The facts, just the facts

Published 9:17 am Saturday, October 15, 2011

by James D. ‘Archie’ Howell

In response to Jon Pyle’s article (“We should remember, not judge, the actions of past Americans,” Sept 30):

Well done, Mr. Pyle. You’ve done some reading. Looks like you’ve read the “Confessions,” or perhaps, my research report on the event?

“By law Kentucky was a slave state.” Does that automatically make them a Southern state as far as the Civil War is concerned? Yet the war was not about slavery, Mr. Pyle?

I believe the democratic tradition is that 50 percent-plus one determines the course of government. Kentucky was a neutral state, by vote. “My great-grandfather joined the Confederate service to protect his state (Kentucky) from invasion and to protect his family and home from harm.” Confederate forces invaded Kentucky. I’m confused.

Kentucky became a Union state. Kentucky was a state where, more than most, it was literally “brother fighting brother.” Citizens from many states took opposite sides in the Civil War.

From your reading, I’m sure you learned that the Nat Turner uprising participants and others were arrested, jailed and tried using legal procedures of the time in Jerusalem (Courtland), Virginia. Most were found guilty, some were found not guilty. Most were hanged. Nat was tried, hanged and skinned.

The aftermath/reprisal killings were not as a result of any legal action by any law enforcement or military entity. Beheading was the method of choice. Local militias and others that joined them canvassed farms, villages, slave quarters, towns and back woods areas for “supporters.” Scores of slaves, free blacks and mulattos were murdered.

Not a single person was held accountable for the wholesale slaughter. It was illegal for black people to kill white people, but it was not illegal for white people to kill black people. I don’t know what moral umbrella that might fall under, old or new. None that I’m familiar with.

That whole body of laws was sanctioned as the “economics and way of life” of the Southern institution called slavery. The aftermath, in Virginia, extended to vast new laws that further oppressed blacks, free or slave, and mulattos.

I would like it to have been another county, state or country, but it was not. It was Southampton County, Virginia, the place of my birth, plus several other counties and neighboring North Carolina.

The new restrictions continued until the Civil War.

I have not read that women actively participated in the slaughter following the Nat Turner event. So for me it’s reasonable to assume that the killings were carried out by white males — the only people who had a vote in the South, the only people who could make or enforce laws.

I’m aware of the women’s organization United Daughters of the Confederacy. Women were not permitted to vote at the time of the Civil War.

Yes, Mr. Pyle, I would be surprised at the number of blacks, Indians and Mexicans in the Sons of the Confederate Veterans. How many are there?

Two members of the Urquhart-Gillette Camp, SCV, have submitted interesting and informative articles about their forefathers’ service to their country and local happenings. Hats off to Mr. Boykin and Mr. Redfored. I encourage and enjoy historical fact finding adventures.

I am a Southerner. My roots are deep and unashamed.

In the decades before and leading up to the Civil War and for years following, my Southern ancestors (generic, not necessarily direct genetic lineage) committed barbarous acts on and against an ethnic group of people who were not in this country of their own free will. In the known history of mankind, a specific ethnic group has not been singled out to become slaves. Until the settling of America, North and South.

I’ve heard the rationalizations and excuses. “We treated them like family,” “We were good to our people” and “ Virginia was different.”

There was no choice of seats at the boarding gate.

Virginia slaves had no special privileges. Family members could always leave; to leave as a slave was to invite a lashing, disfigurement or death.

No matter how appealing the child rocking on his grandfather’s lap, Norman Rockwell image is, the idea that one can somehow divine the thoughts of a relative three generations and 150 years removed is ludicrous. You can’t do it, Mr. Pyle. I can’t do it. Neither can anyone I know or have ever known.

I’ll have to stick to well published and preserved facts.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High school. He can be reached at