Slave ownership: an honest debate
Letter to the Editor | Thursday, February 6, 2014
When reading Katrina Linden’s column from Feb. 5, I found plenty to be taken seriously. Of course, we must realize there is still a lot of work to be done in promoting equality in all sectors of public life. We have not yet emerged into a “post-racial” America. I would like to, however, raise a point that at first seems quite trivial but means a lot for proper discourse. Ms. Linden stated, “I am convinced any white male in the United States today would have been a slaveowner in the past.” A bold claim, to be sure.
As a history major, I have learned the hard way the pitfalls of making grand assumptions such as Ms. Linden’s without the facts to back them up. She certainly did not do any research in preparation for such a broad statement — in her defense, she never claimed to have done research. One pitfall to which a statement like this exposes the author is to be hit hard by anyone who has the facts.
Anyone with cursory knowledge of 19th century American history is aware of some rather prominent white males who did not own slaves and, in fact, fought tooth and nail against the institution. Leave out the somewhat controversial example of John Brown, and you still have men like Theodore Weld, upon whose abolitionist writings Harriet Beecher Stowe based “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Or William Lloyd Garrison, who founded “The Liberator” in 1831 as an anti-slavery periodical. Or Elijah Lovejoy, who was killed in Alton, Ill., by a pro-slavery mob intent on destroying his abolitionist publication. Slavery was a powerful force, but there were thousands of people dedicated to its downfall, information on whom is exceedingly easy to find today.
To Ms. Linden, I don’t point out these examples in order to discredit you. On the contrary, I believe strongly in most of the points you make in your column, and understand that you are completely against blaming anyone for the deeds of others. I bring this up because I want to demonstrate that when writing an important and assertive treatise such as yours, every little detail counts. We have a responsibility when we are expressing ourselves not to take shortcuts, not to compromise the truth for emotional resonance. We must all work hard to preserve the integrity of intellectual discourse, even if we’re not being graded for it.