Tag Archives: Slavery

What Did Students Study in Southern Colleges Before the Civil War?

By Alfred Brophy

What did students study in Southern colleges before the Civil War? Well, in algebra class, they sometimes studied how terrible Yankees were. Take several examples from the math textbook of Professor D. H. Hill of Davidson College:

A Yankee mixes a certain number of wooden nutmegs, which cost him 1/4 cent apiece, with a quantity of real nutmegs, worth 4 cents apiece, and sells the whole assortment for $44; and gains $3.75 by the fraud. How many wooden nutmegs were there?

Fun in math class, eh? (Am I right in thinking that 4x-1/4x=375?)

And they studied the hiring of a slave:

A planter hired a negro-man at the rate of $100 per annum, and his clothing. At the end of 8 months the master of the slave took him home, and received $75 in cash, and no clothing. What was the clothing valued at?

Also, on the issue of emancipation and the generosity of North and South, try this problem:

A gentleman in Richmond expressed a willingness to liberate his slave, valued at $1000, upon the receipt of that sum from charitable persons. He received contributions from 24 persons; and of these there were 14/19ths fewer from the North than from the South, and the average donation of the former was 4/5ths smaller than that of the latter. What was the entire amount given by the latter?

Mighty interesting stuff to see what’s on the minds of antebellum textbook authors, isn’t it? I will talk shortly about some of the more traditional curriculum in southern colleges shortly.

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A Moving History from the Era of Jim Crow

By Alfred Brophy

I’ve been talking about African American intellectuals, their literary output, and the era of Jim Crow a bunch of late.

One of my favorite works of history is W. Sherman Savage‘s The Controversy Over the Distribution of Abolitionist Literature, 1830-1860 (1938), by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Why has it won this place in my heart? In part because of the conditions under which Dr. Savage (who was a professor of history at Lincoln University) wrote and published it–in the dark days of Jim Crow. Its newsprint paper testifies to the difficult economic conditions of its publication. Yet, despite the hardships of being an African American scholar of extremely modest background and means, Dr. Savage persevered.

I first fell in love with this volume when, as a third year law student (now many, many years ago) I was working on the response to abolitionist literature that was mailed through the United States mail to southern slaveholders and free blacks alike. The abolitionists’ campaign was a shrewd one–to use that great engine of commerce, the mails, to get their ideas into the hands of people where they might have an impact. The response testifies to the power of ideas to liberate us as a people.

Savage’s volume collected a lot of wisdom and presented it in simple and therefore elegant prose. And as I wondered about why such an important work was printed on such, well, inexpensive paper it dawned on me that this was the case because this was likely all the publisher could afford. Ah, further testimony to how ideas can find expression and an audience, even when they are not clothed in the trappings of wealth and majesty.

It’s further testimony to the perseverance of people who sought to tell the truth in those dark days–and were able to help our country remake itself.

Savage’s book is also a reminder that the mainstream academy does not always address issues of importance to African Americans. As Christopher Metzler’s been talking about here of late, we need to be careful to produce scholarship of importance to the African American community–and to our country as a whole. Similarly, we ought to be very suspicious of our colleagues who tell us that issues of race aren’t important or that we’ve already learned what we’re going to from research on race.

Harper’s Ferry Monument to Hayward Shepard

By Alfred Brophy

I’ve been talking about our memory of the era of slavery some here of late. Perhaps you’ll be interested in this.

Back in the 1930s the United Daughters of the Confederacy put up a statue dedicated to Hayward Shepard, an African American man who was killed at Harper’s Ferry. He was the first person killed in John Brown’s raid.

The monument reads

On the night of October 16, 1859, Heyward Shepard, an industrious and respected colored freeman was mortally wounded by John Brown’s raiders in pursuance of his duties as an employee of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company. He became the first victim of the attempted insurrection.

This boulder is erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans as a memorial to Heyward Shepherd, exemplifying the character and faithfulness of thousands of negroes who, under many temptations through subsequent years of war, so conducted themselves that no stain was left upon a record which is the peculiar heritage of the American people, and an everlasting tribute to the best on both races.

Now, why did the UDC put this up? The idea was that if they could show that slaves and free blacks wouldn’t join Brown’s rebellion that slavery wasn’t so bad. If free blacks wouldn’t join, it would show that they were on the side of the slaveholders rather than the violent abolitionists.

This, of course, was controversial. The NAACP protested against it, because it suggested that the slaves accepted their lot and benefited, perhaps even liked, slavery. Of course, while some saw him as devil, an abolitionist nut who fomented Civil War, others saw him as a hero. W.E.B. DuBois proposed a counter-monument to the Heyward Shepard monument in 1932, which would read:

Here / John Brown / Aimed at human slavery / A Blow / That woke a guilty nation. / With him fought / Seven slaves and sons of slaves. / And 4,000,000 freemen / Singing / “John Brown’s body lies a mouldering in the grace / But his Soul goes marching on!” / In gratitude this Tablet is erected / The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People / May 21, 1932.

Still, the town put up the monument. It remained on display until the 1980s when, during renovations, it was removed. You know what? It’s back up again, though this time with a plaque that helps put it into context. I think that’s probably the best possible result: let visitors to Harper’s Ferry know that these sentiments existed and that they were part of an attempt to re-write the history of slavery. Unfortunately, that attempt was pretty successful. And that deserves a post all its own.

If you’re interested in learning more about this, you might enjoy a book by Teresa S. Moyer and Paul A. Shackel called The Making of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park: A Devil, Two Rivers, and a Dream. I wrote a review of it recently for H-Net, which is available here.

The photograph of “John Brown’s Fort” by Marsha Wassel is from the National Park Service’s website on Harper’s Ferry.

Merkel on the Nascence of Free Soil Constitutionalism

By Alfred Brophy

We continue to hear lots of talk about antislavery and proslavery law–it’s in part a response to the growing discussion of reparations. William Merkel of Washburn University’s law school has a new article out on “Jefferson’s Failed Anti-Slavery Proviso of 1784 and the Nascence of Free Soil Constitutionalism.” Free Download

Merkel’s abstract reads:

Despite his severe racism and inextricable personal commitments to slavery, Thomas Jefferson made profoundly significant contributions to the rise of anti-slavery constitutionalism. This Article examines the narrowly defeated anti-slavery plank in the Territorial Governance Act drafted by Jefferson and ratified by Congress in 1784. The provision would have prohibited slavery in all new states carved out of the western territories ceded to the national government established under the Articles of Confederation. The Act set out the principle that new states would be admitted to the Union on equal terms with existing members, and provided the blueprint for the Republican Guarantee Clause and prohibitions against titles of nobility in the United States Constitution of 1788. The defeated anti-slavery plank inspired the anti-slavery proviso successfully passed into law with the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Unlike that Ordinance’s famous anti-slavery clause, Jefferson’s defeated provision would have applied south as well as north of the Ohio River.

You can download the full article here for free.
Alfred Brophy

Buckner Inniss on Reparations Rhetoric

If you’ve been following the reparations movement of late, you’ve likely seen talk of the lawsuits filed back in 2002 in federal courts around the country.  They were consolidated in the Northern District of Illinois in front of Judge Norgle.  The name of the case was In re African American Slave Descendants Litigation.  Whew, that’s a mouthful.

Lolita Buckner Inniss of Cleveland State University’s Law School has recently posted a paper analyzing Judge Norgle’s 2006 opinion dismissing the case.  (So maybe I should have titled this post, Buckner Inniss on anti-reparations rhetoric.)  Her abstract is as follows:

In this paper I apply critical legal rhetoric to the judicial opinion rendered in response to the Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Second Amended and Consolidated Complaint in ‘In Re African American Slave Descendants’, a case concerning the efforts of a group of modern-day descendants of enslaved African-Americans to obtain redress for the harms of slavery. The chief methodological framework for performing critical legal rhetorical analysis comes from the work of Marouf Hasian, Jr. particularly his schema for analysis which he calls substantive units in critical legal rhetoric.  Critical legal rhetoric is a potent tool for exposing the way in which the public ideologies of society and the private ideologies of jurists, legislators and other legal actors are manifested in legal and law-like pronouncements. After introducing this case, I briefly tracing the evolution and meaning of the term rhetoric and examine the relationship between rhetoric and law. I next explore the connection between rhetoric and ideology, which is crystallized in the form of the ideograph and its use as a tool of what is known as critical rhetoric.  Finally, I show how critical legal rhetoric is achieved by bringing critical rhetoric to law, and thereafter apply critical legal rhetoric to the case of ‘In Re African American Slave Descendants’.

You can download the paper here for free.

Alfred Brophy

Academics Missing In Discourse on Slavery Apologies

By Dr. Alfred Brophy

I wrote some about this over at legalhistoryblog back in February.  The University of Maryland has announced that Ira Berlin, one of our nation’s most distinguished historians, and a graduate student will teach a two-semester course for 30 undergraduates, which will research the University of Maryland’s connections to slavery. The Diamond Back, the University of Maryland’s student newspaper, has all the details. Sounds like an excellent course to me. The Diamond Back also has an editorial about this.  The Brown Daily Herarld and the Examiner also had excellent stories on this.  I think that course will be a great learning opportunity for the students and they’ll be able to fill in some big gaps in our knowledge of the university’s history, then contribute to the discussion on campus of what, if anything, should be done today.  It will be most interesting to see where this all goes–what we find out about UM’s history with slavery and how we think that connects to contemporary discussions of race.

In 2007 and 2008, several legislatures (including Virginia, Maryland, Alabama, New Jersey, Florida) apologized for their connections to slavery.  It’s surprising to me (in some ways) that in the state apologies for slavery last year academics, particularly historians, were notably absent.  In every state except Maryland, that I can recall at least, politicians took the lead and did not draw on academics. (In Maryland some academics, like Ron Walters, testified before the legislature, as I recall.) It struck me at the time as an odd disconnect: historians have some expertise in this area.  And perhaps legislatures should have sought them out–or perhaps historians should have sought out the legislature.

Historians, of course, have divided approaches to apologies. James Cobb at the University of Georgia, another very distinguished historian, wrote a piece for the New Republic online edition criticizing state legislatures’ apologies for slavery. (Here’s an earlier version from Cobb’s website; I can’t find a working link to the New Republic piece.) In the most recent American Scholar Gorman Beauchamp of the University of MIchigan also takes on apologies and in stronger terms than Cobb.  On the other hand, I suspect that lots of historians will favor some sort of apology.  Anyway, I thought it strange that more historians weren’t asked to testify as part of the apology debates.  Their expertise is, of course, in the facts, not in contemporary morality and politics.  But our nation’s history with slavery is, obviously, central to the case for apology.

But perhaps that’s because we academics work on rather different schedules and with different questions from politicians. It’s hard to know.  At any rate, I look forward to hearing more about this.  I hope to talk some more about apologies.

College Investigations of Their Connections to Slavery

By Dr. Alfred Brophy

Thanks to the folks at Diverse Education for their kind invitation to sit for a spell at The Academy Speaks. My “home” blog is thefacultylounge, so there’s a real theme of talking! I’m looking forward to talking about a lot of topics in race and law and history.

I’d like to lead off with a topic we’ve been hearing a lot about around the academy these days: schools’ investigations of their connections to the institution of slavery. Brown University set the standard for us all a couple of years back when their slavery and justice committee put out a terrific report on Brown University’s connections to slavery (and to anti-slavery as well) and Brown’s connections to the wider world of slavery in Rhode Island and the world that Rhode Island traded with (the West Indies, Africa, and Europe). Some other schools have followed Brown’s lead.

Since Brown’s report in 2006, the University of Virginia has apologized for its connections to slavery and William and Mary and the University of Maryland have faculty and students who are talking about self-investigations.

Right now, though Harvard’s not going to be following them right now. As I said about William and Mary’s deliberations, the decision of what–if anything–to do is best left to a school’s current students, faculty, and administration. If Harvard students and faculty think this is something that should be pursued, they should pursue it, through their research and advocacy. The rest of us who don’t have to live with these difficult discussions shouldn’t put the onus on Harvard’s administration. And certainly the current students and faculty (and even alums to the extent that they care) shouldn’t expect the administration to carry the burden, either. Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, is one of our country’s leading historians; however, that is different from her role as president.

One thing that I think a self-investigation would remind us is the school’s connections to anti-slavery as well as proslavery thought. Harvard, like Brown, was a major training ground for anti-slavery thinkers. (A point made well in this article from the Crimson last Thursday.) Brown’s president during much of the antebellum period, Francis Wayland, was a leading antislavery advocate. Emerson, Thoreau, William Ellery Channing, Theodore Parker … all Harvard alums. (Of course, Joseph Story, Lemuel Shaw, Timothy Walker … all Harvard alums, too.)

I’ll be talking more about the virtues and problems of these investigations shortly.

Dr. Alfred Brophy is a professor of law.