Blogs > Cliopatria > Cary Christian School Bru ha ha.

Dec 30, 2004 9:47 am

Cary Christian School Bru ha ha.

It appears that Cary Christian School in North Carolina is getting some bad press for having used a short text entitled “Southern Slavery, as it Was” (by Steve Wilkins and Douglas Wilson) as part of the school’s curriculum. In light of the attention, the school has dropped the text. An on-line version of the pamphlet can be found here. You can also view some erudite comments on the issue here on HNN via William Ramsey.

For those familiar with the apologist or “redeemer” schools of southern historiography, there is nothing particularly new in the text. In a nutshell, “Southern Slavery” portrays slaveowners as kindly, slaves as happy, and everybody as way better off during slavery. Perhaps the biggest zinger in the text is when it allows that slavery in the South does actually deserve some condemnation. “The truth is, Southern slavery is open to criticism because it did not follow the biblical pattern at every point. Some of the state laws regulating slavery could not be defended biblically (the laws forbidding the teaching of reading and writing, for example).” Ohhh... I see. BIBLICAL slavery is fine, it’s that nasty UNBIBLICAL slavery that’s the problem.

What is always saddening, of course, is to find out that something as painful as this is being utilized in a classroom somewhere. However, I have to say that I’m not terribly surprised. When I was living in North Carolina and teaching at Livingstone College it was not unusual for me to meet folks who were eager to engage a white teacher of African-American history in an argument about the portrayal of slavery and the civil war. At times I felt I should carry around a copy of South Carolina’s declaration of secession just to be ready for the “the Civil War wasn’t about slavery” argument. I once had a 15 year old become enraged when I told him that it was a lie that “hundreds of thousands of Negroes” had fought for the confederacy, as he was learning from his home-schooling textbooks. I was far from shocked when I later found Salisbury (where I was living) featured in chapter two of Confederates in the Attic. This was a town that had, in the middle of the Civil Rights movement, put up a statue to commemorate Confederate dead, complete with the old Confederate slogan. Dio Vindice (God Vindicates).

Of course, I shouldn’t just pick on North Carolina or pro-Confederacy white folks. One of the interesting things about the Civil War (and it’s inseparable companion, American slavery) is that it so often fosters bad history. One of the few things that “Southern Slavery, as it Was” gets right its claim that there is a tendency to teach a rather oversimplified version of antebellum slavery in American and African-American History classrooms – though the text’s authors fail to realize that they are guilty of the same foible. Slavery in the US was a terribly complex and highly varied system, with a great variety of social, economic, and political permutations. The tendency of many teachers to site sources such as the Willie Lynch Letter, which is almost certainly a hoax is a case in point. Perhaps what the case of Cary Christian School points up is that the “Past is Always Political,” and that far too many teachers are still guilty of approaching history in ways that validate, rather than challenge, their own (and their audience’s) preconceived notions.

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amit kumar singh - 7/1/2008

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DD WW - 9/24/2007

Slavery is a horrible practice, regardless of whether the system is based on race, or class, or any other distinctions.

I'm not defending the institution, however I think your theory over the causes of the Civil War falls short of the whole story.

The resentment went back generations before war broke out. Southerners have long been portrayed in a negative light by Yanks of your ilk.

The North traded slavery for industrialization, getting rich off of the raw materials coming from Dixie. Had they not made the switch, slavery would've probably persisted in the North. In spite of the efforts of well intentioned abolitionists. (Who weren't exactly the majority in the North.)

Lincoln freed the slaves to break the economic backbone of the Confederacy. Not because the people up North were more enlightened, compassionate human beings.

State rights in general led to the outbreak of war. Slavery was defiantly an issue in state rights. But mostly to the plantation owners. Your common soldier on the front lines had never owned a slave, or profited from the system.

Why were these poor men fighting then? Because they thought it was in their best interest for the rich to get richer? I highly doubt it.

I would say most of them fought to defend their homeland from the pillaging, especially the the latter parts of the war. Others fought because they believed in their state rights. Many were tired of a Government and country that belittled and misrepresented them.

On the other end, I'd say most Yanks were fighting to preserve their Union and country out of patriotism. Or the thrill of the fight. Something that could be said of Southern soldiers as well. However I'd have to guess that the large majority of Union soldiers didn't give a damn about blacks.

As for your criticism of monuments to fallen Confederates, I think you fail to realize that they too were Americans. Fighting for something that had been promised to them in our Constitution. No, not slavery, but the right to secede. To not honor these brave men would be a grave injustice.

Dio Vindice.

Leroy John Pletten - 2/27/2005

Contrary to pro-slavery apologists' claims, slavery was never constitutional in the U.S. A long line of court decisions pursuant to constitutional law, culminating in Somerset v Stewart (1772), verified that legal fact. An overview of such decisions, and pertinent context, is at Also contrary to apologists' claims, the Bible was always vehemently anti-slavery, from Genesis to Revelation. Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Jeremiah, Paul, John, etc., were clearly anti-slavery. See Biblical references such as those cited by Rev. John G. Fee, Berea College Founder, in his book, Anti-Slavery Manual (1851), . It was because so many educated Yankees knew that slavery was both unconstitutional and unbiblical that the Party of Lincoln was founded and became successful in 1860.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/30/2004

My friend, Larry Tyse, published the best study of pro-slavery thought in the United States. He found that the mainstream Southern apologia for slavery was one grounded in a biblical defense of it (it is an Abramic institution, nowhere wholly repudiated in scripture); and that the Southerners apologia for slavery borrowed very heavily from an earlier New England tradition. Even as late as 1860, the Episcopal bishop of Vermont was publishing pro-slavery arguments.
What gets _really_ interesting is when pro-slavery Southerners or Yankees, for that matter, run into slave systems, as in the middle east, which are not based on racial distinctions and which are not even terribly confining in social aspiration. It is only _then_ that they have to grapple with the possibility that, under other systems, I too might be owned; or that, under other systems, I might be obliged to salute a slave who has become a military officer.

Jonathan Dresner - 12/30/2004

The distinction between good, biblical slavery and bad slavery is interesting. I wonder where Northern slavery (after all, there were slaves in the north, though freed before the Civil War, unless you count non-secessionist slave states like Maryland) falls on that scale?

Russ Reeves - 12/30/2004

As mentioned above, it's literally true that there's "nothing new" in the book - much of it is plagiarized from Fogel's _Time on the Cross_. See:

Ralph E. Luker - 12/30/2004

Jonathan, My understanding is that Carey Christian has stopped using "Southern Slavery" and the booklet has been withdrawn from publication because of plagiarism problems in it. Obviously, that doesn't mean that the attitudes it represents have disappeared, somehow.