Understand history of South before judging

Published 9:37 am Wednesday, November 9, 2011

by Greg Bell

This column is in response to Archie Howell’s column (“Response to Rocking and Reading,” Sept. 18).

I am not quite sure why you are so adamant in your position to bash the South. Many folks such as yourself choose to focus solely on the issue of slavery when discussing the War for Southern Independence.

The fact that the institution of slavery was an evil one cannot be disputed. However, we can not simply judge from our modem era of political correctness and “holier-than-thou” 21st century morality that these 19th century Southerners were despicable people because some of them were slaveholders.

Slavery and racism are part of our country’s history. However, our country does not hold the patent on slavery.

Slavery still exists today in Africa. People hate each other because of religion and race all over the world today.

The Nat Turner uprising in Southampton County was a horrible event where dozens of innocent men, women and children were hacked to death. The response to this massacre, where the school children were butchered by Turner and his followers, was predictable.

In the rural South, the citizens were going to do everything to bring justice swiftly while also taking precautions to make sure nothing like the Nat Turner rebellion would ever happen again. A slave revolt was their worst nightmare, and I am sure the response of the citizens of Southampton would not have been much different elsewhere.

Some of the reactions were regrettable, but revenge is a powerful and sometimes bad motivator. From your columns, it seems you are more concerned about the response to the revolt rather than the butchery that occurred during the uprising.

My ancestors did not want to go to war. They only wanted to separate themselves from a country that they felt had departed from the principles on which it had been formed. They only wanted to form a new country and be left alone where they could be free to govern themselves.

The friction between the North and South had been festering for decades. Several New England states nearly seceded from the Union shortly after the country won its independence. There was another crisis during Andrew Jackson’s presidency and several other disputes in later years, including the debate of states entering the union as free or slave states and also certain tariffs that were considered unjust.

It was an extremely complicated matter that had come about over several decades that brought about the war. We can not stand here today, without knowing the vast multitude of events that occurred and led up to the war, and judge 19th century southerners and proclaim them as an evil people with a 21st century perspective simply on the issue of slavery.

In their day, it was the way of life that they had been born into. Whether it was evil or not was not up to them, and we cannot stand here today, 125 years later, and proclaim they were bad people because slavery existed.

You must remember that when the country was formed, slavery was legal and accepted in every state. Many slaves were brought into this country through Northern ports and sold into bondage by Northern slave traders. Also, there were several Northern states where free blacks were not welcome and these states passed laws prohibiting them from living there.

I am sorry, Archie, but I will not stand idly by while you ridicule the good name of my Southern ancestors. I will not allow you to spout half truths without a rebuttal.

Sure there were atrocities throughout our country’s history, but they were not limited to the South. What about the untold number of crimes committed by Lincoln and his armies throughout the South and particularly here in Virginia? Why not speak of the rampant destruction of the Shenandoah Valley, where personal property was destroyed for no good reason?

Archie, you have made the most common error when studying history. You are trying to judge actions of men from the 19th century based on 21st century morals and beliefs and without fully understanding the complexity of the history that led up to the war.

Yes, my granddaddy used to sit on his front porch in the mountains of southwest Virginia and tell me about the courageous deeds of his grandfather during the war and many of the other men. These moments were some of my cherished memories of my grandfather as I am sure were Jon Pyle’s with his grandfather, (“We would rock and he would talk,” Sept. 2).

The men our grandfathers spoke of were common men who did uncommon deeds in their lifetime, and we are very proud of them. We will always remember their bravery, honor, devotion, chivalry and patriotism, and we will always defend their good name against people such as yourself.

GREG BELL is a Courtland resident and works for B&R Hose and Rubber Co. in Chesapeake. He can be reached at gregbclltebbliose.com.