The legacy of slavery

By Melissa Martin

The past evils of slavery in the United States of America must not be forgotten—least it be repeated in the future. The capacity of the past cruelty of humanity must not be swept under the rug—least it be repeated in the future.

“Beloved” by Toni Morrison, published in 1987 and winner of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Composed of flashbacks, memories, and nightmares, the story is horrifying, compelling, and disturbing. Her novel is based on the true story of a black slave woman, Margaret Garner escaped from a Kentucky plantation with her husband and children in 1856. They sought refuge in Ohio. However, the law soon caught up with the family.

Sethe (the book’s main character) “is haunted not only by the ghost of her dead daughter but also by the memories of her life as a slave. While she has been scarred by the physical brutality of schoolteacher’s nephews, she seems even more deeply disturbed by her discovery that most white people view her as nothing more than an animal. She asserts her humanity through her determination to reach freedom and to give her children a free life…When faced with the reality that her children may be sent back into slavery, Sethe chooses to free them through death rather than allow them to encounter even a portion of her past experiences. In Sethe’s mind, killing her children to save them from slavery is the ultimate expression of a mother’s love.”

According to a review in the New York Times (1998), “Eighteen years earlier Sethe murdered her own baby girl to keep her from being raised in slavery. In killing the child, Sethe achieved a small victory over white slave traders, but on a larger scale she suffered more. She is haunted by guilt. After their coincidental meeting, Sethe creates Beloved to be what she needs her to be, the ghost of her dead daughter. This ”ghost” to her becomes the opportunity to ease her conscience. Sethe gets to redeem herself, make a recompense for her ungodly transgression: murdering her own. She needs Beloved to be the ghost of her dead child. Like Sethe, many readers have mistaken this abused intruder for the now-grown dead baby.”

Fast-forward to 2019. Introduced in House (01/03/2019), The Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act. This bill establishes the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans. The commission shall examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies. Among other requirements, the commission shall identify (1) the role of federal and state governments in supporting the institution of slavery, (2) forms of discrimination in the public and private sectors against freed slaves and their descendants, and (3) lingering negative effects of slavery on living African-Americans and society.

It is never too late for justice to prevail. The passing of time does not right the wrongs of human suffering. Justice is required to heal our nation. Reparations for slavery is the beginning of healing—not the end of healing.

By Melissa Martin