence really means equality according to one’s social class. Aristocrats, commoners, and slaves all have different equalities.
  11. Southern slavery and slave holders were in no way complicit in the man-stealing (kidnapping) at the heart of the slave trade.

In addition to all this, we let Dabney expose for himself the real reason beneath his hatred of emancipation. The word “racism” hardly describes the vitriol that came from his pen towards blacks.

On top of all of this, we nevertheless let you read some lesser-known letters that prove that in all of this, Dabney was grandstanding, and in some of it, was consciously lying.

My greatest desire here is of course that you would all get a copy and read the book thoroughly. A big thank you goes out to Joe Salant who has labored through this audio version to make the whole book available for free in that format.

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 if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.


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