July 1 is the day my church celebrates Harriet Beecher Stowe.
I’m In two minds about the good Mrs Stowe. While appreciating the efforts she and her brother, Henry Ward Beecher, made in the cause of the abolition of slavery in America, from my 20th/21st Century viewpoint I can see her as a not unmixed blessing to the ‘Negro Race’, as she’d have called us.
I recently reread ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin‘. It was highly, highly influential. It was the best selling book of the 19th century apart from the Bible. It was the principal vehicle Stowe used to open the eyes of the good people of the US to the evils of slavery.
However, its picture of the childlike African, to be pitied and made an object of gracious condescension, had lasting effects. The picture of the good and humble Uncle Tom, who was too Christian to even dream of fighting back when he was whipped to death by Simon Legree, made white folks believe that is the quintessential good negro.
There was more. The ‘good’ woman on the plantation, who gave her master’s white child her children’s food before she fed her children. All the good black people who put the white people first, since first is the proper place for white people.
And, the paler the black people were — the closer to white — the closer they were to human. The mulatto slave woman who drowned herself rather than be sold into slavery contrasted with the black people who were less sensitive. Topsy, the lying child, who didn’t cry when she was whipped, because she didn’t feel it much, was very black.
Then there were the other two mulattos, a black man who could pass for white, and his mulatto wife, who were so bright, who escaped slavery and went north to Canada, but eventually realized their proper place was in Africa.
Stowe pitied the plight of the black slaves, and she thought they were inhumanly treated, but she didn’t think they were ‘equal’, is what I gather from the book.
Their proper place was to be grateful for the benevolence of the good white people, but the blacks really didn’t belong in the Americas. They should have been returned to their native habitat so white people would be clean from the stain of slavery.
I may be be wronging her, this is what I get from ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’. That being the case, I’m leaving other people to celebrate Mrs Harriet Beecher Stowe.