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Archive for Sunday, November 22, 1998

NOTION OF HAPPY SLAVES REFUTED

November 22, 1998

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A KU expert on the Civil War questioned the accuracy of North Carolina instructors who downplay the discontent among slaves.

Tell the next man you see that he has two minutes to prepare to spend the rest of his life as a slave.

Also inform him that everyone in his family faces perpetual bondage.

"Then look at his face. You will see nature's testimony against slavery," said Phillip Paludan, a history professor at Kansas University and author of four books on the Civil War.

Paludan said the two-minute test was suggested by Theodore Dwight Weld, who wrote "Slavery As It Is" to document the reality of slavery in the United States.

Weld's insight has new relevance amid reports instructors at Randolph Community College in Archdale, N.C., were teaching a Civil War history course that advanced the notion slaves were content in captivity.

Herman White, the main lecturer on the role of blacks in the war, defended the course.

"These people loved the South," he said. "They weren't looking for some Yankees to come down here and save them."

Randolph President Larry Linker canceled the final class of "North Carolina's Role in the War for Southern Independence" Thursday, one day after U.S. Commission on Civil Rights members announced plans for a public meeting about the course.

The instructors, local members of Sons of Confederate Veterans, told students that slaves were happy, that thousands of slaves fought patriotically for the South, and that the Civil War was not a battle over slavery.

Paludan, who won the $35,000 Lincoln Prize for his 1994 book about Abraham Lincoln's presidency, said in an interview Friday that treatment of slaves varied from owner to owner. But, he said, it would be quite a stretch to conclude that millions of men, women and children were delighted with absence of liberty.

"Were there moments of happiness in the lives of practically every slave? I'm sure there were," Paludan said. "The evidence shows there were a lot of unhappy people trying to make the best out of their lives."

He said one indication of how slaves viewed their condition became evident whenever Union troops were near plantations with slaves during the Civil War.

"When the Union Army is within running distance, the slaves leave the plantations and go off toward the Union army," Paludan said.

In addition, Paludan said: "We don't know of any slaves, after the Civil War, who began a back-to-slavery movement."

Paludan said he would like to ask the instructors at the community college if they thought white people would be viewed as content if bought and sold as property.

"Almost no one who says slavery is good wants it for himself," Paludan said.

-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is tcarpenter@ljworld.com.

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