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In this volume, Clarke, historians Lerone Bennett and Vincent Harding, novelists John Oliver Killens and John A.Williams, political scientist Charles Hamilton, psychiatrist Alvin Poissaint and others take Styron to task for his “hoax,” his “imaginary,” “impotent,” “celibate,” “homosexual”4 image of a Nat Turner “pining for white women.” Furthermore-and herein lies the crucial point of departure for my essay-Styron’s Nat Turner, according to Clarke and Bennett, incorporates the image of Sambo which was projected as the dominant plantation type by “the classical apologist for slavery” historian Ulrich B.Thirdly, he laments and critiques the failure of these radicals to move beyond mere rhetoric and demonstrate true revolutionary resolve.
First of all, he lambasts William Styron’s (1966)2 for its historically revisionist emasculation of the infamous slave insurrectionist.
Secondly, he decries the white man’s co-optation, pacification and defanging of sixties era black radicals.
Writing in the backdrop of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement-the 1954 decision and the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott-Stampp rejected Phillips’s antiquated Southern beliefs about racial inferiority of blacks, stating that “innately, Negroes are, after all, only white men with black skins, nothing more, nothing less.”10 Specifically, Stampp was rejecting Phillips’s notion of racial or genetic determinism-the idea that one’s race or gene pool determined one’s behavior, as well Phillips’s corollary that the black temperament could be characterized as submissive, light-hearted, ingratiating and inviting of paternalism.
In documenting the widespread resistance to slavery, Stampp deflated the myth of a docile, infantile, contented, happy-go-lucky slave.
Phillips and the “sophisticated modern apologist” historian Stanley Elkins.5 2.
Historical Paradigms of Slavery Historians generally agree that the historiography of slavery has been dominated, defined and developed by three landmark studies-each in turn supplanting its predecessor as the prevailing model.6 These landmark studies in chronological order are: Ulrich B. Histories of slavery written in the ante-bellum period by both Northern abolitionists and Southern pro-slavery advocates were characterized less by objective research than by polemics-understandably so, since the issue was so politically explosive that it led to the Civil War.
Written five decades after the Civil War, Phillips’s was a pro-slavery panegyric.7 Though he was a masterful historian, Phillips, a white southerner who grew up in the post-Reconstruction era of jim crow, was undoubtedly an ideological product of his times.
He sought to dismantle the arguments of the ante-bellum abolitionist historians through a meticulous, monumental empirical investigation of plantation life, records, and statistics.
Sambo, the typical plantation slave, was docile but irresponsible, loyal but lazy, humble but chronically given to lying and stealing; his behavior full of infantile silliness and his talk inflated with childish exaggeration.
His relationship with his master was one of utter dependence and childlike attachment: indeed it was the very key to his being. It’s not merely the gatekeeping system which denies meaningful numbers of students of color entry into graduate school; it’s not merely the glass ceiling which prevents administrators or professors of color from advancing up the ranks or getting tenure. It’s also the white supremacy which permeates scholarship and lurks under the guise of scientific objectivity and value-neutrality.