Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Big Monochrome Picture


The principal character in Joyce Maynard’s 1992 novel “To Die For” said that if you look too closely at a black and white photograph, all you see are a series of black dots on a white background and then added that one must step back in order to see the big picture.  That, of course, is the problem today with any discourse in regard to slavery . . . all one is supposed to see are the dots of Southern black slaves toiling away in a field of cotton on their white master’s plantation.  If you step back, however, you will see a far broader picture of slavery and black life in the South, both free and slave.  

One person to see such a scene was the late Dr. Thaddeus Wilber Tate, Jr., a history professor at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.  In 1957, at the height of America’s civil rights movement, Dr. Tate wrote a lengthy research report for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation entitled “The Negro in Eighteenth Century Williamsburg.”  His in-depth study probed virtually every aspect of black life in Williamsburg and colonial Virginia that provided an excellent view of black history in general during that period.

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