Slavery’s very personal legacy

Carey Davenport and his wife (name unknown) who was a born a slave on my great-great-grandfather's Texas farm. (Photo from Library of Congress, Manuscript Division,  Washington, D.C)

Carey Davenport, right, with his wife (name unknown) in 1936. He was born a slave on my great-great-grandfather’s Texas farm. (Photo from Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Washington, D.C)

By Robert Mann

The depiction of slavery’s beastly inhumanity in the new movie “12 Years a Slave” is so realistic and stunning that I did not think I could survive the first 30 minutes. I made it, but am still haunted by this tragic story more than a week after I staggered, teary eyed, from the theater.

For those unfamiliar with the film, it’s based on the 1853 book of the same name, written by Solomon Northup, a freeman from New York State who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. Bought by an Avoyelles Parish planter, Northup endured the horrors of slave life on several plantations in the Bayou Boeuf area until 1853, when he regained his freedom and returned to his family.

Among the many maddening aspects of Northup’s heartrending tale is one that shouldn’t surprise: the blithe acceptance of slavery and its brutality by almost every white person depicted. First among them was the planter who bought Northup – William Ford, a kindly Baptist minister, who preached to his slaves each Sunday.

The incongruity of delivering the “good news” to slaves troubled me almost as much as the film’s violence repulsed me. Perhaps that’s because the film’s slaveholding preacher bears some resemblance to my own great-great-grandfather.

As far as we know, John C. Mann was the first member of my family to graduate college. Based on a biographical essay he wrote late in life, he appears to have been an erudite and deeply religious man. He was also a slave-owning planter.

“God has overwhelmingly blessed me,” John wrote in 1884, from his home in Dodge, Texas. “I have no complaints to make, but am full of gratitude and love to God for his mercy to me.”

Sadly, God’s mercy did not prompt John to respond, in kind, to his slaves.

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2 Responses to Slavery’s very personal legacy

  1. says:

    Please ask Elliott, next time you speak, about a local issue regarding corrupt local officials that we are having trouble getting traction on a prosecution because of “politics.”

    Marion K. Marks MMCC Forensic, LLC (318) 424-0880 Please excuse my spelling as the computer changes my typing… Sent from my iPad



  2. Stephen Winham says:

    The ostensible disconnect between religion and slavery has long been a mystery to me as well. The only conclusion I can draw is that the Bible, particularly the Old Testament treats slavery as a normal thing – although it does admonish slave holders to treat their slaves kindly [sometimes]. I noticed the very first commenter on vigorously attacks you on issues never mentioned in your column. The absence of the ability to engage in meaningful discourse is the root of a lot of our problems, including slavery. By one estimate there are twice as many slaves worldwide (20.9 million) today than in the 1800s. A map showing where they are is here:


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