Sat 7 Feb, 2009
Tags: Charleston S.C., Historical amnesia, History, Slave trade, Slavery
Will Moredock, in an opinion piece in the Charleston City Paper this week, revisits the effort of the South Carolina State Ports Authority to systematically remove all references to slavery and blacks from its maritime history of Charleston and South Carolina.
Moredock argues that this censorship is “particularly alarming because African Americans have been working the Charleston waterfront since the earliest days of the city.” He might as easily have mentioned that the port of Charleston was far and away the leading slave market in American history.
Moredock sets this story not only in the context of an arrogant, out-of-control public agency, but also in the broader context of the manipulation of public history:
Of course, to those of us raised in South Carolina, this historical revisionism comes as no surprise. Generations of us were weened on the official state history text, written by Mary C. Simms Oliphant and taught in public schools, which made only fleeting reference to slavery or the existence of black people in South Carolina. The inhabitants of her South Carolina were not only all white, but they were preternaturally wise and virtuous in all things.
It’s hard to question the behavior of such sainted souls as presented by Ms. Oliphant. It helps to explain how many white people can still say — with a perfectly straight face — that southern secession had nothing to do with slavery.
Readers of this blog know that historical revisionism concerning slavery and race is by no means limited to the American South. The amnesia of the North regarding its role in slavery and the slave trade, and the vital contributions of both to the industrialization of the United States, are major topics of this blog and of Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North. We are also deeply concerned with the teaching of this history in our public schools and in their textbooks.
It’s also worth noting that Charleston was a prime market for my slave-trading ancestors, the DeWolf family of Bristol, R.I., and that two of the family members featured in Traces of the Trade grew up in Charleston in the 1940s and 1950s.