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During my days of touring college campuses to hear men like Molefi Asante, Yosef ben Jochanon, Ivan van Sertima, Naim Akbar, and Wade Nobles wax poetic about Africentrism, African history, and the need for a genuinely multicultural American society, it was commonplace to argue that history was his story (lower case ‘h’). So much of what makes it into print in the widely published and standard texts, we were told, was written from the vantage point of white western elites who knew little of the peoples and cultures of Africa. We studiously took our place in the narrative wars of history and counter-history. Not only is one man’s terrorist another man’s freedom fighter, but it turns out that one man’s conspiracy theorist is another man’s historian.

I’m reminded of all this reading many of the comments and responses in the threads to these posts on Black and Tan. Many have questioned Wilson’s history of the American South, and others have fired back with facts and quotes in defense of that view. Every quote is met with a counter-quote, and on it goes. It sometimes looks like the amateur historian’s version of the preacher’s weak proof text (which is sometimes really a pretext for an a priori position).

In an earlier post, I thought we might be able to skip any discussion of the underlying history involved. I thought that because Wilson and I hold very similar views of the biblical texts, their priority, and their implications. I was hoping for some progress on biblical grounds, since we both think that’s precisely the ground at stake and the ground upon which Christians should stand. But, it seems a few general remarks about history and about Black and Tan‘s history are warranted.

An Appreciation

Let me begin with an appreciation. I’m grateful for Wilson’s defense of the generalist historian. Wilson understands that there’s no way to be a good pastor without having at least a general grip on history—secular and redemptive. He writes, “Historical laymen should read broadly enough to make sure they are not reading some truncated account or other, but neither should they be embarrassed by the necessity of popularizing the material” (pp. 8-9). I agree with this sentiment entirely. I join with Wilson in both appreciating the necessary role specialists play while affirming that all us non-specialists have a stake and role in telling the story as well. After all, good history has to be our story too.

Some Concerns with Black and Tan‘s Approach to History

But having said that, the “history” assumed in Black and Tan does provoke a few concerns. These concerns need to be touched upon because our view of what happened shapes our view of who we are, what is, and what ought to be. Again, Wilson and I agree: If we get the past wrong we’re likely to get every subsequent thing wrong, also. So to avoid that domino effect, we need to give attention to historical method.

From my perspective, Black and Tan is lacking in four ways.

First, Black and Tan is not history. The book makes claims about history, but it’s not a presentation or exposition of history in any sense that I could recognize. Now, I realize that Black and Tan is in many ways Wilson’s apologetic for Slavery As It Was—a work I have not read but understand to have presented more history than Black and Tan. Perhaps Wilson allows himself the convenience of not restating the arguments of Slavery As It Was. But the consequence, as he puts it, is a book with “an ad-hoc, ragtaggy feel” (p. 119). In my reading, that “feel” is felt most where historical claims are in view.

It’s difficult to offer a critique of the history since there’s no clear substantive historical basis to the book. For example, Wilson writes that “it is necessary to get clear on the nature of American slavery, which was not what it’s abolitionist opponents claimed for it” (p. 4). But he doesn’t give us either a sustained critique of abolitionist claims or a sustained argument for a different view. That being the case, readers of the book who take seriously the book’s claims about the nature of Southern slavery or the South in general are at least going to have to do a lot of homework themselves or at worst be prone to making serious mistakes in understanding the who, why, and what of contemporary society. We have to be careful here. How can we with intellectual integrity take the premise of Slavery as It Was as true without its doing anything to overturn the eyewitness testimony in American Slavery as It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses, for example? I chuckled at the amazing similarity of the titles. Then I thought to myself, What makes one title more reliable than the other? Until Wilson offers a substantive history, I’m afraid the burden of proof rests with him against eyewitness testimony.

Second, Black and Tan attempts historical revision. Wilson knows that “History is storytelling” and “Faithful history is faithful storytelling” (p. 8). But he’s concerned that the storytelling regarding American slavery and the South haven’t been all that faithful. He knows that facts matter, that “we… read the story with our loyalties intact,” and “Humility is hard” (p. 9). Wilson rightly maintains that “Objectivity is a false god” (p. 10), that “Some historians sin through hagiography and others sin through debunking” (p. 11), that it’s possible that “after about a hundred years or so, [political correctness] turns into historical correctness” (p. 11), and that “Proud ignorance is no better than proud knowledge” (p. 12). I take this to mean Wilson understands how fraught with complexity and pitfalls writing and re-writing history can be.

But he contends that the established narrative about slavery and the Civil War needs revising at critical points lest we misunderstand ourselves and our present cultural battles. “Some of the things that we think are slam-dunk certainties will almost certainly turn out not to be” (p. 10). Central to the book’s thesis and Wilson’s logic is the notion that “antebellum slavery was the normal kind of sinful situation” rather than “Apocalyptic Evil” (p. 4). In defense of Slavery as It Was, Wilson writes, “It was the contention of this booklet that the way in which slavery ended has had ongoing deleterious consequences for modern Christians in our current culture wars, and that slavery was far more benign in practice than it was made to appear in the literature of the abolitionists” (p. 14; emphasis added). That’s a massive claim.

So the first thing we ought to ask as good readers is, “How does the author know that?” The first responsibility of any writer must be to make his or her case clear to the reader. As someone that’s written his own book attempting some historical revision, I think I know two things: (1) such revisions are needful and can be helpful, and (2) if you’re going to attempt revising a long-held historical narrative you’d better bring plenty of evidence to substantiate your claims!

The worst kind of revisionist history is the kind that claims without certifying. Because Black and Tan suffers in that way, it’s vulnerable to every “Southern” agenda that opportunistically makes use of such claims. If for no other reasons, I hope Wilson will significantly modify this book to protect himself from those agendas and to make real contributions to a rich and still contested history. That will require more than mere assertion; it’ll require argumentation from source material and without the entanglements that keep us from being heard.

Third, Black and Tan represents a biased retelling of history. Wilson rightly points out that we all “do history” from a vantage point and questions how completely “objective” we can be in writing history. But though we’re not omniscient and though our assumptions influence us—sometimes unwittingly—it’s another thing altogether to adopt a point-of-view so deeply that we only present those things that confirm our bias. I think Black and Tan fails in this way.

Wilson tells us from the start that “to grasp the central issues, it is necessary to be steeped in a particular intellectual tradition” (p. 5). He has “the Southern conservative intellectual tradition” in mind. He doesn’t tell us why we must be “steeped” in that tradition. Instead, Wilson notes a deep hostility among some critics of this tradition and suspects no amount of argumentation will get through to them. We all know critics like that, don’t we? But it seems, those critics notwithstanding, Wilson has perhaps put himself in the lamentable position of preaching only to the choir of the Southern conservative intellectual tradition. He may be putting the pertinent facts and events outside the “grasp” of people from other traditions. That bias significantly limits the usefulness of this book.

That biased perspective also significantly curtails the range of resources used in Black and Tan. I counted roughly 90-95 footnotes in the work. Only a handful of those referenced historical works actually focusing on the antebellum South or the Civil War. There were two books by Eugene Genovese, A Consuming Fire and The Southern Front. Fogel and Engerman’s Time on the Cross was cited along with Weaver’s Southern Tradition at Bay. Dabney receives a number of notations. Apart from Dabney, who ardently defended the South and slavery, Genovese receives the most frequent approving citations. Wilson describes Genovese as “a modern and sympathetic critic of the South” (p. 59). But what about other views of the South and slavery written either by Southerners or about them? We’re not treated to any other perspectives. Even when Black and Tan calls upon Black writers like Benjamin Quarles, it does so to document the fact that a “small handful” of Blacks fought for the South in the Civil War (p. 73). Anyone who knows Quarles’ work knows Quarles would be unsympathetic with Wilson’s premise and probably chagrined to see his book brought into this service.

I understand that Black and Tan was written amidst controversy and a lot of criticism and personal attack. I understand how that context could make a person pessimistic about his opponents giving him a fair shake. I simply wish the book would have engaged the histories and story-telling outside the Southern conservative intellectual tradition. Having failed to do that, Black and Tan simply affirms its a priori assumptions.

Fourth, the post-mil perspective of Black and Tan makes it too optimistic about the South’s history. Much has been said about this already. I won’t belabor the point except to say that given the first three limitations this final perspective surely corrupts Wilson’s reading of the South and its culture.

For these reasons we should not think of or use Black and Tan as resource on either the historical period in question or a helpful way to understand our present situation. Wilson writes early on in Black and Tan: “the fact that I am willing to teach on historical subjects does not mean that I somehow think I am infallible. I have been wrong on numerous points over the years—sometimes the mistake is mine, and sometimes a source leads me astray. The point of all this is simply to say that on such subjects I am always open to correction, and moreover I am eager for it” (p. 3). Thus far, Wilson has been nothing but gracious. We’ve found ourselves agreeing on a number of things along the way. I suspect we’ll find a good amount to disagree about regarding the actual history of the South and slavery. I hope, and have no reason to think otherwise, that he’ll be willing to consider these points about the history assumed in Black and Tan and make modifications at a number of points.

A Post-Script

History belongs to us all—not just the winners. Wilson and I agree about that. I want to end my critique of the “history” in Black and Tan at this point. I just want to say a few things about us all and our readings and conversations about history.

It’s imperative that we (by which I mean all people and Christian people, in particular) understand that we don’t share the same experience of the same events. If we’re going to grow in understanding one another, we’ll have to allow the other to tell their story with empathy for “their side.” I don’t begrudge Southerners telling their history and defending themselves at various points along the way. Likewise, other Southerners (for to be “Southern” is not one thing), African Americans, Northerners, etc. have other stories to tell about the same events. But much of the rhetoric in the comments thread hasn’t allowed the same courtesy to others. When that happens we fall prey to thinking there’s only one objective, infallible history—and usually we think it’s ours.

I’ve noted the occasional jab at “public school education” and textbooks used there. I’ve read the disdaining remarks about “multiculturalism” and “postmodern relativism.” These are the charges and labels used whenever some have contended that “there’s another side” to that told in Black and Tan or, more often, by those who seem to support the work.

Such rejections are problematic for a number of reasons. First, they reveal an unwillingness to deal with the world as it really is. We already live—like it or not—in a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-everything world. We’ll either engage it fruitfully or bury ourselves under an avalanche of sentimental “histories” of bygone eras. Second, such rejections generally take for granted the normative nature of one’s own cultural and historical vantage point. This always leads to misunderstanding. Third, these rejections really serve a hegemonic purpose and refuse to admit as legitimate the counter-narratives caused by that hegemony. The 19th century saw a lot of White Southern talk about “civilization” and the greatness of Western civilization. That talk is still with us. Many of those who take that view can’t fathom why African Americans, for example, talk much about African civilizations and the contributions of African Americans to our present “western” civilization. They don’t see (or refuse to see in some cases) how the “White Western civilization” narrative, which has historically disenfranchised and dehumanized Black people, necessitated a counter-narrative to correct the caricatures, misrepresentations, and racist viewpoints. In other words, we’re locked in this battle of telling and re-telling precisely because some people refuse to admit there are more people in the portrait than just those resembling themselves.

As W. Fitzhugh Brundage documents so insightfully in The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory, the battle of competing narratives has been literally carved into the landscape of the South and has been encoded in racial memory. To come back to Wilson for a moment, he’s surely correct to contend that the effects of the Civil War live with us and the way the War ended slavery impacts our lives today. I just think it impacts us and our relationships across “racial” lines more than it does public policy. So, for my concluding post, I’ll comment on this issue of “racial insensitivity” and why I think it’s legitimate to point to Black and Tan as an example.

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30 thoughts on “The Histories of the American South: A Caution against Hegemonies”

  1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

    Dear all,

    Welcome to the conversation. I’m grateful for anyone who comments and engages the topic. We’ve had a lot of conversation so far, but not all of it has been on the topic of the post. To keep us focused, I’m going to moderate comments more attentively than I normally do. If you offer a comment you’ve already made previously or a comment that doesn’t engage the post/comments about the post, I will remove the comment. Please don’t be offended if your comment is removed. I’m simply trying to serve us all by keeping us on point. I trust that’ll be more fruitful for us all.

    Grace and peace,

  2. Matt says:


    Excellent, excellent post. Thank you again for this series.

    You mentioned that you have not read Southern Slavery As It Was. As you say so well in this post, much of the issues many of us have with Black and Tan stem specifically with the way it deals with historical questions, especially when read in the light of the earlier booklet.

    I strongly recommend you read Southern Slavery As It Was. My vocabulary lacks a word to describe this booklet that would be as diplomatic and charitable as you have been in your posts. The way that booklet treats the firmly historically established widespread suffering of slaves in the south as overblown abolitionist propaganda is appalling.

    It is very brief and available for free on-line here:

    It has been said repeatedly but it is worth saying again: Please know that your position regarding and handling of these matters has the enthusiastic approval of many of us white folks in the south (even some of us who might consider ourselves sort of intellectual and reasonably conservative).

    God bless.

  3. Philip Larson says:

    I think (and I hope) that I would endorse nearly all of Thabiti’s points on Southern slavery. But I have reservations on how he thinks it should have been ended.

    1. For instance, would we regard Sherman’s campaign (at least what Washington wanted him to he accomplish) as a righteous campaign?

    2. Would Sherman’s campaign against civilians justify drone attacks today against non-combatants? If not, why not, if we support the North’s invasion of the South?

    3. And given slavery’s evil, assuming that we support the North’s invasion, should we regard abortion as a greater evil? If so, should we support and pray for an similar invasion and destruction of abortion-supporting states?

    1. Nicolas Rivera says:

      I think you make some very good points, and that this is what Wilson is concerned about. I would add to that not only what the Federal government did during the war, but the general behavior of the Federal government after the war during the Reconstruction era (including such things as the way the 14th amendment was ratified).

    2. Alex Burgess says:

      Abortion is a serious issue in need of its own discussion. I think the effort to find its parallels with slavery has helped to confuse more than clarify the issue at hand.

      1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

        Hi Alex,

        I agree with your comments here. It seems to me the history of the Civil War is complex enough without entangling it with other extremely important and complex issues in our own day.

        Moreover, seems to me that we might be able to discuss/refute one aspect of the war (say, Sherman’s campaign) without dismissing the whole. That, just as we would condemn shooting abortion doctors while affirming a broader effort to end abortion. In other words, we can’t sum the Civil War up with Sherman’s campaign or sum up anti-abortion efforts with a rogue gunman’s murders. And blending the two impairs rather than helps our analysis and action, imo.

        Grace and peace,

        1. Darius T says:

          To be fair, Pastor Wilson was the first to bring up these parallels (as it was part of the reason he wrote the book), and his challenge for an answer from anyone has gone largely unmet. Anyone bringing abortion up in the comments is doing nothing more than being faithful to Wilson’s main point.

  4. Alex Burgess says:

    Pastor Anyabwile, I hope I don’t come across like a sycophant, but you’re hitting home run after home run. Superb post.

    Wilson is obviously a highly intelligent man, but you’re right that his approach to the history of this particular subject is misguided. He so desperately wants everything to fit the narrative that the South was the wronged party in this conflict that he cherry picks the work of historians to make it all work. He ignores the abundance of evidence that the South was deeply committed to dehumanizing, not just enslaving, people of African descent. In his zeal to undermine pro-Northern history-telling (which, I admit, has its own problems in the opposite direction) and thereby buoy his political views on federalism, he places himself in the reactionary position of glossing over just how unjust Southern society was. This is bad history, plain and simple.

    I really do hope that Wilson’s present interaction with you will convince him to rethink how he has approached this issue.

  5. Paul Matzko says:

    Elsewhere in the world of historical interpretation:

    My appreciation for the careful, judicious tenor of your posts (and Douglas Wilson’s comments) jumped after reading the above and being reminded of how quickly even professional historians steer into name-calling, conspiratorial assumptions, and ill temper.

  6. Rick Davis says:

    The last section of this post is just excellent. The internet brings together communities that may never have had the opportunity or inclination to engage with one another in the real world. In these interactions, though, it’s important to remember that all communities have their commonplaces that are repeated, believed and understood in certain ways that those outside the community don’t see/understand. A few posts back, I even offered a historic correction about what I believed to be a common misconception of the 3/5 compromise, only to realize that the statement that slaves were considered 3/5 human is a rhetorical commonplace in the African American community and doesn’t actually imply any misunderstanding of the actual history.

    There is so much opportunity for all of us in Pastor Anyabwile’s and Pastor Wilson’s posts to examine our assumptions from another perspective without vitriol, name-calling or patronizing attitudes. I hope that this will mark the beginning of a continuing charitable conversation not just between these two pastors and these two blogs, but throughout the Christian blogosphere.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Amen! May it be so, brother!

  7. Tom says:

    “Many of those who take that view can’t fathom why African Americans, for example, talk much about African civilizations and the contributions of African Americans to our present “western” civilization. They don’t see (or refuse to see in some cases) how the “White Western civilization” narrative, which has historically disenfranchised and dehumanized Black people, necessitated a counter-narrative to correct the caricatures, misrepresentations, and racist viewpoints.”

    A question, if I may: how far does a counter-narrative go before it stops acting as a correctant to botched history and starts botching the history itself; and has the above counter-narrative gone that far?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Tom,

      Great question. I’d say when the counter-narrative ceases to be factually accurate and demonstrable it’s gone too far. As long as it brings facts and balance to the discussion it should be admitted, imo.

      But there’s something else that’s very needful for that to work. There must be a willingness among those holding the “majority position” or “controlling narrative” to hear those counter-balancing facts. Without that, it’s just a shouting match. Without accurate facts, it’s just a conspiracy theory, imo.


  8. Wilson knows that “History is storytelling” and “Faithful history is faithful storytelling” (p. 8).

    Surely there’s more to history than story-telling? The search for causes, for example, or the quest to understand the past on its own terms, goes beyond storytelling. ( Historical explanations – or any explanation- can be reformulated in the story form. But this is not necessary for a good explanation.)

    Graham and Nicola

  9. Dear Pastor ANYABWILE,

    I was a teaching assistant for Professor Robert Fogel at the University of Chicago for the class on economic ethics relevant to slavery. I was even entrusted with delivering the lecture to his class on his findings of slavery (a daunting task!). I can emphatically tell you that Wilson’s use of Fogel is highly selective. Yes, Fogel would demonstrate that found, with his empirical approach to economic history called “cliometrics”, that Southern slavery was 36% more efficient than free Northern farms and that despite the fact that generally the soil in the North is better. Lead by slavery, the economy in the South was growing at twice the rate as the North’s in the decade prior to the Civil War. Slavery was so efficient because slave owners organized their slaves in a very business-like fashion, assembly-line style. Furthermore — and here is where it sounds controversial — most Southern slaves were treated well by their masters, with the average slave taking in more calories and living longer than the average, white, Northern city-dweller. By the purely materialistic approach to economics, then, slavery should have flourished. Modern economics generally works on the premise that if something is efficient and produces a better material out-come for all involved, it therefore will succeed and is, by definition “good”. So was slavery good? No. Fogel’s answer was a resounding “No”, as shouted by the titles of the books which bore his research: “Time on the Cross” and “Without Consent or Contract”. He concluded from his research that had the Civil War been delayed much longer, the South likely would have won and perpetuated slavery indefinitely; that it was already experimenting with using slaves in industrialization and that there is no indication they were going to give it up peacefully. Further, as a self-described “secular Jew”, he told me that he was amazed to find that the real reason slavery ended was because of the work of evangelical Christian who changed the moral consensus in the North against slavery.

    About the history that Wilson employs, he apparently ignores the overt, explicit statements from the original Confederates professing that they were fighting for slavery. Alexander Stephens’ “Cornerstone Speech” and the official secession statements of several of the Southern states name the preservation of slavery as their cause. He also appears to blame the racial animosity after the Civil War on the war itself, rather than on slavery, without any evidence. For these reasons, historians have racked him over the coals. Sean M. Quinlan and William L. Ramsey, professors at the University of Idaho, co-wrote a scathing critique of “Southern Slavery: As It Was”, entitled “Southern Slavery As It Wasn’t Professional Historians Respond To Neo-Confederate Misinformation”, writing that Wilson’s arguments were “hackneyed and flawed”, containing “almost no historical evidence.” University of California at Berkley’s Saidiya Hartman, an expert on the WPA narratives Wilson puts some stock in, called Wilson’s arguments “obscene.” Peter Wood of Duke University wrote that Wilson’s softening of slavery was “ridiculous” and equated Wilson with “holocaust deniers.”

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi John,

      Thank you for contributing to the discussion and sharing so passionately. I appreciate both the contributions and discussions. But since you’ve made this basic comment a number of times, let’s leave it here for this thread. If you have something substantively different, something new to add, then by all means jump back in. But you’ve done a good job of being clear about Fogel’s research, Wilson’s use of it, the condition of the North and South leading up to the War, and the Confederate speeches. All have been useful contributions. At this point, thought, let’s stay with the point of the post.

      Much love in Christ Jesus to all,

  10. Sandra English says:

    As a Christian who teaches in a public school (yes, it is possible), it is my experience that the evils of slavery is one subject that public education teaches correctly. Whatever tradition in which one is immersed, if it does not line up with Scripture, it is incorrect. We all have our prejudices, idols, and blind spots, but surely we can see that the selling of people and separating family members is not loving our neighbor as ourselves.

  11. Reed DePace says:

    Thabiti, I’m a white Northeastern pastoring in the deep south. What books would recommend me to read to get a better grip on African Americans’ experience here in the South in particular, and in America in general.


    1. I second this request. I read John Dittmer’s Local People years ago, and have a couple of other books in my “to read” pile, but I am always eager for more help.

  12. Dillon says:

    Hey Thabiti,

    Thanks so much for these threads. I’m a newcomer to the conversation, but I’ve been following these posts pretty closely, and appreciate the cordial nature with which both you and Wilson have been interacting. It sets an example for patient, loving engagement within evangelicalism, for which I am grateful to God.

    I really only have one thing to add. You made a passing comment about textbook use/selection in public education, and you’ve noted jabs at their recounts of history. Though this was more a brief aside in your post, you seem to want to defend such textbooks on the basis of their legitimate multicultural/multiethnic perspectives. Of course, we live in an increasingly diverse America, for which I am profoundly grateful. Our churches are actually beginning (however slowly) to reflect the Church as it will be upon Christ’s return, and insofar as this multiculturalism is reflected in our textbooks, I should want to add my “Amen!”

    And yet, it seems to me that the questioning of such textbooks is often *not* on the basis of their embracing multiculturalism, or even the legitimacy of multiple perspectives of history. Insofar as Anglo-hegemony in hi(story)-telling is challenged by counter-narratives, I am grateful for it. What troubles me is both the *manner* and the *goal* that such textbooks go about achieving this end, and it is these which, in my experience, many find objectionable.

    In my somewhat limited understanding of the issue, the problem of *manner* is that “multiculturalism” is framed through critical theory lenses as pure power struggle, whereby Whites actively oppress, take away, power that rightly belongs to non-Whites, and what is needed (the *goal*) is the state’s forceful recapturing of this power, allegedly for its redistribution among Blacks/Hispanics/Native Americans to whom it rightly belongs.

    Maybe this sounds like a great idea. The problem, however, is that this narrative spills out the other end in the minds of the students reinforcing a sort of angry tribalism; an “us versus them, Hispanics/Blacks/Native Americans versus White Christian men.” (It’s also worth noting also how infrequently Asians are mentioned as “minorities.”) These textbooks (sometimes implicitly, often explicitly) encourage student identity grounded exclusively in race (since the Gospel is so removed), and more than race–racial struggle–they are in the midst of power struggle whether they want to be or not, and it is their duty as young Blacks/Hispanics/Native Americans to fight back against their White Christian male oppressors and the economic system which (it is argued) intrinsically empowers them.

    It is this manner (critical theory) and goal (power) and their outcomes (angry and often entitled students) which I personally find, at least questionable, in such textbooks. Not their multiculturalism, or their desire to tell the story from multiple perspectives. I don’t want to “whitewash” American history any more than anyone else. But can’t we be agreed that there are ways in which our children’s textbooks might go about being more multicultural, honest about the sins of white hegemony and sympathetic to multiethnic American narratives than to simply pour gasoline on the already lit “song of angry (young) men”?

    Grace & Peace, brother, and thanks again for taking the time to work through these delicate issues.


  13. Jack Brooks says:

    Regarding the wrong-doings of the North and the Federal Government — my mama used to say, “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

  14. John calvin says:

    You should all stick to the Gospel and leave this political tit for tat to the pols. This only causes distractions and causes bad feelings.

  15. sarah k says:

    I’m grateful to read this charitable, calm, and incisive post. I’ve been deeply troubled by what I’ve heard about Wilson’s views on southern slavery, but have had difficulty finding any analysis of his work that didn’t descend into ranting and raving. I understand that for those who feel personally insulted by his expressed opinions, such rants would be a natural temptation. But I find a nuanced critique like this more effective and more helpful.

    I plan to read Slavery As It Was myself…and attempt to not rant and rave in response. As a Christian who was homeschooled with distinctly “Western Christian Civilization”-centric materials and went on to teach for several years in a public school, I have to agree that many Christian educational materials I have seen commit the grave error of overlooking the persons in the picture who do not resemble themselves, as you put it. And I agree with the commenter above who observed that on the subject of the evils of slavery, public education tends to get it right. They don’t present the Civil War as a sacred and single-minded campaign solely to free the slaves, but they do tell the truth about the cruel system it demolished. I can’t fathom why Christians should be afraid to tell that truth as well. Regardless of the genuine wrongs that may have been done in the course of the war, the fact that slavery was a heinous institution propped up with dreadful interpretations of the Bible and absolutely requiring abolition remains, in my opinion, indisputable.

  16. Rob says:

    I will not stand here and defend the slavery of early US history, but I do think that it is worth pointing out the holes in the popular narrative. For one thing, the notion that the Civil War was waged to end slavery is suspect. There was a political rift in the US at the time, and it seems to me like slavery was an issue where one side attempted to seize the moral high ground and demagogue, but it seems that the underlying political rift was perhaps the real underlying cause. Evidence that tends to suggest this is the case includes the fact that the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves only in the states that had seceded from the Union (as a punishment of sorts for seceding) and Lincoln’s personal racism (and the fact that the popular narrative completely ignores it). Also, stories from people like Ralph David Abernathy about race relations being as bad or worse in Chicago as/than in Alabama and the whitewashing of MLK Jr’s personal life (e.g., plagiarism and rampant infidelity) suggest that the popular civil rights narrative as a whole is something of a one-sided affair.

    Also, worth noting that every other civilized nation eradicated institutionalized slavery without the violence of the American Civil War.

    1. John K says:

      “Also, worth noting that every other civilized nation eradicated institutionalized slavery without the violence of the American Civil War.”
      Right. Because the South refused to get rid of slavery any other way. Because the mere idea that slavery would stop expanding and die out gradually in 50 to 100 years was too much for them; many in the South wanted to see slavery expanded to the Western territories, Cuba, and Central Americal.

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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