There’s a tie between the burning ghettos and the “Support of Marriage” legislation

May 2, 2015
I’m primarily a historical fiction novelist. Naturally, it takes hundreds of hours of research to write convincingly about a time and culture I have never experienced, so when I undertook to write a novel set in pre-Civil War South Carolina, I had a long way to go before I understood the characters and their motives, heartaches and dreams, that would people my story.
I researched “That Thy Days May Be Long” over a period of five years, reading every slave narrative, race-related, Southern culture, civil rights book and even relevant novels that seemed honest and credible (and a few that didn’t seem honest or credible).During that research time, we moved to Oklahoma and have experienced southern culture more firsthand. (Oklahoma’s not the deep south, but it has strong southern influences). I’ve traveled in the deep south and tasted their current culture.

New York City

I glimpse the whole panorama  of why the descendants of slaves are burning down cities and destroying their own neighborhoods.
I’m not justifying it. Not by a long shot. It’s an abomination. But it’s exactly what we should expect and it’s going to get worse. . .far worse, before it gets better, unless we turn the trend.
Here’s why.
One of the most common methods for Slave owners to prevent uprisings of the oppressed was to continually sever family relationships. Husbands and wives were sold apart, children were torn from their parents, sold into distant and unknown parts. It was absolutely common for white masters to father children on their female slaves and when money got tight, sell off their own children. Black children of white masters were never acknowledged as such, but retained the enslaved status of the mother.
Legally, “condition followed the mother.” If the mother was free, her child was free. If the mother was a slave, her child was the property of her owner and therefore could be sold like merchandise. (This was even true if the father of the child was a free black man. (FMC or :”free man of color” was the official title). If his wife was enslaved, their child was the property of the wife’s master.)

Masters also seemed to universally prevent their slaves from practicing any religion. No ministers were allowed to speak to a black congregation unless they were hired and monitored by the master. The records I’ve read imply that the universal sermon’s theme was obedience to masters, patience and gratitude.

The cruelty displayed by masters toward their slaves is almost unbelievable. Yet narrative after narrative documented the vilest of behaviors. Treatment designed to dehumanize and to destroy any spark of hope in their slaves was commonplace, a method of controlling their workers.
The last thing masters wanted their slaves to believe was that they had personal responsibility for their own lives. They were trying to create helpless, hopeless, incapacitated, unthinking laborers.

It was illegal to teach a slave to read. A slave who could read could also write and a slave who could write could create manumission papers.

The Bible said whatever the master or his minister said it said. It seems to have been common that masters told their slaves that Jesus wanted them to submit willingly and cheerfully to their masters.

This may seem like old news, but it’s relevant to modern culture.  As horrible as those practices were, think of the effect on the children. Children grew up with little memory of their parents: a thing, without ties, without loyalty, without tradition. They were trained like puppies to perform certain tasks with no hope for personal gain. If they developed a loving relationship, the chances were high that it would be destroyed.

Generation after generation were deliberately isolated.

Then they were freed.
They had no family pride, no family tradition, no family expectations, no family responsibilities. Thousands upon thousands of people were sent into a hostile, broken country to land where they may, like flotsam and jetsam, cast up by the tide.

They had no skills but those for which they were trained. They had no family skills. They had no experience in lasting interpersonal relationships.  Illiterate, uneducated and penniless, they huddled together and did the best they could.
Before long some turned to crime to get money more easily. Why not? Nobody that they cared about had ever told them that it was wrong. Was it wrong?  After being forced to work a lifetime without pay, is it wrong to take something from someone else without paying? Aren’t they moral equivalents? If I were in that situation, I think I could justify it. They had no true religion, and even felt hostile to the perception inculcated by their masters, that “God made them slaves because he wanted them to be slaves.” The majority had no moral teaching that resonated with their circumstances. The fact that the divine spark survived in any of them is a miracle.

That generation raised another generation and then another and another.

But the family model had already been successfully obliterated. There was nothing left to build on.

White society was also seriously damaged. What effect would it have on a marriage when a wife sees little black children scurrying around slave row that look like her husband? Every young slave girl was a threat to the master’s wife and many accounts report husbands exploiting the rivalry their wives felt to excuse selling their black children.
Young white children were trained to be selfish, cruel, and oppressive to their black counterparts. It seemed to be their way of learning to be ‘masters.’

When the family is destroyed, society is destroyed. The culture of slavery damaged families so deeply that as a society, America has never recovered.

Now the impoverished blacks are protesting. They don’t even know what they’re protesting. “It’s not fair. . .that we have nothing and other people have a lot.” They believe it, too. They’ve never been shown the link between work or study or effort and comfort, plenty and fulfillment. They feel the injustice but have no ability see that the root of their own circumstances is at least in some degree, in their own choices. For many, (dare I say ‘majority’?) the opportunities they do have are obscured by cultural traditions of what it means to be ‘black’.

They grow up with little parental involvement, little sense of community, without role models, with a stigma on education, all inherited from many generations since enslavement.
In the meantime, their white counterparts are also descended from those white masters who set such horrible examples for their children.

Now, there is legislation being debated that seeks to  further destroy the traditional fabric of the family, saying that dads or moms are disposable. Marriage has become optional, divorce is rampant.
Each generation has weaker ties to family-fostered religion, morals, tradition, and achievement.
If “the hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world,” who rules the world if nobody rocks the cradle?
Survival instinct rules.
Like a dog growls when his food bowl is threatened, children who have no sense of belonging, no strong family ties, no hope of progress because they perceive no path to anything better, respond by burning and pillaging and why not?

If American’s were wise, we’d be doing EVERYTHING in our power to rebuild the American family. We’d be teaching parenting and homemaking arts in the schools. We’d be teaching that having sex outside of marriage is evil. We would return the shame to unwed parenthood. We’d return  control of education to as close to home as we could get it. We would reward and honor education and educators.  We’d punish more effectively those that harm our culture and destroy families with drugs, alcohol, pornography and violence. We’d support and encourage religious involvement and volunteerism by tying government benefits to good behaviors. We’d teach the meaning and value of integrity in homes and schools and churches. We’d empower people in poverty by limiting government subsidies and tying them directly to job preparation and training. We’d stop rewarding unwed mothers with a welfare pay raise for each child.

God said to Adam, “By the sweat of thy face thou shalt earn thy bread, all the days of thy life.” It wasn’t a curse, it was instruction. We need to re-enthrone work as a principle of honor.
The worst possible thing for this nation is to further weaken the traditional family.
Children need a father in the home to work and support the family. He teaches self-respect and self-reliance and self sacrifice. He protects his family by setting limits and enforcing expectations.
Children need a mother in the home to nurture, teach and train them.They need quantity time from their mothers to develop self-worth. Two parents work together to teach a child his infinite worth and infinite potential. From parents, a child learns to sacrifice for those they love.
Take away those influences and you have a hopeless animal: a detached wraith who burns and pillages, and screams the woes he doesn’t understand to a curious camera.

We must strengthen the American families if we are to heal American cities. If there is any light at the end of this American journey, it is in turning back to fostering and encouraging strong supportive families.
 Until then, the cities will burn and the violence will increase and poverty and hopelessness will abound.  

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  • Reply Unknown May 4, 2015 at 2:09 am

    Slavery was an evil enterprise. It damaged so many people. But after the Civil War, freed slaves sought out their families. They reunited as many as could be found. They built a culture founded on their own churches and families were tight. In the 1950's the number of babies born out of wedlock among Blacks was about 2%, lower than that among Whites. It was the welfare of The Great Society that broke apart the families. Welfare wa given to households without adult males. That is what has destroyed the families of the inner cities.

  • Reply Beth Stephenson May 4, 2015 at 2:23 am

    Great comment "Aunt Sue".From the post Civil war literature I've studied, it appears that the vast majority of families were never unified, though many people did seek to find their lost family members. They had no money and little information. The records were scarce and children separated when young, often didn't even have the information they needed to find their "roots." From a government point of view, yes, the welfare perpetuated the debilitation of black families, but the foundation of black society, like all societies, the family, was so damaged that only heroic efforts by committed mothers and fathers have healed it to any degree. "Put down that brick!" should be on every Tee-shirt on every mother in Baltimore. Only strong mothers and fathers choosing to teach their children to choose the right despite the pressures around them, can offer hope to those hurt and bleeding communities.

  • Reply Janet May 5, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    I find your observations to be so appropriate and observant. Thank you for your thoughts!

  • Reply Beth Stephenson May 5, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    Thank you, Janet.

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