One Thing I Hadn’t Anticipated

The research for the Nashville book is, in parts, soul-crushingly sad. I stumbled across a mention of Isaac Franklin, Adelicia Acklen’s first husband, in a book and I mean, I’m not even to him yet. I’m still back in 1792. But I’m trying to make sure that my portrayal of black life in Nashville is as fully informed as I can make it.

And Franklin. Jesus Christ. No wonder every black person who heard of him hated him.

I don’t know. You start to get a feeling that the whole story of the gentility of the antebellum South was not only a PR move, but an attempt to tell Southern white people a story about their fathers you could live with and still sit at Sunday dinners with them. The Civil War functions as a way to have a devastating break without having to have it with the people who deserve it. Otherwise, you’d have to look at your grandfather and ask, “How could you do this?” and your father and ask “How could you have wanted to do this?” and then you’d have to vomit on them, burn the family house down, and leave, never to return.

Isaac Franklin was a well-respected man. Not in spite of the fact that he invited his friends out to his auctions so that they could all joke around about raping the women they were about to buy, about raping the women they knew were the daughters of their colleagues, as if that were part of the thrill of it, but because he did those things. Because he had so much power that he could openly state that he was going to let these men rape the daughters you sold into slavery and you, because of your complicity in the system–because of the sale in the first place–laughed along. That’s an evil with tendrils.

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7 thoughts on “One Thing I Hadn’t Anticipated

  1. One particularly irksome facet of the general discourse of slavery– particularly as it relates to the founders of this country– is the notion that ‘values were different back then.’ Oh, really? I’ll bet values were ‘different’ for folks back in Central and West Africa before they were kidnapped and sold off to white slave traders and shipped in chains and filth to this amoral sh–hole. Sometimes you see an idea, even a commonly espoused and rarely challenged idea, that you just want to tell to go f–k itself.

    Thanks for posting this, B.

    (In fairness, though, it ain’t only a ‘white’ thing. I look a little sideways at folks who would praise, honor, and vote for a ‘wholesome family man’ who regularly incinerates little children and makes jokes about it.)

  2. Yeah, that’s one thing that I laugh bitterly about. Values were different back then, for the men who were living like Caligula. For everyone else?

    The enslaved men who called John Overton’s house “Golgotha” knew what was happening to them and what they were forced to do was a living hell. Allen, one of the city’s slaves, wouldn’t have had a back full of scars if he thought there was no other way his life should go. The women who had to stand naked before the lecherous friends of their fathers while they joked about how they were going to rape them knew it was wrong.

    I think that most of the white people who participated in it had some inkling it was wrong–or you wouldn’t see so many masters complaining to their overseers to be less harsh or so many slaveowners looking disparagingly at slave traders. They had a sense that something wasn’t right, but rather than listening to that impulse, they externalized the problem. It wasn’t slavery, it was those overseers or the slave traders. They’re the problem. Not me.

  3. Sam, I fail to understand why it’s necessary or relevant to add a parenthetical “Nonwhite people do bad things too!” to a comment on the atrocities of chattel slavery.

  4. I am reminded, once again, of Ta-Nehesi Coates’s remark that the real, literal war of brother against brother, was not the Civil War, but slavery itself.

  5. Elias, that’s just how I roll. If it makes you feel better, the people to whom I was referring (Obama supporters) are mostly white. More to your point, though, black folks should know better. Living under the weight of centuries of chattel slavery ought to give someone a sense of justice that can’t be trumped by a smiling brown face. Mass murder and wholesale immiseration are just as evil when marketed by a black man as when marketed by a white man. While I’m thinking about it, though, how long would slavery have lasted if there hadn’t been so many black slaves willing to rat out their fellows to the master? I can’t think of one attempted mass escape or revolt that wasn’t betrayed in some way by a ‘loyal’ negro. So there’s that, too.

  6. Amen, nm. An unforgivable atrocity for a nation that declared its independence by trumpeting the notion of all men being created equal. Since a good deal of credible scholarship suggests that the war for independence was primarily fought to protect the institution of slavery, I’m going out on a limb to suggest that the Declaration was mostly bullsh–. (There’s that part in it, too, about the ‘merciless Indian savages,’ which has got to be one of the most fabulous instances of projection ever recorded.) As the English were once known to say, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating.’

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