The Jury Talks Back

2/10/2019

Gov. Northam: I Am The Moral Compass Virginia Needs. Um, Those “Indentured Servants” Might Think Otherwise…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dana @ 2:01 pm

[guest post by Dana]

Gov. Northam continues to make the case against himself even worse than it already is. Today he was interviewed by Gayle King, of all people, on CBS This Morning. During the interview, and demonstrating an utter lack of self-awareness, the governor reminded Americans that 400 years ago the state’s first indentured servants from Africa seeking better job opportunities, arrived on Virginia’s shores. He also reiterated that he would not be resigning because he is the self-ordained Moral Compass that the state of Virginia needs to heal from the gaping wound…inflicted by him and the state’s other two top executives. Dear God. If the same advisers that advised the governor to read “Roots” as part of his rehabilitation, also advised him to go on CBS This Morning, then not only should Northam moonwalk his way out of the governorship asap, but his advisers should be sacked as well. It is, at the very least, a cringe-worthy watch.

First:

Northam, a pediatric neurologist and third-term abortion enthusiast, enraged Americans after he announced support for delegate Kathy Tran’s proposed legislation which sought to remove the last remaining protections for unborn babies in the third trimester. Northam not only supported her legislation, but also talked about post-abortion births during an interview and described how babies who dared to survive a third trimester abortion would be made um, comfortable while their fate was decided by the birth-mother and doctor. After the ensuing outrage over his comments, Northam indignantly tweeted: “I have devoted my life to caring for children and any insinuation otherwise is shameful and disgusting.” And now, he claims that because he is a doctor, he is the moral compass Virginia needs…

Virginia needs someone that can heal. There’s no better person to do that than a doctor. Virginia also needs someone who is strong, who has empathy, who has courage and who has a moral compass. And that’s why I’m not going anywhere.

Best of luck, Virginia.

–Dana

6 Comments »

  1. Northam is the gift that keeps on giving – for Republicans.

    I love the utterly absurd conflation of political healing with medical healing.

    BTW, I hate to say it, but Northam is actually right regarding the indentured servants bit. Although the first Blacks in Virginia came from a Spanish slave ship raided by privateers, there weren’t any slave codes in Virginia at the time, so they worked under the indentured servitude codes for the next few decades. In practice though, there was basically no real difference.

    Ah well, people tend to get the government they deserve, and Virginia deserves Northam. They voted for him, and his character was there for all to see; a self-serving political hack who based his campaign on falsely calling his opponent a racist.

    Comment by Arizona CJ — 2/10/2019 @ 3:00 pm

  2. Arizona is correct.

    The first Africans in Virginia were indentured servants; gradually the term of their indentures grew longer and longer. The case which established slavery in Virginia, Johnson v. Parker, was won by a former African indentured servant who had purchased African indentured servants for himself and desired their indenture to last for life. Irony abounds.

    And saying this was really, really stupid on Northam’s part.

    Comment by Another James — 2/10/2019 @ 3:33 pm

  3. A complete and utter lack of self-awareness. At this point, his chronic foot-in-mouth offenses will be his undoing. Not his racism nor his advocacy for killing babies in the third trimester.

    Comment by Dana — 2/10/2019 @ 3:53 pm

  4. Cue: Benny Hill theme song.

    Comment by Sean — 2/10/2019 @ 5:08 pm

  5. First, my post focused on the ham-fisted, tone-deaf egoist that Northam is, not debating his contention of “indentured servants” v. slaves, per se. Given the racist yearbook photos and the happy-to-moonwalk-for-you moment (where his wife had to stop him), this is just one more nail in his bigoted coffin. He was being interviewed by a black woman, and given that there history professors hold varying views concerning “indentured servants” from Africa in 1619 vs. “slaves,” he couldn’t have screwed it up anymore for himself, as well as further offend the already offended.

    This is an interesting thread by an assoc. history prof at NYU:

    Every time I think I’m done with Virginia history, I get dragged back in. But here’s why Northam referring to the “20. and Odd Negroes” of 1619 is so problematic: An historiographical thread. The idea that the first Africans in Virginia might have been indentured servants goes back a long ways. Oscar and Mary Handlin wrote an article about this in 1950.

    Part of what the Handlins were wrestling with was the early absence of laws about slavery and what constituted slave status. This is a problem for historians of Virginia and of the early English Caribbean as well.

    It’s a chicken and egg problem: do laws enshrine practices that are already custom, or are laws aspirational, attempting to create the slaveholding world that wealthy Virginians wanted?

    So you can see why some historians took both the absence of positive law regarding enslaved people and the fact that a few Africans did become free and set up their own households and made arguments about fluidity of status in the very early part of the 1600s.

    Edmund Morgan did this to an extent too in his 1975 American Slavery, American Freedom. Drake, Raleigh, and others saw enslaved people in SPanish territories and maroons as potential allies.

    Then in the 1970s and 1980s there was a big (and justified) push to see agency for enslaved people. In VA this took the form of a lot of curiosity about those early free blacks. So Breen and Innes’s book Myne Owne Ground, about the JOhnson, Driggus, Payne, & other families…

    It’s fascinating, the small cadre of interrelated free black families on the eastern shore. The problem is historians started to make these families typical. They weren’t. They were Exceptional.

    There’s a reason they settled on the eastern shore, well away from most of the great tobacco grandees around Jamestown. They were looking to get away. And, ultimately, their efforts were unsuccessful.

    The Johnsons eventually had to flee to Maryland. Emanuel Driggus might even have been reenslaved by the end of his life (mid-1670s) though the evidence is ambiguous.

    The narrative of early fluidity and of the free blacks of the eastern shore has combined into a popular narrative of English/white innocence abt slavery. The English didn’t really know what they were doing. That slavery in this period was easily escapeable & not a big deal.

    Of course there are plenty of historians (and plenty of historical evidence) countering that kind of position. Winthrop Jordan and his unthinking decision (1968). Mike Guasco’s Slaves and Englishmen (2014) really destroys that mythology.

    Guasco showed that the English knew A LOT about slavery when they ventured into the Atlantic. They wanted enslaved people in Virginia, the Caribbean, and elsewhere. There was no assumption of indentured servitude for Africans in 1619 in VA.

    Though some Africans were able to come to private arrangements with slaveholders early on, those arrangements became less and less possible QUITE QUICKLY.

    John Coombs has done quite a bit of work on this, hopefully his book will be out soon. Another book on this Ibram Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning. ‏

    While mid-twentieth-century historians were wrestling in good faith with the question of legal status of early Africans in the English Atlantic, there has been so much work done since then. The Africans-as-servants narrative is no longer tenable.

    The “20. and Odd Negroes” of 1619 were not intended to be servants. (See both Sluiter and Thornton on this in the WMQ.)

    When Northam said this morning that those people were servants, he was not engaging an earlier historiography. He was engaging a narrative of white innocence, of Virginian innocence, a narrative that slavery wasn’t that bad.

    Northam joins a long line of people who want to maintain white innocence about race and slavery by equating slavery and indentured servitude. That’s a bad idea, esp since this year white Virginians has an opportunity to honestly confront a pretty horrifying past.

    TL;DR: the Africans who arrived in Virginia in 1619 were not indentured servants. Saying they were deliberately effaces the long and violent history of slavery in Virginia and elsewhere.

    Comment by Dana — 2/10/2019 @ 6:21 pm

  6. Dana, I did not mean to imply any quibble with your article. It’s a great article. I agree, Northam was, to put it most charitably, ham fisted.

    However, I did indeed mean to quibble with those in the press who say Northam was historically wrong calling the first Blacks in Virginia “Indentured servants”, because the fact is, he was not historically wrong, and in such a case one must give the proverbial devil his due.

    Thanks to “Another James” above (his mention of the actual legal case name), I was able to cross-check my memory, and indeed, those 20 or so first Blacks were classed as indentured servants, because their servitude was for a set time (I’ll also mention that many English Virginians arrived as indentured servants).

    The associate professor you quoted (I’m not blaming you, I’m blaming him) seems to be afflicted with political correctness, as evidenced by his weighing concerns of perception versus fact. This is both unforgivable and unacceptable for a historian.

    The professor also has what few facts he cites wrong. The “20 odd Negros” were (at least most of them, the records are not definitive that all of them were) freed after their indenture periods passed (and thus, by literal definition, they were not slaves). This is fact. As supporting evidence, I’ll cite a further fact; one of them, who became known as Anthony Johnson, became the first Black landowner in North America. He also, via winning the Johnson V. Parker case that he filed, was the first to legally own Blacks as property (rather than indenture) in what’s now America. Is it non-PC to say that America’s first slaveowner, and indeed the man who first established slavery in American Colonial law, was Black? Yes, but that makes it no less a fact, and history is woven solely of facts.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Johnson_(American_Colonial)

    The cruel and terrible truth of history must not be obscured, for to do so robs us of its greatest import, its lessons. The truth is that Black slavery in what’s now America was no sudden thing, but rather a slippery slope of decades – a lesson we ignore at our peril.

    Distorting history on grounds of perception, sacrificing truth on the false alter of political correctness, diminishes us all.

    Comment by Arizona CJ — 2/11/2019 @ 2:17 am

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