Attempts to whitewash the American slave trade and confederacy have grown thick as southern Republicans take the leadership reigns of the national party. Eric Cantor, Haley Barbour, and Bob McDonnell are the most recent examples of white leadership looking to gloss over the pain and reality of slavery in favor of “celebrating” a confederate history of “states rights.”
But at least one professor is pushing back against that narrative. Angela deSilva, adjunct professor of American Studies held an antebellum slave auction on the steps of the old St. Louis courthouse. The move comes as the 150th anniversary of the Civil War gets celebrated by such things as a “secessionist ball” and a reenactment of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis. DeSilva, a descendent of slaves, decided to hold the event as a means of continuing the conversation and making sure that this dark moment of our nation’s history is not forgotten.
By all accounts the event stirred strong emotions, and how could it not. Slave auctions were held as part of probate proceedings, and the reenactment demonstrated an estate auction typical of the era. According to one witness, a group of African American men, women and children were led to the steps of the courthouse in chains. Some cried, some pled and some simply stood there in silent protest of their fate. Children were separated from their parents, orphaned siblings sold to separate masters. Interested buyers inspected the teeth and limbs of their new property.
The event was a stark reminder that despite all its beauty our nation and our Constitution was born of the idea that white, property holding men are equal to one another but that an entire other class of persons was nothing more than chattel. And while the event struck raw nerves, deSilva’s point of forcing a conversation and an insistence that Americans do not forget the buying and selling of people is an unfortunate necessity in a country still healing from the destruction of the slave trade 150 years later.
photo courtesy of FredMikeRudy via Flickr