Slavery, Jim Crow, and Looters

I posted the following on Jay Bookman’s blog, April, 30, 2015, and following this post is my explanation on Maureen Downey’s blog, the same day, in answer to how my words below explore “unorthodox” thought:

The problem as I see it is that we want to think in stark terms, and do not see in terms of gradients.

Slavery was evil.  Jim Crow was evil, but not all people who owned slaves were evil and not all white people who were silent during Jim Crow were evil.   We all have elements of evil and good within our psyches.  In a rare twist of irony, in DaVinci’s painting of “The Last Supper,” the same man whom he had painted as Jesus Christ was also chosen to be Judas, 10 years later.  DaVinci was not aware of that fact until they talked near the end of the work’s completion. The man’s features had changed so much in ten years after a hard, rough life that DaVinci thought he was another person, not his original Jesus.

When we can accept the evil in our own souls, then we become less judgmental and more aware of the fullness of human nature.  And, we stop thinking in stereotypical, caricatured images.

Ben Affleck’s reaction of wanting to hide the fact that some of his ancestors owned slaves shows me how emotionally immature he remains even as a grown man, who is an accomplished dramatist.

That is the richness of knowing about people more fully, discovering the nuances of good and evil and how those qualities interact within each of us.

This past President’s Day, Jay Bookman told a true story of George Washington’s search for his wife’s runaway slave.  Washington was presented with his petty side showing.  Frankly, I thought that, although that story was true, the reasons that it had been true were not explored deeply enough in the context of Washington’s total character, and in the context of his marriage, and in the context of that age of history.  Besides that, I thought, tell that truth and get it out there, but don’t tell it on George Washington’s birthday.  That was the time to honor all the good in that man’s soul from which we are all still benefiting today.  We must stop seeing others, like the looters in Baltimore, as all good or all evil.  That is an adolescent way to see the world.

I grew up in the system of Jim Crow in the South.  Unless you grew up in it yourself, you cannot imagine how there could be “good” people who supported segregation (as I did not.)  Likewise, none of us grew up in the days of slavery, so for us to judge others unduly who were born into a social system of slavery as I was born into a social system of Jim Crow cannot possibly understand the many variances of thought within ONE individual.  It is a current fad to condemn Thomas Jefferson because he owned slaves which he inherited, but what people do not register is that Thomas Jefferson was against slavery all of his life.  In the Declaration of Independence he tried to condemn slavery but the delegates from SC and Georgia would not sign unless he took that part out.  Finally, after about a decade, Jefferson simply gave up with that idea, as did Washington in his circumstances.  LaFayette had had long talks with Washington about how to eliminate slavery in America. Nevertheless, Jefferson always maintained that slavery was spiritually wrong and he predicted it would end about the time it did, though he voiced he hoped it would be a peaceful transition, not one which involved war.  In other words, there were “good” slave owners and there were “sadistic” slave owners.  Just as today there are good cops and sadistic cops.

The entire reason I am on this blog is to try to get people to embrace unorthodox thought.

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Someone earlier had asked of my one post on this thread, how my thoughts could be considered “unorthodox”?

The best way I know to answer that question is to demonstrate how I have applied the same thinking processes to the looters and rioters in Baltimore of this week, as well as to the educators found guilty in the APS cheating trial.  I just posted the following on Maureen Downey’s blog relative to the judge’s decision in that APS case, and I am reposting my earlier post here for those who did not read it many hours ago.  The way I see the world would have application to George Washington’s and Thomas Jefferson’s owning of slaves, the looters and rioters in Baltimore presently, and the educators who were found guilty in the APS cheating trial.  See below my remarks just posted on Ms. Downey’s blog:

I have scanned this excellent article, and I plan to read it thoroughly tomorrow and comment directly on this APS scandal, as well as the judge’s lowering of the sentences.  I do not have time to give it the thought and response this evening which it deserves.  In the meantime, I would like to post what I had stated today on Jay Bookman’s blog about the intertwining of good and evil in every person’s soul, including, of course, the educators who were found guilty in the APS case, just as one should be able to see the good and evil in the souls of the looters and rioters in Baltimore, and not stoop to calling them the caricatured label of “thugs,” if my message, below, has any resonance and impact.

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There is an underlying reason for those riots in Baltimore that have valid spiritual reasons for existing.  When we can stop labeling people, we then are freed to understand the pain in their souls and how that pain manifests itself in differing ways.  The black people, especially the young black men of America, have been maligned by some police (who are only reflective of our society as a whole) and the rioters, as had been the case in Watts, California in 1968, have lost all hope that the system will ever work for them.  As Americans, we took the eye off of our common social inequities in the beginning of the 1970s and placed America’s soul upon the accruing of personal wealth and power, which created self-serving greed.  Today’s Americans are products of that phenomena in our collective consciousness.  We must pick up where we left off in the late 1960s and return to America’s destiny of helping all rise (of all races and classes) not in a spirit of judgment or competition but in a spirit of love and care for all humanity, starting with America’s poorest and most disenfranchised.  We are all one, under God. What happens to one, will eventually happen to all. We are all simply human beings; none of us are gods.

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Other poster’s comments:

“Seems to me that the situation re. critics and Thomas Jefferson is rather like the one that Ben Affleck has found himself in: he’s proud of his ancestor that fought in the Revolutionary War but ashamed of the one who was a slave-owner in Georgia. The Jefferson apologists would point only to the lofty words of the Constitution composed by Jefferson that all men are created equal, and ignore his more squalid actions as slave-owner who had several children by his slave-mistress (sex-slave?) Sally Hemings. African-American critics and historians were the first to point this out in the 1970s, and it was denied all the way till the DNA test in 2000 proved it.

Some aren’t bothered at all by this contradiction. But I remember the 20th century philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s comment: ‘There is no reality except in action.’ ”

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My response to this other poster’s comments:
“I believe that Thomas Jefferson is the father of Sally Hemings’ children.  All we know are that the facts tell us that Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner, or master, and that Sally Hemings was his wife’s slave (and half-sister) whom Jefferson inherited when he married his wife, Martha Wayles, who died when Jefferson was 39, asking him never to marry again.

Those are the facts.  However, those are, also, the labels.  Neither you, nor I, nor anyone else, knows the intricacies and the quality of the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings. Only they know that, and they are both dead.  Jefferson did, however, free his children by Sally Hemings as he had promised her he would, and Sally Hemings, herself, was released by Thomas Jefferson’s remaining child, Martha, shortly after his death, to live with her son by Jefferson until she died.”

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