James Horton on the legacy of slavery
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Q: Why is it important to study the history of slavery?
A: The problem of race in America at the end of the 20th century is not the problem of slavery. If it had been the problem of slavery, it'd have been over in 1865. But as a Christian nation, a nation that saw itself as a Christian nation, as a nation that saw itself built on the principles of freedom, we had to tell ourselves that there was something about the slave that justified slavery. It is that justification of slavery that we are still trying to deal with, more than 100 years after the abolition of slavery.
It would have been so much better if we could have said: I have the power to hold slaves. Therefore I hold slaves. Has nothing to do with the slaves. Has to do with my power. Then, when I no longer had the power, slavery is over, we could move forward. But because we are America, because we have this vision of ourselves, we had to say to ourselves that there's something wrong with the slave. And when we said that, it put us in the position of then having to deal with that notion of racial inferiority, long past the end of slavery.
Benjemin Banneker Professor of American Studies and History
George Washington University
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