The Opportunity of MLK Day: Whites Need to Reflect On the Black Experience

Slavery is the original sin of America. George Mason, a Revolutionary War patriot from Virginia, called it “that slow Poison  which is daily contaminating the Minds and Morals of our Peoples”. It was introduced to the American colonies by Great Britain and continued officially until the Civil War in the 1860s. 

Because of the approaching Martin Luther King holiday, I have begun to seriously ponder the issue of the forced importation of African Americans and the effect it has had up until today on American society.  The issue has floated around in the recesses of my brain, occasionally blitzing my synapses, and then receding back. 

Slavery ended in Great Britain in 1807, mainly due to the efforts of William Wilberforce, a member of parliament. He introduced bills 8 times to abolish it.  On the 9th effort, he succeeded.  Wilberforce was ashamed for himself and his country that Britain “suffered this horrid trade”.  Wilberforce had ending slavery and the improvement of morals as the main goals of his life. “If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large”, he said.

William Wilberforce

America missed out on this early emancipation of slaves in the British Empire since it declared its independence in 1776.  And although slavery technically ended with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in the 1860s, Douglas A. Blackmon makes the case that it really didn’t end until World War II.

Blackmon has written a book called Slavery By Another Name which I have previewed and would like to read read in its entirety.  In the introduction to the book he discusses a black worker at the turn of the twentieth century who is arrested for vagrancy in Alabama and then through a series of legal maneuvers is forced into labor at a mine.  According to Blackmon, this man is representative of the plight of the black population of the time.  Because many African Americans died in such circumstances, he compares what he calls the re-enslavement of black Americans to the Jewish Holocaust.

Most white Americans, including this one, have no idea what the average African American has gone through to reach the level of freedom he or she has today.  The Martin Luther King holiday is a good time for whites to take a little time and think about the effect of America’s abominable sin of slavery on our society. Perhaps in doing this we will be  more motivated to become united in a time when our country is pretty fractured.


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