Why Does America Romanticize Slavery?

From Gone With the Wind to a controversial marriage pledge, this nation can't kick its addiction to Old Dixie.


“This historic treasure, built in 1817, is a phenomenal estate that has very rich history. The historic mansion was designed by Henry Latrobe, designer of the U.S. Capitol building and the finest antebellum architecture. This historical landmark, on 70 acres, is complete with four bedrooms, 4 1/2 baths, a pool, cabana, tennis courts, chicken barns, two ponds, old smokehouse, slave quarters, two barns, potting shed and additional caretaker’s home.”

And it’s located just “25 minutes north of uptown,” the ad continues. That’s uptown Charlotte, N.C., where, in little more than a year, Democratic Party delegates will nominate Barack Obama for a second term as president.

The real estate company didn’t really need to repeat some version of the word “historic” three times when describing Ingleside, the home first occupied by Daniel Forney, a major in the War of 1812 and a member of Congress, as was his father. The majestic mansion, built from bricks made by — as the essay in the agency’s packet calls them — his “toiling slaves,” is as much a part of the history of the United States as its first black president. What a coincidence that the large drawing room mimics the East Room of the White House.

As I walked through a fraction of those 70 acres, the weight of that history — as well as the July North Carolina heat, humidity and insects — made me take refuge in the cool basement kitchen. I wish those who continue to misuse some romanticized version of slavery to gain modern-day political gain would take in the view from “the big house,” as the real estate agent called it, past the dog pen to the wooden slave quarters, now abandoned to red wasps, archaeologists and historians.

Would that somehow prevent some from disgracing the memories of the men, women and children who lived and died in the “peculiar institution” whose legacy our country still struggles to own up to?

“After careful deliberation and wise insight and input from valued colleagues we deeply respect,” reads one of those nonapology apologies from the Family Leader, the socially conservative group headed by Bob Vander Plaats, “we agree that the statement referencing children born into slavery can be misconstrued.”

The “statement” that caused such a ruckus is in the preamble to a “marriage vow” signed by GOP presidential hopefuls Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum; it condemns pornography and same-sex marriage but finds a silver lining in slavery. That odious institution may have “had a disastrous impact on African-American families,” it reads, “yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.”

As many of those who have reacted in horror to the statement have said, America did not recognize the marriages of slaves, who were considered property. When, in defiance of that ban, men and women in the most brutal circumstances came together in love and started a family, it could be and was ripped apart on the auction block at their owners’ whim and will.

The notion that it was that very violation of every law of human decency that weakened African-American families was not acknowledged by the Family Leader. I will, however, give the group credit (the bad kind) for pointing out, to anyone who had not noticed, that President Barack Obama is African American as it floated the argument that — in comparison — he somehow makes slavery look good.