Thursday, October 02, 2003

Read the Letter
Jarod Roberts has saved me the time and effort and posted the infamous letter to the editor on the guestbook. Just click on the View Guestbook link to the left.

Thanks Jarod.
Whitewashing History
Rarely do I ever find really good examples of opposition to the Old Slave House. The kind of opposition that actually proves our point.

There was the one shortly after we published the first research findings in December 1996, who said slaves couldn't have been on the third floor because the Crenshaws didn't have any indoor plumbing up there. Of course, there's everyone's favorite, that the Crenshaws must have used the third floor as a root cellar rather than a holding pen for captured runaway slaves or kidnap victims. Obviously the Crenshaws didn't have indoor plumbing anywhere in the house, and as to root cellars they had two basements under about two-thirds of the house, or about 1,600 square feet of real cool root cellars.

In Wednesday's Southern Illinoisan there is a wonderful letter to the editor from a former history professor at SIU-Carbondale. It's late and I'll reprint parts of the letter later, but this guy actually buys the slave trading aspect of the Crenshaw story. However he thinks this part shouldn't be told. He questions how these bad stories are even relevant to Southern Illinois history.

I don't know, but maybe because every free black resident in the region had to live in fear of the kidnappers, just maybe, it might be important. While he thinks the "slave house" aspect should be buried in favor of focusing on the architecture, and maybe, as a secondary angle, the history of the saltworks.

Come on! The whole architecture is designed around the third floor. I don't know how someone could interpret the architecture without focusing on the reason for it to exist in the first place. Secondly the history of the saltworks is in part, the history of slavery in Illinois. I think most people find it a tad bit interesting to learn that the epicenter for the movement to make Illinois a slave state is found in a community by the name of Equality at the heart of the saltworks.

The good professor described the Sisk family interpretation of the upstairs as "racist" and yet doesn't find anything offensive about his description of the third floor as "disgusting". If it wasn't for slave labor the saltworks wouldn't have existed and an infant state named Illinois wouldn't have received the lion's share of its revenues from the lease proceeds of the saltworks.

Slavery is a part of Illinois' history. It's a part that's been buried for too long. It's not so much that it may or may not be more important than some other aspect of state history, but if it is buried like the professor wants, then the history we teach our students is incomplete and false. Teachers have the responsibility of teaching the truth. We research to find the truth, to find some missing piece in the puzzle. We shouldn't ignore evidence just because it doesn't fit with our preconceptions. We study history to find ourselves, to reach greater understanding of what has happened before us, to short-circuit the life-time journey of acquiring wisdom by learning from the successes and mistakes of others who have gone before.

Contrary to popular belief not even ostriches bury their head in the sand. It's time for the good professor to get his head out of wherever he has buried his and open his eyes. No one is ever too old to learn, even retired professors.