18 March 2015

Not Moving Beyond Stonewall Jackson's Black Sunday School

Lexington Presbyterian Lecture Room (on left) where Jackson conducted
his black Sunday school class. The structure was razed in 1906.
*Update #2: Levin has now responded to my update with one of his own noting: "He seems to believe that what he has written has been distorted." No, I don't seem "to believe" what I have written "has been distorted", I proved that what I've written has been distorted. Go back and read my original post. Unbelievable. By the way, you will notice that Levin does not provide a link to this post. He used to criticize me when I failed to link to his blog when mentioning him in posts. But he's been ordered by someone else not to respond to me. I assume he's just obeying orders.

*Update: Levin posted a response. I think - and within about 30 minutes or so of this one. He must have been breathlessly anticipating my post. He writes, "I guess he expects me to respond. Well, I am not going to do that" and then types almost 800 words not responding. Of course, he includes yet more misinformation with select quotes. Regarding his "paternalism" reference in the title of his 800 word non-response, I wrote this in the book:
“In general, a paternalistic ethos influenced both slaves and masters in Rockbridge County. This sensibility deemed masters responsible for protecting and supporting their slaves, in exchange for the slaves’ labor. . . . However, the notion of inequality was always present.”1

Even free blacks were not afforded opportunities for education and financial gain. This lack of opportunity made blacks unequal to whites, not because of some inherent or genetic defect, as many whites at that time believed, but because of their lack of status, their lack of access to the legal and political system, and their lack of prospects for self advancement.
And this comment is quite revealing:
The funny thing is that I am the one who is accused of engaging in presentism by an individual who reads the past through his faith. Now that is hypocrisy in the extreme.
 "Reads the past through his faith" is supposed to be a criticism? I read everything through my faith, as I believe most practicing Christians do. Why the hostility toward the influence of my faith? Why is that "hypocrisy" and what does that have to do with "presentism"?
Presentism:  uncritical adherence to present-day attitudes, especially the tendency to interpret past events in terms of modern values and concepts.
The Christian faith is hardly an "adherence to present-day attitudes." If anything, it's quite the opposite. 

Again. Clueless.

Of course he's not going to respond to the specifics in my original post below. He can't since I took every single one of his accusations and refuted them. So his only response is to come up with new accusations. How juvenile. Addressing all those would yield the same results as my first post. So predictable. I could go on, but its just more of the same and Levin's non-response response reveals everything one needs to know.

End of update.

Kevin Levin's recent post, "Moving Beyond Stonewall Jackson’s Black Sunday School", needs a fact check. Levin takes a not so subtle swipe at my book (and others) about Jackson's black Sunday school class with this:

There is a fairly popular narrative that places slaveowners at the center of a progressive movement to minister to and educate slaves in the decades leading to the Civil War. It tends to focus on high-ranking Confederate officers as part of a larger attempt to get the Confederacy itself right on slavery and race relations. One such book, which explores Thomas J. Jackson’s efforts to educate slaves in Lexington, concludes that he was “the black man’s friend.” [Yes, that would be my book.]
Since my book was the one mentioned, I'll speak for it. 

Levin claims that my book was: ". . . part of a larger attempt to get the Confederacy itself right on slavery and race relations."

Wrong. The book's goal and emphasis is clearly stated on the dust jacket. The book was a look at,
. . . Jackson's relationship with African Americans in light of his Christian convictions. Stonewall Jackson: The Black Man's Friend explores an aspect of his life that is both intriguing and enlightening: his conversion to Christianity and how it affected his relationship with Southern Blacks. Covering the origin of Jackson's awakening to faith, the book challenges some widely held beliefs, including the assumption that this spiritual journey did not begin until his adulthood. Furthermore, Richard G. Williams Jr. examines a paradox of Jackson's life: his conversion to Christianity was encouraged by Southern slaves . . .
The book was, admittedly, written from a distinct Christian evangelical perspective. No apologies for that. And, more accurately, the book was not primarily about "Jackson's efforts to educate slaves in Lexington" but, rather, Jackson's efforts to evangelize slaves and free blacks in Lexington. Education was a by-product of the primary goal. But Levin's accusations beyond that error are pure nonsense; though it does appear to me to reflect his preferred narrative as well as his seeming inability to seriously consider (or even comprehend) perspectives beyond his own.

Levin: "These accounts fail to place changes in the evangelical mission that many Christians embraced in the 1830s alongside the fear that ensued as a result of Nat Turner’s Rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia in 1831."  

Wrong again. For example, I noted the following in my book:
Historians often look to a single pivotal event when analyzing antebellum efforts to evangelize Southern blacks: Nat Turner’s slave insurrection. This slave revolt struck fear in the hearts of many Virginians. . . . Nat Turner’s revolt gave rise to two developments in Virginia: one regarding the law and another on how the church looked at evangelizing blacks. 
And regarding the "fear than ensued", I wrote:
Concerns arose within the Christian community as well. Since Turner had been a slave preacher and read the Bible, many Southern churchmen were convinced that his crimes were a direct result of efforts to teach slaves to read and to reach them with the gospel.

Levin: "They ignore laws that barred blacks from preaching to free and enslaved blacks. . . "

Wrong again. I wrote the following in the book: 
The [Virginia] general assembly established laws during the session of 1831–32 dictating tighter restrictions on the instruction of slaves and free blacks. Fearful that the attempt to evangelize blacks had contributed in part to Turner’s rampage, the legislature enacted the following statute:

Code of Virginia, Ch. 198—Offences against Public Policy. (Item) 35.
Every Assemblage of negroes for the purpose of religious worship, when such worship is conducted by a negro, and every assemblage of negroes for the purpose of instruction in reading or writing, or in the night time for any purpose, shall be an unlawful assembly. Any justice may issue warrant to any officer or other person, requiring him to enter any place where such assemblage may be, and seize any negro therein; and he, or any other justice, may order such negro to be punished with stripes.

(Item) 36. If a white person assemble with negroes for the purpose of instructing them to read or write, or if he associate with them in an unlawful assembly, he shall be confined in jail not exceeding six months and fined not exceeding one hundred dollars; and any justice may require him to enter into a recognizance with sufficient security, to appear before the circuit, county, or cooperation court, of the county, or corporation where the offense was committed, to answer, therefore, and in the meantime to keep the peace and be of good behavior.
Does that indicate I ignored "laws that barred blacks from preaching to free and enslaved blacks"? Even more detail is included in the book.

Levin: ". . . and they fail to address the emphasis placed on service and loyalty to one’s master as opposed to stories of liberation."

Wrong again. I wrote:
When reflecting on the efforts of Jackson and other Southern Christians to reach slaves and free blacks with the good news of the gospel, it is necessary to understand that many modern scholars view their motives with cynicism. A superficial study of the subject could easily conclude that teaching the slaves simple gospel messages was nothing more than an effort to make them more obedient and submissive. Admittedly, there are ample Bible verses that admonish obedience to authority that the spiritually shallow used to accomplish this task while at the same time ignoring the slaves’ spiritual needs. 
Yet a serious and objective look at the facts shows that, although this element was present in the motives of some, most sincere Southern Christians had a heartfelt desire to see blacks turn to Christ and embrace the eternal truths of the Bible. The Presbyterian Synod of Texas issued a statement that reflected the attitude of many Southern Christians: “We recognize the hand of God in placing this benighted race in our midst, and heartily accept the duty of pointing them to Christ.” Stonewall Jackson House graduate fellow E. Lynn Pearson’s observation confirms this attitude: “The religious world-view of Stonewall Jackson and his antebellum peers was greatly influenced by the contemporary evangelical vision to build Christ’s kingdom on earth, and the Southern belief that bringing salvation to slaves was part and parcel of that mission. Lexington’s Christians took great pride in their acceptance of Christ’s call to stewardship.”
And . . . 
While many nineteenth century Southern theologians went to great lengths to propound a biblical basis for slavery, and though neither Christ nor Paul ever directly condemned slavery, one cannot reconcile the broader themes of the gospel—liberty, peace, freedom from bondage, reconciliation, and brotherly love—with the institution of slavery.
And, in regards to this same subject, I also discussed the early work of Presbyterian clergyman, Samuel Davies:
Davies, unlike many of his colonial contemporaries believed in the “full humanity of the African people.” In a 1757 sermon to slave owners, he proclaimed: “His immortality gives him a kind of infinite value. Let him be white or black, bond or free, a native or a foreigner, it is of no moment in this view: he is to live forever!” Davies laid the responsibility for the slaves’ condition squarely at the feet of their masters: “Your Negroes may be ignorant and stupid as to divine things not for want of capacity, but for want of instruction; not through perverseness, but through your negligence. . . . They are generally as capable of instruction, as the white people.” Davies’s comments regarding slaves being “capable of instruction as the white people” put him at odds with many whites, particularly Northern slave traders and Southern slave holders.
(For a thorough treatment of Davies’s efforts, see Jeffrey H. Richards, “Samuel Davies and the Transatlantic Campaign for Slave Literacy in Virginia,” Virginia Magazine of
History and Biography 111, no. 4, 2003.)

Obviously, when it comes to what I've written on these topics in my book, Levin is clueless. That does not surprise me, but what does surprise me is that he so willingly publicizes his clueless state.

It appears to me that Levin likes to attempt to marginalize those who don't conform to his perspective on the history of the Civil War. He's done it other times - often with rather embarrassing results. One previous example is Levin's condescending attempt to marginalize anyone who would use the term "War Between the States" and/or "War for Southern Independence" (see here and here) as some fringe student or scholar of the Civil War. 
And I wonder if Professor Ethan Rafuse (professor of military history at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the author of eight books on the Civil War) is "part of a larger attempt to get the Confederacy itself right on slavery and race relations" since he's also written similarly about Jackson's black Sunday school class without Levin's required emphasis:

I think Levin's post is simply another example of criticizing someone because they do not embrace the presentism of "condemning the past for not being more like the present." Moreover, all of the topics and issues Levin incorrectly accuses me of ignoring or failing to address were, in fact, addressed in much greater detail in the book than noted here.

Furthermore, before one can "move beyond" a certain topic, one must have mastered a basic understanding of that topic. Levin's post indicates to me that he's failed that requirement.


Anonymous said...

Levin said:
"White Southerners were not prevented from ending slavery."

How could anybody "end" slavery if it was against the law to talk about ending slavery? How does that work? How could anybody run an abolition campaign for public office?

Even in the U.S. Congress, there was a Gag Rule. Before they could talk about it, they had to take a vote on whether they could talk about it.

What is the difference between stereotyping all "White Southerners" and all persons of "African descent?"

Choices were limited in both groups. White Southerners went to jail for talking abolition, just as much as non-white Southerners.

One example would be Jessie Park Hainning, who was put in jail for taking a Southern flag down from her school house, just before the war began. This white Southerner was certainly prevented from ending slavery.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Anon - Most reputable historians acknowledge the struggle,from our founding, over slavery. The legal issues, beyond any cultural issues and economic ones, complicated the issue even further.

Levin's response is a combination of his simple, unsophisticated perspective along with his narrow focus and agenda.

Michael Simons said...

Debating Levin is like trying to teach a pig to sing ..... it waste time and annoys the pig.

I found out the hard way after be banned by him from his blog and further chided for asking for help in debating him.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

He doesn't like to have his perspective challenged.