It is virtually impossible to discuss The South without the issue of slavery coming up. The usual reaction is to mutter some politically correct response that says we are ashamed of the actions of our ancestors, coupled with the obligatory groveling for some false forgiveness. We will not take that position here, nor will we simply ignore it and pretend it didn’t exist. Also keep in mind that slavery did not start with the Southern states and it did not end in 1865 – the last nation to outlaw slavery was Mauritania in 1981 (no that is not a misprint – it was 1981) and slavery is still practiced in many parts of the world even today.
Some people will make the point that relatively few people owned slaves and that their ancestors certainly did not. I can’t make that statement because mine did. What I can do though, is use what information I have about that situation to try to shed some light on the subject.
First, the basic facts: My great-great grandparents owned at least one slave. He was known as “Uncle Henry”. It was common practice to refer to slaves as “Uncle” or “Aunt”, giving them the status of semi-family. Uncle Henry had a son named Dave Wilson, who continued working for the family long after slavery had ended. Dave Wilson is shown here in this photo on the far left side. The tall man in the center is my grandfather, so this spanned several generations of my family. I think it is a fairly safe assumption that if the family slaves had been poorly treated as popular myth would have us believe, we would not have seen Dave Wilson in this photograph.
Another factor to consider is what happened after the slaves died. If they had been treated and thought of as little more than beasts of burden, wouldn’t they have just been buried in a shallow pit somewhere in the woods? In this second photo are slave graves. They are in the family cemetery near the top of McGehee Mountain in Clay County, Alabama. There is a fence surrounding the cemetery, and the slaves are not buried off in some remote location – they are buried inside the family cemetery right beside the rest of our family. The idea of “separate but equal” really comes into focus here.
Obviously, we cannot say that this is representative of the lives of all slaves, but I have read a number of first-hand accounts – including those of former slaves themselves – who were treated quite well. That doesn’t make it right or good, but it does offer compelling evidence that The South was not filled with sadistic slave masters as the Northern-directed history would have us believe.