So yesterday, in my US history class we discussed the "terrible transformation," using the example of Virginia. We began with the arrival of Africans in 1619, talked about the status (and supply) of white indentured servants and Native Americans, discussed Europeans' familiarity with slavery (and a bit about capitalism), Africans' familiarity with intensive agriculture, Anthony Johnson (Antonio, a Negro), Bacon's rebellion, and the changes in Virginia's laws regarding slavery, culminating with the 1705 proclamation that black and Native American slaves were real estate.*
Though I've read some interesting critiques of Anthony S. Parent's Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 1660-1740, I tend to agree that slavery wasn't something Virginian planters just stumbled upon or were forced into by circumstances. Now, while it may not have been as planned or methodical as Parent suggests, let us never underestimate Americans' desire for earning the almighty dollar via exploitation (one depressing fact that helped render me silent on Labor Day, sigh).
Anyway, after a nice discussion (in my afternoon class--my morning class has me ready to pluck out the hairs of my head individually**), one student asked me was all this occuring around the same time as the Willie Lynch letter. I looked at her crazily and for a moment only said, "Wha-"
And then there was a chorus of, "You know, the Willie Lynch letter that explained how to keep blacks down."
"Oh!" says me, "That letter has been discredited," and I waved my hand dismissively and moved to talk about something else...
Only to be met with outrage and condescension. "It's not fake!" "It is authentic." "It's in a collection with other letters." "I can't believe you think it's not real!"
And because I had not the means to disprove the damn letter in class, I simply gave them the steely eye, reiterated that historians knew the letter was not valid, and moved on.
But my God, were they disgusted with me!
So, do I go in Tuesday morning armed with the words of historian William Jelani Cobb and attorney Steve Sheppard (who's at the U of Arkansas now--I have a soft spot for that school!) or do I let it drop? Seriously, I want the opinions of some classroom experts. Would this be allowing myself to be drawn into a silly argument or is it something I need to do?
*Yes, I outlined that detail by detail, so someone who's more versed in colonial history than I can say, "elle, I can't believe you left out this significant fact!"
**Though I did have three students in there who engaged with me yesterday on the topic of the origins of slavery in the "New World" one of whom argued that he didn't see a transformation in the status of Africans, that he believed, whether or not it was coded into law, Africans in the pre-U.S. were always treated/regarded a certain way and had little hope for anything better.