Slave Community Thesis

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Writing in the backdrop of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement-the 1954 decision and the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott-Stampp rejected Phillips’s antiquated Southern beliefs about racial inferiority of blacks, stating that “innately, Negroes are, after all, only white men with black skins, nothing more, nothing less.”10 Specifically, Stampp was rejecting Phillips’s notion of racial or genetic determinism-the idea that one’s race or gene pool determined one’s behavior, as well Phillips’s corollary that the black temperament could be characterized as submissive, light-hearted, ingratiating and inviting of paternalism.

In documenting the widespread resistance to slavery, Stampp deflated the myth of a docile, infantile, contented, happy-go-lucky slave.

In this volume, Clarke, historians Lerone Bennett and Vincent Harding, novelists John Oliver Killens and John A.

Williams, political scientist Charles Hamilton, psychiatrist Alvin Poissaint and others take Styron to task for his “hoax,” his “imaginary,” “impotent,” “celibate,” “homosexual”4 image of a Nat Turner “pining for white women.” Furthermore-and herein lies the crucial point of departure for my essay-Styron’s Nat Turner, according to Clarke and Bennett, incorporates the image of Sambo which was projected as the dominant plantation type by “the classical apologist for slavery” historian Ulrich B.

Phillips and the “sophisticated modern apologist” historian Stanley Elkins.5 2.

Historical Paradigms of Slavery Historians generally agree that the historiography of slavery has been dominated, defined and developed by three landmark studies-each in turn supplanting its predecessor as the prevailing model.6 These landmark studies in chronological order are: Ulrich B. Histories of slavery written in the ante-bellum period by both Northern abolitionists and Southern pro-slavery advocates were characterized less by objective research than by polemics-understandably so, since the issue was so politically explosive that it led to the Civil War.In spite of Phillips’s exacting empirical research methods, his work, while not polemical, was laden with Southern white supremacist values.His biased selection and interpretation of data underscored the Southern notion that slavery was a rather mild and benign institution-nothing like the harsh and cruel system portrayed by the anti-slavery exponents.First of all, he lambasts William Styron’s (1966)2 for its historically revisionist emasculation of the infamous slave insurrectionist.Secondly, he decries the white man’s co-optation, pacification and defanging of sixties era black radicals.Thirdly, he laments and critiques the failure of these radicals to move beyond mere rhetoric and demonstrate true revolutionary resolve.This is a social commentary knock-out combination, since Bin Hassan’s lines are hardly disjointed or fragmentary.For Elkins, as for Stampp, slavery was a harsh, brutal, oppressive system, so oppressive in fact that Elkins believed that its victims were transformed into docile, irresponsible, child-like dependents.In this latter sense Elkins is a Phillipian, for he accepts Phillips’s description of the behavioral temperament or personality of the slave.But as Clarke has noted, Elkins is modern and sophisticated.Elkins rejects theories of racial, genetic or biological determinism.


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