January 5th, 2022

Starting this book. It was a Christmas present from my mother-in-law. It's about slavery, but I don't think it's really a history book. Definetly a strange gift. I think it's going to be a little preachy.

January 10th, 2022

Finished the chapter on Monticello. The author talks about tours he went on at Monticello and employees he interviewed. It seems that, not surprisingly, most people don’t know much about history and enough of them have bad reactions to hearing bad things said about Jefferson. I encourage it. Jefferson was a jerk and a hypocrite. You want a founding father as a role model, you go to the Adams family.

January 11th, 2022

This next chapter is about a plantation museum in Louisiana, the Whitney Plantation. In 1811, there was a revolt along the German Coast of Louisiana, which was suppressed 48 hours later. Slaves were executed for their involvement and their heads stuck on stakes. There is a replica of the heads on stakes as a memorial. How macabre. Then he goes on to describe some more exhibits. One has all the names and African tribes/countries where the first slaves on the plantation came from. There’s similar for later generations, with excerpts from the Freedom Writer’s program or whatever it is called.

January 12th, 2022

There’s not much to say about the rest of the Whitney Plantation chapter. Like the previous chapter it mainly talks about various horrible things that happened to enslaved people. There are a lot of horrible things, so you can go on for quite some time. I read a couple pages of the next chapter about Angola prison, the state penitentiary in Louisiana. Apparently, until very recently one could be convicted of a felony with a non-unanimous jury. That’s pretty bad. Just for the sake of funneling in people for modern slave labor.

January 13th, 2022

The book continues about Angola. The author describes a tour he went on that seems to try to do a lot of PR about how progressive and reformed the prison is. The author is upset that the tour did not mention slavery or its history as a plantation.

January 14th, 2022

Finished the chapter on Angola prison. They went into the Red Hat cells, which are terrible solitary confinement cells, and in there was a replica electric chair. There was a teenager who quite obviously was wrongly convicted of a murder because they needed someone to take the fall. He was given the chair, but they bungled the set up and he did not die. They wanted to execute him still, and the case went up to the Supreme Court where they ruled 5-4 that it was not cruel and unusual punishment to re-attempt the execution. Truly disgusting. We are still a backwards country to allow the death penalty. If you are not against the death penalty, you are an absolute moron. No debate. Angola also allows tours to go to death row, which seems insensitive. They’re using these guys like a zoo before they inject them full of poison. I’m sure they do worse. On the way out, the bus drives by prisoners working as labor in the field, as if slavery never died. The prisoners are given 7 cents an hour for their work. The next chapter is about Blandford Cemetery, a Confederate cemetery. It was set up by a woman’s association to repatriate Confederate remains who were mostly buried where they fell. The South had nothing like Gettysburg cemetery. 28,000 out of 30,000 of the remains are unknown. The author is not happy that there is not much talk about slavery or racism on the tour. I don’t agree that that should be the focal point of a soldier’s cemetery. The lowly soldier has little to do with slavery or barely has property of his own. Nobody even cared enough to have them brought home. Let it be a peaceful place.

January 17th, 2022

The chapter on Blandford Cemetery continues on what the author calls the deification of Robert E. Lee. It’s impossible to know why people fought in the war. It’s pure exaggeration to think all southerners fought for slavery and all northerners fought for liberty. Most of those who fought were poor, lower-class individuals. Did they have a reason? Did they care? How perceptible are these young and poorly educated men to the government’s propaganda? Those who are rich and have power most likely fought to preserve their wealth and power, if not to expand it. This is typical. Owning slaves does not make Lee a bad man, but being abusive does. No man should be deified, we are all selfish and hypocritical at the root of it. People take individuals and apply their own ideas to them and make them bastions of their views. The author has some balls and goes to a Daughters of the Confederacy (or whatever they’re called) Memorial Day event held at the cemetery. I would feel uncomfortable at that, can’t imagine being a black man there. As expected, it was all “the south will rise again” and “our statues” nonsense. I’m not necessarily for the taking down of statues, but I’m not against it. Then I think about all these dumb rednecks crying about some statue of a rich slaver owner, who would’ve spit on their ancestor, being torn down, and I don’t mind it at all. Why should the Confederacy be idolized? Why shouldn’t any symbol of the rebellion be punished? How would these cry-babies feel if next to every Robert E. Lee statue was a bigger memorial to the tragedy of slavery?

January 19th, 2022

Yesterday I forgot to write but I finished the chapter on Blandford Cemetery. The author interviewed some attendees and they say the stereotypical stuff about how “their” history is being distorted or “taken away”. I don’t know why these guys get so bent out of shape because their great-great-great grandfather was pro-slavery. How does it affect you to admit an ancestor did some bad things? I couldn’t care less if I was descended form some murderer. I’m not a murderer. In response to the argument that the morals of the past were different than today’s, I think there’s more to it than that. If you’re born into the upper caste of a society, you are very likely to want to change your situation. A person born into a slave owning family will be very unlikely to throw away his situation and way of life, no matter how he feels morally. You can see the same economics today. Burning coal is bad for the environment. People whose lives depend on coal mining don’t care about that; they want to maintain their present situation. People hate change. Of course this doesn’t specify slavery, but it is easy to preach about a situation one will never be in. I can say I would be a benevolent dictator, but I would easily fall into the habit of throwing dissidents into labor camps. I don’t think most people think critically about these points of view. I started the next chapter about Galveston, TX. This is where Juneteenth allegedly started. Apparently it’s a big deal, though I never heard of it until 2 years ago or so.

January 20th, 2022

Finished the chapter on Galveston and Juneteenth. It is interesting to read about the history of it. It was widely celebrated as black independence day after the war, but became dangerous to publicly celebrate it after Reconstruction and in the Jim Crow era. It became a state holiday in Texas in the 70s and may have paved the way for MLK day in the 80s. Now, I think, Biden (or Congress) made Juneteenth a national holiday. Good for black people. The next chapter is about NYC, and the author will be going on a Underground Railroad and Slavery tour. Let’s see what kind of slave sites NYC has buried.

January 21st, 2022

This chapter on New York City is not the most interesting. I guess my problem is I’ve already read a decent amount about the city’s history, so there is nothing really new or “shocking” to me about it’s racial history or history of slavery. There are a few tidbits of things I did not know, but they’re mostly just that, tidbits. For someone who is unfamiliar with Northern slavery, I guess this is a good primer. Maybe the rest of the chapter is more heavy hitting.

January 24th, 2022

Finished the chapter on NYC. The author visited a once abandoned African burial ground, outside of the city limits at its time of creation. An archaeological dig before the construction of a tower led to the discovery of hundreds of bodies, half of them under the age of 12. This site was made a National Monument in the Bush years. Apparently, where now stands Central Park was once some land known as Seneca Village. This was a 2/3 black and 1/3 Irish area in the 1820s. What is interesting is that many of the blacks in this village were landowners, something rare at the time. For 30 years they lived off their land here. After the war, the mayor, who had wanted to secede with the South, used eminent domain to take the land from the people for little money. The land had become incredibly valuable as the city expanded. After refusing to go, the people were removed by force and their land was added to the park. A sad story of a corrupt and unfair government. Nothing can be done in such a situation. We are all truly helpless. The final chapter takes place in Senegal, on an island off the west coast. It seems that here was a house where Portuguese and Senegalese (or whoever they were at the time) traded in slaves.

January 25th, 2022

The chapter African chapter isn’t bad. I think it’s mostly meant to stir up emotions. Of course, it is difficult to provide a lot of historical information when there are no real records. It’s a historical interpretation. Apparently, the Goree Island site has been saying millions of slaves went through here, but statistical evidence would point say it’s less than 50k. It’s the gas chambers all over again. Some believe that this “sincere fiction” is acceptable in order to get the message across. I disagree. The message gets lost in the falsehood. Numbers do not really affect the impact. Three people being executed can bring just as much emotion as 300. The director of the site seemed to be annoyed by the question of numbers and said that what the site represents is more important. Then just make a movie if you don’t want to be legit.

January 26th, 2022

The remaining bit of the African chapter has the author go to a girl’s school and asks them some questions. The girls are 17 or 18 and come off as very intelligent, much more intelligent than your average American high school student. Probably smarter than me at that age, but they probably take their education more seriously than I did. They are speaking about complex ideas in a foreign language (English), something I still can’t do. It sounds like they have a good exposure to the topic of slavery throughout their education, and the girls have different ideas about how Africans should handle their past. Some say it should be forgotten in order to move forward, some say it must be remembered, some say it should be acknowledged to understand the present, but forgiven. The author returns to America, and in the epilogue interviews his grandparents. His grandfather’s grandfather was born into slavery. His grandfather, aged 89, grew up in terrible times in Mississippi. He described some negative experiences and how was fortunate enough to stay in a town 20 miles away in order to attend high school. While nothing violent had occurred to his family, he described a lynching that happened while he was attending this high school. Truly a dark point in history which should bring up feelings up embarrassment. I believe the book will end with an interview of the author’s grandmother, who is 10 years younger than the grandfather (from the other side of the family).

January 27th, 2022

Finished the book. There was only a few pages left about his interview with his grandmother. Born in 1939, both her parents were dead by 1942 and she and her many siblings lived with her grandfather in the Florida country. She described the segregation, poor schooling, assaults. She tells a story of how her grandfather was nearly lynched. Many things she did not remember or never asked. The author ends with a good point: history can be learned, but many cannot reckon with it. This he applies to slavery and how many still deny how bad it was. People use denial to cope with what makes them sad or uncomfortable, but this is not a mature response. People must confront what they do not want to know.