Every so often a columnist writes something that is beyond the pall. Michael Medved has accomplished just this. He wrote a column entitled, Six Inconvenient Truths about the U.S. and Slavery. It is a debate with historic reality.
He starts with the premise that the United States is good and that many critics of this nation point to slavery as a blight on this nation’s history. It has been a long time since I can ever recall an apologist for slavery. Michael Medved, however, has jumped in there to play such a role.
He has six inconvenient ‘truths.’
1. Slavery was an ancient and universal institution, not a distinctively American innovation.
He recounts human history and states that slavery was around long before the United States. This is true. If he reviews what he’s writing, however, he’ll realize that most of the slave-holding nations or regions were conquerors. Losing a war to Rome often led to slavery. It is universally true, that the vast majority of populations never owned slaves and spent their lives trying not to be slaves. Slavery was a blight on humanity long before it arrived on our shores----and just because it was the old practice of conquerors does not make it morally good or even ethically neutral.
2. Slavery existed only briefly, and in limited locales, in the history of the Republic – involving only a tiny percentage of the ancestors of today’s Americans.
He states that the United States officially only had slavery for 89 years before it was outlawed. Medved grew up in Philadelphia and ought to know better. As colonies slavery was alive and well for a good century before that. We may have been an English colony but we were still ‘us.’ Laughably he points out that while the vast majority of the Black population are descended from slaves, only a small percentage of the current white population are descended from slave holders. I guess his point is that we, here and now, are not guilty. Fine. Actually, Michael, people who descended from slave-owners are not guilty either. It was their ancestors, not them who owned slaves. None of this removes the crime from those who held the slaves in this nation.
3. Though brutal, slavery wasn’t genocidal: live slaves were valuable but dead captives brought no profit.
This indicates that the bones of all those ‘slaves’ who were thrown overboard (with weights) were done so to spare these ‘slaves’ from further suffering and the owners of the ship did not want to see the dreadful suffering. Of course, they profited from live slaves being delivered----but Medved misses a huge point.
Large numbers of people WERE killed and they weren’t slaves. They were innocent people from Africa who were kidnaped and made slaves here. The whole Amistad trial (which was real, not just a movie) was answering the question as to were these free people fighting for freedom or truly owned. The Supreme Court ruled that they were free people fighting for freedom.
4. It’s not true that the U.S. became a wealthy nation through the abuse of slave labor: the most prosperous states in the country were those that first freed their slaves.
The northern colonies were more industrial and more concentrated and didn’t maintain slavery. Also, the preaching of Congregational Ministers (our United Church of Christ predecessors) was insistent that slavery was a moral ill. The Southern Plantations had other issues and their economy was based on slavery. Frankly, a big part of the reason the war was fought was to maintain a way of life.
5. While America deserves no unique blame for the existence of slavery, the United States merits special credit for its rapid abolition.
Congregational ministers and those they inspired and motivated, and the nation of England actually deserve the credit. William Wilberforce, in England, fought long and hard and the British became the world’s leading nation in attempting to stamp out slavery.
6. There is no reason to believe that Today’s African-Americans would be better off if their ancestors had remained behind in Africa.
My ancestors came from Italy and Ireland by their choice. They came here for a better life. Many of our ancestors came here by their choice to seek a better life. Are the African-Americans better off now for being here? I don’t know the answer to that----but I do know that their ancestors were denied the choice to remain in the place of their birth to come here.
Additionally, this position arrogantly advocates that the American culture is superior to what they may have had in Africa. Why do people consistently believe that they must constantly crow that our culture is superior to everyone else? It boggles my mind.
Michael Medved used to review movies. I suggest he go back to doing that. His venture into American history is travesty.