SLAVERY, TOM COTTON, AND UNNECESSARY EVILS
©Wendell Griffen, 2020
The July 26, 2020 issue of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper contains an article based on an interview of U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, the junior senator from Arkansas. The article written by that paper’s Washington, DC correspondent, Frank Lockwood, quotes Senator Cotton’s assertion during a recent interview that slavery “was the necessary evil upon which the union was built…” Cotton made that assertion to support legislation he is sponsoring that would prohibit public schools in the U.S. from using material from the New York Times 1619 Project that traces U.S. history to 1619 and the enslavement of Africans (see, https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2020/jul/26/bill-by-cotton-targets-curriculum-on-slavery/?ne).
Senator Cotton’s view that slavery was “the necessary evil upon which the union was built” is flawed logic and flawed ethics. It is flawed logic because morally competent people can choose good rather than evil. A decision to act in evil ways is not logically “necessary” if people have the power to act in ways that are not evil.
Cotton’s flawed logic is also ethically (morally) wrong. Kidnapping, trafficking, enslaving, selling, purchasing, raping, maiming, and stealing the lives and labor of Africans were deliberate evils committed based on greed, not need. Slavery was, at bottom, a commercial venture undertaken by Southern planters (of cotton, tobacco, and other cash crops) and Northern ship owners whose capitalist self-interest was a driving reason for seeking independence from King George.
Africans were kidnapped, enslaved, transported across oceans, held hostage, bought, and sold by white men whose highest principle was greed, not need. The white Founding Fathers knew this was so. Perhaps that explains why they deleted a 168 word passage from the draft of the Declaration of Independence prepared by Thomas Jefferson that blamed King George for perpetuating the slave trade (see https://www.history.com/news/declaration-of-independence-deleted-anti-slavery-clause-jefferson#:~:text=What%20isn%E2%80%99t%20widely%20known%2C%20however%2C%20is%20that%20Founding,The%20passage%20was%20cut%20from%20the%20final%20wording.)
Tom Cotton’s flawed logic and flawed sense of history exposes how lies about American “exceptionalism” and virtue have been told, sold, and repeated in American public education to prevent students from knowing inconvenient truths.
The United States was not established to ensure the “inalienable” rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for all persons but was established by and to benefit wealthy white men.
Wealthy white men conspired, plotted, schemed, pooled their money, and deliberately designed a system of government that would allow them to steal, transport, and hold Africans hostage in this land as enslaved persons for generations.
The successors of those wealthy white men created empires, cities, states, and the nation by not paying Africans a cent for 250 years of work, and by defrauding their descendants and discriminating against them in numerous ways since then.
The New York Times 1619 project exposes the fraud and hypocrisy behind Cotton’s view that the United States is “the greatest and noblest country in the history of mankind.” The 1619 Project also does something else that offends Cotton and people of his ilk. The 1619 Project provides historical support for the view held by Nikole Hannah-Jones, the NYTimes Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter who recently wrote in the June 28, 2020 issue of the New York Times magazine that “If true justice and equality are ever to be achieved in the United States, the country must finally take seriously what it owes black Americans… A truly great country does not ignore or excuse its sins. It confronts them and works to make them right.” (See, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/06/24/magazine/reparations-slavery.html). Confronting the sins of slavery and working “to make them right” raises the issue of reparations.
Tom Cotton cannot handle that truth. Instead, Cotton prefers that public schools perpetuate slaveholder history, hypocrisy, and lies about this society being a meritocracy than expose students to the truth that wealthy white men deliberately chose to enslave Africans to create what became the United States. Cotton wants the current and coming generations of students in public schools to continue believing the hypocrisy and lies that have always been the foundation for the U.S. brand of white supremacy and religious nationalism that is euphemistically termed “American exceptionalism.”
The 1619 Project allows teachers to help students learn and know that the United States was created as a slavocracy bottomed on land stolen from indigenous people and labor stolen from enslaved Africans. As students realize this hard truth, they will also be able to trace how the greed, hypocrisy, deceit, and violence surrounding chattel slavery evolved to produce other evil results across centuries since the nation was founded thru continued discrimination against black Americans specifically and wage theft against laborers in general.
Tom Cotton cannot handle that truth because he is intellectually and morally incompetent. We should not subject current and coming students to his sorry plight.
Wendell Griffen, an Arkansas pastor, state court trial judge, author, and social justice commentator, lives and works in Little Rock, Arkansas.