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Monday, December 13, 2004  
Pro-slavery pamphlet is in limelight

Analysis: Pro-slavery pamphlet is in limelight

Southern Slavery As It Was is currently in the news because a reporter discovered it is being taught as history at a private school in South Carolina. Previously, the pamphlet, published by leaders in the white supremacist neo-Confederate movement, created controversy in Oregon and Idaho. Southern Slavery As It Was is apologia for slavery. The purported writers, Doug Wilson and Steve Wilkins, believe that their type of Christian white males are superior beings meant to rule the world. Much of their time and energy is expended trying to rationalize and reclaim the ideas of the antebellum South. They point to the existence of slavery in the Bible as justification for Southern slave owners' theft of the lives of millions of people. If their goal of another secession from the United States was achievable, nonwhites, non-Christians and women would be deprived of their status as equal citizens under the law.

Excerpts from Southern Slavery speak for themselves.

"Slavery as it existed in the South was not an adversarial relationship with pervasive racial animosity. Because of its dominantly patriarchal character, it was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence."

"There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world."

"Slave life was to them a life of plenty, of simple pleasures, of food, clothes, and good medical care."

The myth of happy slaves was a staple of textbooks in the South as late as the 1970s.

I said "purported" writers because of another controversy about Southern Slavery. Though I know Wilson and Wilkins sincerely hold their bigoted views, much of the material in the booklet was plagiarized from elsewhere. The Southern Poverty Law Center has looked into the matter.

The two neo-Confederate pastors who were recently at the center of controversy in Idaho over their defense of bondage, Southern Slavery As It Was, are facing a new brouhaha. It turns out that at least 22 passages, some of them quite lengthy, were plagiarized from a 1974 book.

In early August, Nicholas Gier, a retired philosophy professor at the University of Idaho, dropped a bombshell by announcing that his former student, Doug Wilson, and Wilson's co-author, Steve Wilkins, were "guilty of plagiarism."

Gier wrote a letter to a local newspaper, began circulating a petition denouncing the plagiarism, and produced a series of side-by-side comparisons of pages from the 1996 Wilson/Wilkins booklet and Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery, by R.W. Fogel and S.L. Engerman.

"I'm a professional academic and he's a former student," Geir told the Lewiston Morning Tribune. "I feel a responsibility for the product."

This is not surprising to persons familiar with the organized racist movements of the U.S. Leaders are often poseurs. A typical pose is that of intellectual who is far above academics who are experts in their fields. So, persons who are ignorant of history, economics or theology will publish dubious material that other members will hail as superb. Neo-Confederate apologia is invariably so poorly researched and reasoned that no real student of American history would take it seriously. But, according to fellow travelers, it is the output of -- here we go again -- superior beings. Wilson, the minister of a church in Idaho, is particularly fond of strutting his supposed intellectual rigor. He claims to have developed a 'classical' curriculum for home schoolers and Christian schools. The private school in South Carolina that is the focus of the current controversy is one that was established under the auspices of the Wilson's organization. Wilson has known that his secret, plagiarization of much of the material in Southern Slavery, was out for years. But, as long as the plagiarism was not well-known, he continued to publish the pamphlet. It is yet to be seen whether his latest claim to have withdrawn it is true.

However, the theft of much of the material in the booklet is ancillary to what is most damning about it. Like all apologia for slavery, Southern Slavery is grounded in a desire to elevate white people while denying the equality of African-Americans. Authorities on slavery, from John Hope Franklin to Herbert Gutman, make no bones about what the peculiar institution was -- a methodology for one group of people to exploit another. Claims that apologia for slavery offer 'the other side' are nonsense. There was and is no justification for depriving other people of their autonomy to enrich oneself. The slave owners of the South were immoral people.

Blogger Gen. J.C. Christian is not remotely fooled by the tomfoolery neo-Confederates offer in defense of Southern Slavery. He has said so in his singular way.

What would Jesus do?

That's a question many of us good, God-fearing Christians ask ourselves many times a day. Douglas Wilson has the answer. Jesus would buy and sell his neighbors.

It's refreshing to see someone like Wilson stand up and fight for a time-honored moral value like slavery. I hope that more people will do the same. Certainly, the results of the last election suggest that a truly conservative Christianity is back in vogue. We have political capital. We should use it to put people in chains. Then, pehaps we can bring back genocide too. It'll be just like old times.

But, the blogosphere is largely a redoubt of the Right. Neo-Confederate Christian blogger Harry Seabrook, at Little Geneva, is upset about criticism of Southern Slavery. It angers him that people dare to question white supremacy, a key underpinning of his beliefs. He is particularly rankled that Wilson and Wilkins make an obligatory remark that slavery was wrong before going on to paint slavery as benign. There was nothing wrong with enslaving blacks, Seabrook, who refers to Africans as cannibals and rapists, believes.

Those without a degree in Education might also expect for the words "slavery is wrong" to be proved by Scripture. Now, as I’ve said many times, Wilson and Wilkins have the perplexing idea that the institution of Southern slavery itself was somehow sinful for being race-based. This was no more true than the suggestion that marriage is sinful because it is sex-based, and in fact, W&W offer no scriptural reason for this particular stance. The rest of their book is quite good. . . .

Seabrook, whose bigotry knows no bounds, is doubtlessly unreachable. However, I believe a knowledge of how the neo-Confederate movement funnels its views into the mainstream is useful for many people. Your home-schooling neighbor or a school near you may be susceptible to the kind of stealth campaign for racism the dissemination of Southern Slavery As It Was represents. Now you know.

What's the art?

Frederick Douglass was a famous abolitionist who had escaped from slavery.

Reasonably related

•Both Wilson and Wilkins are ministers of churches influenced by the Christian Identity movement. Christian Identity claims the white race is God's chosen people, as referenced in the Old Testament. Its supporters believe they have a special covenant with God that places them above non-whites, non-Christians and Christians who do not adhere to their beliefs. You can read more about the Christian Identity movement here.

•The book the two plagiarized, Time On the Cross, is itself badly flawed. It purports to be an economic study of slavery. But, the research is limited to a few slave owners. Sweeping generalizations are made based on their experiences as reported in their journals. The book has become a favorite of apologists for slavery.

•What else might a child learn from Wilkins' 'history' course? See for yourself.

Readmore of the 'enlightened' views of a neo-Confederate Christian at Little Geneva. Warning: These entries are virulently racist, anti-Semitic and anti-gay.

8:15 AM