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In a Jan. 6 column regarding the U.S. abolition movement and a PBS documentary about it, Paul B. Johnson wrote:
Today, we live in an increasingly enlightened society where equality is seen as a necessary and worthy goal, where mistreatment of a large group of people based on their race or origin is completely unacceptable. A century and a half ago in America, opposite attitudes held sway.One point that “The Abolitionists” will make forcefully is that powerful sectors of American society — politicians, business leaders, ministers — at one time either supported slavery or turned a neglectful blind eye to the abomination. Slavery was an accepted practice, from the white residents of towns and villages who didn’t think twice about public sales of black men, women and children to the preachers who perverted Scripture to justify slavery as a social practice.
Indeed, Angelina Grimke [a young abolitionist from slaveholding family] became so committed to the cause against slavery that she left South Carolina, renounced her ownership of any human being and became a public speaker in the North against slavery. Far from being welcomed and praised for her courage at the time, Grimke was hated and vilified, not only by her fellow Southerners but many in the North who saw nothing immoral about slavery.
In response to Johnson:
• TaxpayerOne: Even throughout the first half of the 20th century, lynchings of black Americans was accepted as “just the way things were.” Theodore Roosevelt was deeply concerned about the number of lynchings each year but was thwarted at every turn when he attempted to do something about it. Such was the national acceptance of it, that had he pushed much harder against it, he would never have successfully landed his second term.
It remains inconceivable that any person of sound mind and conscience did not stand up against this terrible practice. Even Robert E. Lee, an abolitionist himself, wrote a letter to his wife in 1851 wherein he stated, “Slavery is the greatest moral and political evil in the world.”
The idea that people, particularly educated people of the time, didn’t know it was wrong is hogwash. We often hear people talk about “the good old days.” But those good old days weren’t so very good for a large portion of our nation’s people.
• mrmike: What you’re saying may be true, but I think that we need to be careful about judging people from 100 or 150 years ago using the standards of today.
Today we have the Internet, we have dozens of news sources on TV and radio, we have thousands of magazines, opinion polls and so on. 150 years ago what percentage of the population was educated? What percentage owned slaves? My guess is that while most people probably knew about slavery, a lot of them never knew the details, and even if they did, what were they supposed to do about it?
Maybe 150 years from now people will judge us in the same manner for not stopping the decline of our country. In Chuck Bino’s column, he compared modern government dependence with slavery (he’s not the only one to make that comparison). So who’s to say that people 150 years from now won’t condemn us for allowing it to go on? We know it’s bad, but we accept it. We have our reasons.
Before I condemn anyone from 150 years ago, I want to know their reasons. I want to know what they knew. Obviously there were people who knew better and who could have done more to stop it, but to pass the same judgment on the population as a whole, or even a majority, goes too far in my opinion. Maybe it’s true, but I’m not convinced.