Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Slavery, Liberation, Exodus
One thing I've been thinking about this year is the conversation I heard on the NPR program "Fresh Air"--the wonderful interviewer Terry Gross talking with Adam Goodheart, a historian who wrote a book about the origins of the Civil War. The book is called 1861. Goodheart said a lot of things, but the one that stuck in my mind had to do with the institution of slavery. I've always understood how deeply slavery was intertwined with the economy of the South, but Goodheart pointed out that being asked to give up one's slaves was equivalent to having someone ask us to give up all our savings or our retirement accounts or all our liquid assets. He kept apologizing for how horrible that sounded, to be speaking of humans as liquid assets, but he was saying it so that we could get a better handle on the threat and panic and anger slave owners felt at the thought of having to give up their slaves. He was not apologizing for slavery or arguing in favor of it, of even saying that we should feel empathy for the slave owners. He was, however, explaining a point of view that I had not heard before.
At least in part, then, because of the threat to a way of life, the war came, and many died and suffered and lost property of all kinds. And then the slaves were liberated, and the exodus began. As my husband points out every year, however, slavery still exists in many forms in the world. Liberation is far from complete. When will it ever be?