Abolitionists are dangerous, hate-filled fanatics dividing the nation

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In his 1837 speech, former Vice President and Senator of South Carolina John C. Calhoun expressed many of the components of what came to be known as The Southern Platform. His points can be summarized as follows:

· Abolitionists are dangerous, hate-filled fanatics dividing the nation

· Slavery civilizes and improves the physical condition of the primitive, pagan Central African

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· All wealthy societies are caste societies in which a larger lower caste (labor) materially supports a smaller higher caste (capital)

· The slave system in the South is more humane to the laborer than are other caste systems, including the industrial system

Read the attached 2015 article from Vox, “I used  to lead tours at a plantation …” and respond to the following prompt:

PROMPT: Biser discusses several “earnest but deep misunderstandings about the nature of American slavery” which she detected from the comments and body language of visitors to the plantation where she worked as a guide. What best explains these misunderstandings?

1. The beliefs expressed in Calhoun’s Southern Platform endure, even after 160 years.

2. Americans are not well-educated about the history of the United States.

3. White Americans tend to feel guilt about slavery and its aftermath and react to the topic defensively.

Choose the answer you think is most accurate (or suggest another answer, stating it clearly). Offer a thorough defense of your choice with evidence from the article and/or from your experience or knowledge. Treat this topic with the sensitivity it deserves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read this to help with discussion:

I used to lead tours at a plantation. You won’t believe the questions I got about slavery. by Margaret Biser on June 29, 2015 Adapted for use by AC. To read the whole article: http://www.vox.com/2015/6/29/8847385/what-i- learned-from-leading-tours-about-slavery-at-a-plantation Up until a few weeks ago, I worked at a historic site in the South that included an old house and a nearby plantation. My job was to lead tours and tell guests about the people who made plantations possible: the slaves. The site I worked at most frequently had more than 100 enslaved workers associated with it— 27 people serving the household alone, outnumbering the home’s three white residents by a factor of nine. Yet many guests who visited the house and took the tour reacted with hostility to hearing a presentation that focused more on the slaves than on the owners. The first time it happened, I had just finished a tour of the home. People were filing out of their seats, and one man stayed behind to talk to me. He said, “Listen, I just wanted to say that dragging all this slavery stuff up again is bringing down America.” I started to protest, but he interrupted me. “You didn’t know. You’re young. But America is the greatest country in the world, and these people out there, they’d do anything to make America less great.” He was loud and confusing, and I was 22 years old and he seemed like a million feet tall. Lots of folks who visit historic sites and plantations don’t expect to hear too much about slavery while they’re there. Their surprise isn’t unjustified: Relatively speaking, the move toward inclusive history in museums is fairly recent, and still underway. And as the recent debates over the Confederate flag have shown, as a country we’re still working through our response to the horrors of slavery, even a century and a half after the end of the Civil War. … The majority of interactions I had with museum guests were positive, and most visitors I encountered weren’t as outwardly angry as that man who confronted me early on. Still, I’d often meet visitors who had earnest but deep misunderstandings about the nature of American slavery. … The more overtly negative reactions to hearing about slave history were varied in their levels of subtlety. Sometimes it was as simple as watching a guest’s body language go from warm to cold at the mention of slavery in the midst of the historic home tour. I also met guests from all over the country who, by means of suggestive questioning of the “Wouldn’t you agree that…” variety, would try to lead me to admit that slavery and slaveholders weren’t as bad as they’ve been made out to be. On my tours, such moments occurred less frequently if visitors of color were present. Perhaps guests felt more comfortable asking me these questions because I am white, though my African-American coworkers were by no means exempt from such experiences. At any rate, these moments happened often enough that I eventually began writing them down (and, later, tweeting about them). Taken together, these are the most common misconceptions about American slavery I encountered during my time interpreting history to the public:

2 1) People think slaveholders “took care” of their slaves out of the goodness of their hearts, rather than out of economic interest.” There is a surprisingly prevalent belief out there that slaves’ rations and housing were bestowed upon them out of the master’s goodwill, rather than handed down as a necessity for their continued labor — and their master’s continued profit. This view was expressed to me often, usually by people asking if the family was “kind” or “benevolent” to their slaves, but at no point was it better encapsulated than by a youngish mom taking the house tour with her 6-year-old daughter a couple of years ago. I had been showing them the inventory to the building, which sets a value on all the high-ticket items in the home, including silver, books, horses, and, of course, actual human people. … For most guests, this is the most emotionally meaningful moment of the tour. I showed the young mother some of the slaves’ names and pointed out which people were related to each other. The mom stiffened up, raised her chin, and asked pinchedly, “Did the slaves here appreciate the care they got from their mistress?” 2) People know that field slavery was bad but think household slavery was pretty all right, if not an outright sweet deal. “These were house slaves, so they must have had a pretty all right life, right?” is a phrase I heard again and again. Folks would ask me if members of the enslaved household staff felt “fortunate” that they “got to” sleep in the house or “got to” serve a politically powerful owner. Relatedly, many guests seemed to think that the only reason to seek liberation from household slavery was if you were being beaten or abused. … It is worth mentioning here that the bulk of wanted ads placed in newspapers for fugitive slaves are for house servants, not field workers. Apparently whatever slavery was like in the big house, people were willing to risk their lives to get away from it. 3) People think slavery and poverty are interchangeable. Sometimes in the course of a conversation, guests I spoke with would remark that while being a field slave was indeed difficult, on the whole it was hardly worse than being a humble farmer living off the land. … One important branch of this phenomenon was guests huffily bringing up every disadvantaged group of white people under the sun — the Irish, the Polish, the Jews, indentured servants, regular servants, poor people, white women, Baptists, Catholics, modern-day wage workers, whomever — and say something like, “Well, you know they had it almost as bad as/just as bad as/much worse than slaves did.” Within the context of a tour or other interpretation, this behavior had the effect of temporarily pulling sympathy and focus away from African Americans and putting it on whites. … 4) People don’t understand how prejudice influenced slaveholders’ actions beyond mere economic interest. I was occasionally asked what motivation slaveholders would have had for beating, starving, or otherwise maltreating enslaved workers. This was often phrased as, “If you think about it economically, they don’t work as hard if you don’t feed ’em!” (The frequent use of the general “you” in this formulation is significant, because it assumes that the archetypal listener is a potential slaveholder — i.e., that the archetypal listener is white.) …

3 What this perspective fails to take into account is the racist beliefs that made cruelty to slaves seem ethically permissible. Slaveowners told each other that black workers were stronger than white ones and thus didn’t require as much food or rest. They also told each other that black Americans had a higher pain tolerance — literal thick skin — and that therefore physical punishments could be employed with less restraint. Such beliefs also helped slaveowners feel confident dismissing complaints from enslaved workers as ungrateful whining. 5) People think “loyalty” is a fair term to apply to people held in bondage. One of the few times I actually felt scared of a guest was during a crowded tour a couple of years ago. I was describing a typical dining room service: the table packed with wealthy and influential couples from the surrounding town, and, in the corners of the room, enslaved waiting men watching and serving but unable to speak. The tour was so crowded that not everyone could fit into the room, and a few tourists were listening from the hallway. As soon as I finished my sentence about the slaves, an expressionless voice behind me intoned, “Were they loyal?” I turned around, and saw a man resting his arms on either side of the door frame behind me, blocking the exit. He looked like he was about to slap me. I asked him why he would ask that. “They gave ’em food. Gave ’em a place to live,” he said. He was just staring into the room, blank in the eyes. “I think most people would act ‘loyal’ to a person who could shoot them for leaving,” I said. He and his adult sons keep their arms crossed as they stared at me for the rest of the tour, and I tried to stay toward the middle of the group. Why these misconceptions are so prevalent is a fair question. … Regardless of why they were espoused, all the misconceptions discussed here lead to the same result: the assertion that slavery wasn’t really all that bad (“as long as you had a godly master,” as one guest put it). … On the very small scale of leading historic house tours, what helped me combat ahistorical statements was to establish trust and rapport with guests from the get-go. For me, gentleness was key: It created an environment in which people were willing to hear new views and felt less nervous asking questions. For example, guests — especially older folks — used to ask me all the time whether the people who owned the house were “good slaveowners.” I would say, “Well, that’s an interesting question,” and suggest a couple of reasons why even the phrase good slaveowner itself is troubling. They’d nod and look reflective. We were already friends, so they didn’t feel attacked by the correction. Then again, maybe they only believed me because they trusted a fellow white person as an unbiased source. … An older colleague once reminded me to “talk to people, not at them.” It’s a small piece of advice. But day by day as I was face to face with strangers, challenging their deeply held beliefs on race, it helped

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