Guest Column: An apology for slavery

Jan. 10, 2013 @ 12:31 AM


Al Campbell, in his Jan. 2 letter, complained of folks who (on a recent PBS show) were talking about slavery in America “intellectually”— as if there were ever any “pros” or “cons” to discuss. Campbell tells us that the only things that should be uttered in regard to slavery are “admissions” and “apologies.”  Al, my good and highly-esteemed friend, I wish it were that simple.
First off – let me say to you, “Al, I, Dusty Schoch (white guy) admit to you that my great-grandfathers were (truly) plantation slave owners and Confederate officers (one colonel and one general — my namesake, Robert E. Rodes), and I apologize to you for their actions in actively enslaving and defending that “abominable institution.”
My apology is sincere. I only wish  it could change something. Does it console you, Al, now that you have it … in newsprint?
Everything in history we don’t carefully study — and understand — is apt to repeat on us, like bad peanuts. Slavery was in 1860 U.S. as abominable as it was in Old Testament Egypt and throughout the world today (e.g., in Africa, China, and all women in the wide world of Islam). Every time we shop at Walmart we subsidize the Chinese form of slavery. We have to see it for what it was in order to insure its eventual eradication.
In America, the Civil War did not end slavery; it simply ruled it “illegal” and slavery persisted in the sweatshops of the North and rich honky homes of the South where slaves were re-named “help” – but continued to receive room, board and scarcely more in the garages behind white homes for another century. Our “separate but equal” segregation was de-facto apartheid slavery.
Few travesties humans commit are “simple” enough to be healed by an apology. One could argue that it is pointless for one to apologize for something one’s ancestors did. Or one could argue that 600,000 white deaths (including my great-grandfather’s) was enough “apology.” One could consider relevant and “mitigating” that there existed manifest and recorded love between some masters and slaves as it was with Col. Daniel McInnis (my great gramp), who — his entire life — pretended that Latt Hines, his closest friend, was his “man servant slave” in order to protect him and keep him secretly free; or that my aunt was suckled by a slave’s descendant when my grandmother’s (McInnis’ daughter and Rodes’ daughter-in-law) milk went dry; or that my grandmother’s name “Birdie” was bestowed on her by former slaves who continued on a freed plantation to pick cotton by her impoverished side. They loved the way she sang in their shared laboring fields.  Or that I was personally raised and nurtured by (true story) Love and Ollie Sparks, two African-Americans who lived in the attic of our garage and I love and miss today as though they were my family because they were.  Or that in the end we are all of us — one and the same — just differently-colored kindred humans. Or that (perhaps most importantly of all) … forgiveness is as noble and healing as apology.
Al, it’s just not that simple. But, again, I apologize.

Dusty Schoch is an attorney and writer living in High Point. His website is