The list of things one is not allowed to say about slavery in America is long, but surely the number one thing one is not allowed to say is: Slavery in America wasn’t all bad.
The notion is obviously true on its face for the simple reason that nothing bad is all bad. And yet slavery in America is unique in bearing the presumption that all blacks of the period endured lives containing absolutely no good.
Recorded history suggests a different narrative. Even in the context of slavery, humanity — human relationships — flourished. It is not inconceivable that some slaves loved the families who owned them and were loved themselves. It is not inconceivable at all and, in fact, testimonials documenting such things are not hard to find, right along with every other variation of human feeling.
What fascinates me, though, is the lived experience of the sudden transition from slavery to freedom that occurred just following the Civil War. To hear today’s Marxists tell the story, black Americans went from oppression to oppression, from slavery straight to Jim Crow, harassed by the KKK all the while. But, as the links show, the transition was far more nuanced.
Most striking is that blacks as a group were better prepared for the transition than one might assume. And white America was more accepting than is generally appreciated. Within a generation, blacks went from slavery to political office and to civil service, among other things. The formation of an emergent black middle class was almost immediate.
That should have been impossible if slavery was the perfect and complete evil we imagine it to have been. I think we need to imagine slavery in America more realistically.