Oregon Magazine

Dr. Horton’s History Channel History of Slavery

"Many people, blacks as well as whites, have some trouble having the story of slavery told in a major public venue," said James Oliver Horton, the Benjamin Banneker Professor of American Studies and History at George Washington University .... "But we do not have the right not to tell the story."  (Source: The New York Times, The Arts, of Tuesday, September 27, 2005.

That statement, professor, implies that when, in late August of 2007, you appeared on the cable/satellite History Channel program about the American ship, the Constellation, you, unlike the others referred to in your quote above, were telling the truth about the slave trade.   Let's take a look at that.

The History Channel certainly meets your requirement of "a major public venue."  In your segments on that show, you portrayed slavery as the profitable irony of American history.  That is true. Slavery was a key element of Early America's economic structure, and it is ironic, and hypocritically so, that a nation dedicated to freedom would allow slavery.  But, having assumed that  your doctorate wasn’t received as a prize in a cereal box, while watching this program I wondered why you failed to mention that on the slave coast where the ships picked up the victims is a black (African) family compound which has sold slaves for three hundred years longer than the United States of America has been in existence. 

Here, I'll frame this another way -- let's say that you and your friends want reparations  for slavery.  If so, the first check should be written by those whose national flags fly on the NW shores of Africa – by the people who invented the practice of slavery and profited from it for centuries before the world knew the Western Hemisphere even existed. (Hell, according to anthropologists, centuries before the white race popped up !!)  Or do you (1) deny that the human race came out of Africa or (2) believe that slavery did not exist until the white race appeared on Earth?

(What do you know, professor? . Black people in the 21st Century Africa are still capturing black people and selling them as slaves --  sometimes to moslems of Arab descent, who mark them up and sell them, again.  For example, students in a Dakota's classroom bought a slave from moslems in the Sudan for forty bucks a few years back, then set that slave free.  Slavery, Mr Horton, exists in Africa to this very day !!)

But, getting back to your historical contributions, are you suggesting that without the active participation of black African tribes more than a few hundred slaves could have been captured and carted off to the Americas?  African coastal and interior tribes whose populations numbered in the tens of thousands were unable to defend themselves against slaver ships containing at most fifty or sixty sailors? 

Here's the deal, Mr. George Washington University Professor of History.  Getting right down to it, the central question is not about slavery in America.  It is about you and your friends. Why, like the vast majority of American "teachers" in their classrooms on a daily basis, and like the mainstream American newspapers, magazines, television networks and school book publishers presently misinforming their various audiences, did you omit the key historical facts described above in your History Channel version of the slavery story?  Either you are a self-serving liar, or an historian who is ignorant of  established anthrolopological evidence and the tenets of your own discipline. 

Here is some useful information for you. 

It is possible for the truth to be a lie.  Here is how that can be. A statement which is true, yet which contains only those parts of said truth which serve your cultural, political or personal needs – and leaves out those true items which do not serve said needs – is a lie.

This may help.  (Some reading material for you.)


Larry Leonard
Co-publisher, Oregon Magazine

Original text 2007 Oregon Magazine