Admittedly, due to my own small mindedness, whenever I’ve heard that a supposedly great historical personage owned slaves, I’ve shut down on said man and become unable to see him as anything other than a loser.
And I know that it would be totally magnanimous of me to be able to look beyond the slave owning towards the greatness and I do genuinely wish I had that ability.
You see, I understand that back when the American slave trade was at its apex, slavery was understood to be not only a respectable way to make and earn money, but biblically justified and—a stretch I know but—actually the work of the lord, civilizing, Christianizing and taking care of, as you will, those unable to rightly take care of themselves.
However, my belief has always been that a truly heroic historic personage would have done what was right at all times, regardless of what anyone else was doing.
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The fact that there were William Lloyd Garrisons even back when slavery was big business is evidence to me that not everybody was crazy and of course, for those that need it, it could be held as evidence that not all white people are inherently evil.
I’ve been shaking my head through my reading of John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Profiles in Courage because two of the guys that Kennedy has given ridiculously big ups to, Thomas Hart Benton and Sam Houston, were slave owners.
That, and the fact that Kennedy referred to certain Native American nations as “half-civilized”, has left me wondering why I expected better from our 35th President.
I’ve always used the now dated analogy that trying to explain to certain people why I can’t see slave owners as heroes would be akin to trying to having a conversation with the same people about OJ Simpson with me concluding that Simpson was a great running back, a fair actor and a decent advertising pitchman.
When those people pestered me for more about OJ Simpson or what they perceived to be the “real” OJ Simpson, I’d strangely draw a blank because hey, whatever else OJ Simpson might have been, it certainly couldn’t have affected me.