Blogs > HNN > James T. Campbell reviewed James 0liver Horton & Lois E. Horton's "Slavery & The Making of America" (0xford, 2004)

Dec 11, 2004 11:31 am

James T. Campbell reviewed James 0liver Horton & Lois E. Horton's "Slavery & The Making of America" (0xford, 2004)

Since the 15th Century, some 12 million people migrated to the new world; 10 million of them were slaves. “No single datum speaks more bluntly to slavery’s centrality in the history of the modern world,” writes reviewer Campbell, who teaches at Brown University and chairs its Steering Committee on Slavery & Justice.

Even so, slavery essentially vanished from textbooks and our collective minds. A “best-selling textbook” of the fifties spent a single paragraph on the topic.

This book is a companion volume of the soon-to-appear (in February 2005) 4-part PBS series on slavery. Written by two exemplary scholars of slavery’s history, Campbell’s praises their “wide research, interpretive balance and crisp, accessible prose and a wealth of visual material.” In their view, slaves were not only victims but also people who “fundamentally reshaped the culture and politics of their adopted home.”

Toward the end of the book, the Hortons speak to slavery’s contemporary meaning and impact. Its legacy, they conclude, “remains in the history and heritage of the South that it shaped, in the culture of the North where its memory was long denied, in the national economy for which it provided much of the foundation, and in the political and social system it profoundly influenced.” All these are seen in the context of how and why white Americans, professing and praising freedom, managed [and perhaps still manage] to accept, defend and rationalize “an institution that directly contradicted all the values that they professed to cherish.”

Campbell concludes: “Whether Americans are finally ready, 140 years after abolition, to take an unstinting look at slavery is an open question.”

Washington Post, December 12, 2004

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