We all know how wretched, brutal and dehumanizing the institution of American slavery was, so what do we do with the words of victims, related through slave narratives recorded in the 1930s, who claimed to have fond memories of their days in bondage?
The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates says we shouldn't turn away their words because they don't reconcile with our 21st-century beliefs about the evil institution, or because they differ from what the majority of enslaved Africans surely felt. When Alabaman Clara Davis waxes nostalgic for days when she could "see the boats passing up and down the Alabammy river and hear the slaves singing at their work," and "feel the sway of the old wagon, going down the red, dusty road, and listening to the wheels groaning as they roll along," Coates says we don't have to believe that blacks slaves were a happy lot to appreciate her words and phrasing as "beautiful."
Read a transcript of Clara Davis' 1937 narrative and judge for yourself. Are her reminiscences lovely or utterly offensive?