Sharpton, Obama, and the Capps Family: The intersections of race, heritage, and history

Recently, we’ve come to learn of the sordid histories of slavery in the ancestry of Barack Obama and Al Sharpton.

Sharpton learned of his family ties to the Thurmond family, as his ancestors had been kept in bondage by ancestors of the late Senator Strom Thurmond, once a fiery segregationist, and recently visited Edgefield, South Carolina, land of the Thurmonds, and challenged others descended from slaves to look into their past, believing that “it's good that it comes out so we can deal with it.”

Then we learned that Barack Obama’s mother’s family included ancestors who owned slaves. Considering the large numbers of those kidnapped by African slave traders over the course of several centuries, it is also possible that some of his Kenyan ancestors may have become slaves. So his ancestors may well include both slaves and enslavers.

A couple of years ago, the potential for these histories to cross in our own lives hit home, during a tour of some Clarendon County historical sites with the editor of the county paper. One stop was the Richardson family cemetery, located in the northwest of the county, not too far from Lake Marion. The family buried there included a former Governor of South Carolina and founder of The Citadel. They were some of the first people to settle what became Clarendon and Sumter Counties.

While some may view them as an honorable family of our state, and praise their contributions, I'm sure that the ancestors of my first wife and oldest my daughter, who were held in bondage as the slaves of the Richardson family, might view them differently.

As a white Southerner ... but as also as a parent ... how am I supposed to feel about what I saw? Two years later, I still don’t know.

My daughter and Obama are part of a growing number of Americans whose family histories touch both sides of this sad chapter of our nation’s history. The history of this time is typically viewed in sharply-opposing contexts: either as a time of growth and opportunity, or as a time of great brutality and inhumanity. While those on either side of this debate can present passionate arguments in support of their points-of-view, does either perspective represent the full truth?

The intersections these experiences create should help us to consider that the views of both sides have a degree of validity. They require our willingness to consider their points of view with honesty and candor, as well as regret and forgiveness.

I never thought I’d find myself agreeing with Sharpton, but on this issue, he’s right. The sooner we find the courage to talk honestly about these dark moments of our nation’s history, the better.

9 Response to "Sharpton, Obama, and the Capps Family: The intersections of race, heritage, and history"

  1. west_rhino 18/3/07 14:57
    Earl, I have to look at the hypocrisy being palyed out over the Confederate battle flaghere and contrast it with the hidden shame over the swastika in a "wiser" (if one gives Senator leKerry creedence). In both cases, never again should the atrocities atributed to either ever be allowed to be perpetrated again. In one case we are free to display a banner, in the other it was a federal offence to posess that Nazi symbol (its Asian counterpart suffers unwarranted infamy alongside it). Consider however which groups practices are being tolerated and accomodated in recent years and where.

    Where does slavery still flourish? Where are anti-Judaic regiemes tolerated and probably encouraged thanks to a state of denial and moral decay? We cannot change history, even through revisionism and we'll be condemned to repeat it without reminders of the pains suffered. Forgive, yes, forget, never 'lest we elect to go stupidly down a path to misery we've trod before.
  2. Anonymous 19/3/07 09:14
    crazy cracker.

    Ty
  3. Anonymous 19/3/07 10:29
    you were warned to shut up and stop causing problems. now, we will bury you.
  4. Anonymous 19/3/07 16:19
    a lot of people want to run their mouths about fringe issues in the blogosphere, but when you get serious about a difficult issue, they all shut up.

    what's up with that?

    can't we all get along?
  5. moye 19/3/07 23:18
    You my friend Earl. Sharpton just wants money. There is no doubt that Sharpton wants to make restitution to anyone who can prove they are descendants of slaves. I have said it before and I mean it. General
    Sherman was a terrorist and all descendants both black and white that was harmed by his march should also get a government check. While we are at it lets make sure anyone with Native American blood gets one also they need more than casinos. Do not forget about the Japanese from WW2 or the South Vietnamese that had to come here because we decided to quit there. The list can go on. Forgot the Mexican descendents of the south west and west that we took their land. See what I mean. There is no right answer but a lot of wrong ones. I regret what happened to the Africans in the past. That is what it is the past. Never to be repeated. We all need to get over it.
  6. Earl Capps 19/3/07 23:30
    moye, you raise a good point. i don't know if sharpton is seeking healing, or just an attempt at using this for more power and attention.

    i hope that he is, as well as should be, willing to look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of these issues. only when we can be honest and recognize the legitimacy of all points of view can we hope to move forward.
  7. Brian McCarty 21/3/07 02:16
    This might come as shocking from me, considering my run in with neo confederates, but I do not have a problem with monuments and flags of the era being displayed.

    There is is a shared pain of the South, especially the Reconstruction years, when black and whites both were at the mercy of northern swindlers that I think should be acknowledged by both sides.

    I also do not mind honoring the poor southern men who made up the bulk of the Confederate army and owned no slaves, who are drafted or volunteered to defend their land against what was seen as an invading army.

    The very fact we allow monuments and flags from a defeated rebellion to be displayed is unique to the United States, and it is one reason, I believe that our republic did not fall into the chaos that South America did. When symbols, monuments, flags, etc, of a defeated rebellion are outlawed or banned, it creates anonomisity that builds up again and explodes again. It is that safety valve of expression that has released the steam of future problems.

    Those who want such symbols and monuments banned take the road that has lead to more chaos and rebellion. Just look at South America. Look at Europe. Look at Africa. Look at Asia.

    I do not believe I have a racist bone in my body. I am proud South Carolina's State House grounds is the only one that honors both the Confederate dead and the African American struggle.

    I do take strong issue with the groups that want modern day succession or advocate racism. Groups such as League of the South, that advocate seccession from the United States, are unpatriotic.

    However, I think groups and people who want to tear down monuments and symbols of the past to satisfy current political goals are just as dangerous to the stability of our nation.

    We are a free nation. We have people of all persuasions and interests. As such, we should allow people of distinction to be honored, even if they appear flawed by some standard set by the politics of the day.

    For example, Strom Thurmond comes to mind. He appealed to some of the states baser instincts in his 1948 run for President. But, he also fought for funding for the black colleges in the state, and got more black votes than any Republican candidate in state history. How do we judge him? A racist whose own daughter was half black? Or as a man of his times who did more for black people in terms of government grants and the like than any other politician?

    I have ancestors who fought in the civil war for the South, and who worked for the underground railroad. I see honor in both of their acts.

    Looking at history through the prism of today's political standards is not wise. That is why I stand against people or groups who take heritage groups and used them for political purposes, and that is why I also oppose the NAACP's so called boycot of South Carolina.

    True acceptance of one another means accepting allowing one another to honor one another's history. Booker T. Washington and Robert E. Lee are both heroes of mine. I have a healthy respect for both Strom Thurmond and Martin Luther King, Jr. I rank Lincoln and Grant as heroes. I think Jefferson Davis was an arrogant man educated beyond his intelligence. I think Nathan Bedford Forrest was a brutal man, but I respect his tactical genius in battle. The list can and does go on.

    It is when we project our views, and our life experiences upon the achievements of others that we lose perspective. When it is done on a wider more political scale, it is when a society begins to tear aways at the fabric that holds it together.

    Also, as dicta to my statement, I believe Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson would have had nothing but contempt for the Nazis and their ways. Comparing the Nazis with the Army of Nothern Virginia is insulting to those poor men, again most of whom did not have the means to own a slave, and their honorable leader, who actually, if you read about him, hated slavery and was aghast when he inherited slaves from his father in law.

    Further, the central feature of the confederate battle flag, the St. Andrew's cross, was the symbol used by the Scots in their rebellion against the repressive regime of Edward the Longshanks. That symbol was one that the perhaps the first well known fighter for freedom, William Wallace, fought under. To compare that with the Nazi symbol is just ignorant.

    But, ignorance is the norm for modern day politics.
  8. Anonymous 21/3/07 07:42
    McCarty, once a cracker, always a cracker. You are a cracker ass cracker.

    Ty, the real Ty
  9. Earl Capps 21/3/07 08:02
    as you point out, the truth of things is often in the middle. but the problem is the hotheads on both sides of the debate can't bring themselves to admit this.

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