90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
A New Generation Looks at Slavery


Noni Carter is eighteen years old — smart, black, American — and telling a story hundreds of years old. The story of African-American slavery.

Alex Haley told it in “Roots.” Toni Morrison in “Beloved.” Steven Spielberg put it on the screen in “Amistad.” Now a new generation is stepping up with its own take on slave days.

Freedom must be more than escaping a whip and crossing a river, writes Carter, in her new slave narrative, “Good Fortune.”

This hour, On Point: eighteen-year-old Noni Carter, and a new generation, look back on slavery.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Noni Carter joins us from Atlanta. She is a freshman at Harvard University and author of the new novel for young adults, “Good Fortune.”

From New York we’re joined by Pamela Newkirk, associate professor of journalism at New York University and editor of the volume “Letters from Black America.” Her previous books are “Within the Veil: Black Journalists, White Media” and “A Love No Less: More Than Two Centuries of African American Love Letters.”

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • cory

    Will we ever escape the legacy of slavery? Many nations used slaves throughout history, yet we agonize over this long gone wrong like no other. Are there any number of generations that can pass to forever put it behind us? We all eventually must get over, past, and beyond race.

  • john

    Certainly slavery represents a repugnant period in American history, but what is there to be gained by continuing to focus on something that happened so many generations ago?

  • Todd

    “Certainly slavery represents a repugnant period in American history, but what is there to be gained by continuing to focus on something that happened so many generations ago?”
    Posted by john

    Although the lessons of history are important to recall—lest we repeat its errors—I tend to agree with you that the slavery issue is grossly overplayed. But then, I don’t think the constant focus on this issue is for the sake of preserving a lesson as much as it is for the sake of preserving a victim status.

  • Marc

    Sounds like a bright, well spoken young woman. But Tom’s comment of a fresh new perspective is just pure hype. Was there anything in here that anyone hadn’t heard a thousand times? And maybe there can’t be a new perspective on slavery. Anything that goes outside the story line of abused slaves, remembering a proud history, African Americans still suffer, etc. would immediately be pounced upon.

    So, probably a good book and impressive that someone so young did this, but it’s a safe subject and I don’t see any new thinking.

  • Joanna Drzewieniecki

    What’s to be gained? Understanding who we are as Americans. Understanding what humans are capable of doing to each other. Understanding how people can maintain dignity and maybe even fight back (or not). The story of slavery is a Black American story, a White American story, a Native American story, an African story, and human story. And by the way, people in the US are lucky that there are so many Black Americans who have the education to tell this story. African Americans elsewhere in the Americas have only a few such people to tell their stories and revise their national histories.

  • Steev Lynn

    I was in 7th grade when I watched Roots. I saw those scenes of slave traders landing on the African shore and slapping chains on the first people they saw, as if there were no government there. Years later I lived in Africa, in the very countries where those slaves came from, and I learned a different reality: Powerful African kingdoms were firmly in control of their territory and never would have permitted foreigners to come in and do whatever they wanted. Those kingdoms in fact grew prosperous from the export of people – not their own people, but those from neighboring and rival kingdoms.

  • kye

    Slave labor was essential to the early growth of this country. Furthermore, asking blacks to forget slavery is like asking Italian-Americans to forget Christopher Columbus and Irish Americans to forget Michael Collins. It is simply unfair to ask black americans to forget our history, when it’s such an integral part of our american identity, simply because it makes some uncomfortable.

  • http://www.hatecrimeri.org jodi glass

    thank you for this interview! i want to share an incredible play, now in cambridge, ma, which should be seen all through this country, called “harriett jacobs”- beautifully written and directed and the music- intense- talk about listening to voices- !!!

    thanks for your wonderful voice

  • Desmond

    Its wonderful to see young African American woman such as Noni Carter who are interested their history and have taken the time to interpret and understand their past and its connection to current events. She is definately an inspiration to many youth to read read read and learn their history. We will definately be purchasing Good Fortune and look forward to many future novels by this talented and educated young lady.

  • Chad

    It is interesting phenomena to see a new generation of African Americans–from Carolina Chocolate Drops to this–appreciating segments of the African American cultural past that have been previoulsy dimissed as racist stereotypes. I really thought this rejoinder from the “American Slave Narratives: fromhttp://memory.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/snhome.html is informative:

    All the informants were of course black, most interviewers were white, and by the 1930s, when the interviews took place, white representations of black speech already had an ugly history of entrenched stereotype dating back at least to the early nineteenth century. What most interviewers assumed to be “the usual” patterns of their informants’ speech was unavoidably influenced by preconceptions and stereotypes.

    The result, as the historian Lawrence W. Levine has written, “is a mélange of accuracy and fantasy, of sensitivity and stereotype, of empathy and racism” that may sometimes be offensive to today’s readers. Yet whatever else they may be, the representations of speech in the narratives are a pervasive and forceful reminder that these documents are not only a record of a time that was already history when they were created: they are themselves irreducibly historical, the products of a particular time and particular places in the long and troubled mediation of African-American culture by other Americans.

  • eric/Concord

    Your panelist said the legacy of slavery can be seen in the high drop-out rates of black teens. I disagree. It’s that continuing attitude of victimization that is partially responsible for those drop-out rates.

  • http://CommentsfromBUInstructor melanie

    I teach a first-year writing course on public health at BU, and we were discussing disparities in life expectancy between white and African Americans in 1900 and today In moving toward a discussion of what might account for the disparity, I asked my students, “Can someone tell us what Jim Crow is?” and when no one answered, I asked again. Finally someone raised a hand and asked, “Wasn’t he a trainer on television?”

    Your speakers are totally “on point.” THe past is a lens that enables us to better understand our present and our future — all of us, all colors and races.

  • Kathy

    One of your speakers mentioned President Obama as an example of how far descendants of slaves have come. I believe I read that his connection to American slavery is actually through his mother’s ancestors who were in fact slave holders.

  • Nicholas

    The slavery were dealing with now in the US is the slavery created by low expectations and generations of government coddling.

  • Todd

    “Your panelist said the legacy of slavery can be seen in the high drop-out rates of black teens. I disagree. It’s that continuing attitude of victimization that is partially responsible for those drop-out rates.”
    Posted by eric/Concord

    @ eric:
    I noticed that remark too. The “legacy” argument fails to account for the black drop-out rate; especially vis-a-vis the relatively low drop-out rate of today’s Chinese-Americans, whose immigrant ancestors were reduced to slave-labor to build America’s transcontinental railroad during the 19th century.

  • Ann

    My answer to John and Cory, the writers of the first two comments:

    Legally, the consequences of what was written into our Constitution did not end until 1964 and 1965 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting RIghts Act. Because of those legal changes and because of Affirmative Action, more people of color have been able to achieve good educations. Many have then continued on to study and to create great scholarship by expanding our sense of American history, looking anew and looking at different primary source materials. America’s story is that African-Americans have been here since at least 1619 and have helped to build this country and its wealth. Denied the opportunity to learn to read and write during slavery, after the Civil War, blacks lined up in droves to get this education. They registered to vote and to run for office. Then came the second wave of Reconstruction and Jim Crow. And Jim Crow was only legally “over” in 1965. Older Baby Boomers did not grow up with history taught in this way. I wonder when American public schools started teaching history from this viewpoint? It certainly has not been taught so often that people should understandably be impatient with it, in my view.

    I believe that there has been a great resurgence of scholarship in American history by students and professors of color since 1965. Each generation after that, is not only learning the story anew, but learning what has been newly uncovered, in STRONG scholarship, about this history.

    I have been the beneficiary of this new scholarship, as an American citizen who has always enjoyed history, but also as a woman who only recently learned of her own African-American ancestry. Were it not for this new scholarship, I would not even have been able to FIND some of my ancestors, but because of it, I own several books that mention my relatives and their experiences as both enslaved African-Americans and as Free People of Color in the South.

    I was gratified to hear Pamela Newkirk say, just now, that the legacy of slavery is STILL with us. That is partly why I stated above that some of the changes were LEGAL changes – changes in the LAW. America still needs to understand the legacy, not just of slavery, but of Jim Crow and centuries of prejudice. And, up against that, I’m up for more and more tales and history of the bravery and contributions to democracy that African-Americans have made for centuries and continue to make.

    It’s also interesting: it has only been 45 years since 1965, and yet the first two comments, above, indicate that their writers don’t want to hear these tales any more, and one caller was trying his best to indict African tribal leaders for slavery. The economy of the Americas was based on slavery. The wealth of the U.S. came from the slave economy. But, the authors of new books about slavery are held up against an impatient jury, even when those in the jury express themselves ever so politely …….

    I honor this young woman’s work and her thoughtfulness about various aspects of her project. That she has the even broader, over-arching goal of discussing the value of education to young people, is, along with the bravery I expect to find in her primary character, the sweetener to what IS America’s story, retold narratively.

  • Donald

    Thank you, Noni. I fail to see how anyone could have listened to this interview and come away with a sense that your talk encourages, fosters, supports or in any way champions a “sit-on-your-hands” victimization approach to such ills as confront the black community. I heard a message of “Let’s get busy”, and so we must.

  • Waldemar Reid

    Certainly slavery represents a repugnant period in American history, but not only America’s history,Caribbean history, Latina American history, Cuban, European, Greek, Biblical, Chines, World history. Certainly slavery is an important part of human development, so we must look back, and not just stop at America. Make a difference for humanity.

  • http://www.warblerpress.com Pete Hildebrandt

    You have that right, Ann. Those expressing the sentiments of John and Cory – that we need to “get over” this episode in our history, that there is nothing new to learn, or that it happened many generations ago – are at the very least uninformed. Last summer I learned about the book “Slavery by Another Name.”

    This book is the history of post-civil war enslavement of African Americans in southern coal mines in Alabama. I knew nothing about it. Documents concerning it from U.S. Steel have only recently come to light. If the author of this work had said, “there’s nothing new to learn here,” we would not have this book and a number of other fascinating works. Faulkner said “the past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.” Slavery and ripples and echoes it caused are still out there, all around us, in racist attitudes we all still have, black and white, often ones we’re not even conscious of.

    Keep the floodgates of knowledge, imagination and study wide open, I say. There is always more to learn…

  • Chad

    I think it is intersting that the editor of this web site found the need to put “smart” in the description.

  • http://nanaakomaa.blogspot.com nana akomaa

    Black people will never be understood until African history is taught with both its bitter past slavery and on the lot more good about African people tnan the very little that often meets the eyes of ordinary Americans. Slavery has constituted the worst and the most defeating portrayal of black people and which effect continues to create struggles for blacks even to this day. Refusal to learn more about Africans and even other people-of-color pepertuates the minds of ignorance which only propels along to impede progress. The real positive side of African people, their heritage of rich traditions, medieval kingdoms, and large trade systems with the rest of mankind, and not excluding their enormous contribution to the world as we see it today, should be brought to the knowledge of all Americans. This will be the only real means towards an eventual respect and appreciation for all black people. Every effort therefore made to tell the African story both in the tragedy of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade or in her old glories of powerful empires and inventions must be allowed to prevail. Great effort, Ms. Carter! Society should seek such knowledge for human cohesion and togetherness, and to put to rest, the divide.

  • Todd

    “The slavery were dealing with now in the US is the slavery created by low expectations and generations of government coddling.”
    Posted by Nicholas

    Outstanding observation! Indeed, slavery in America is not a bygone institution. It’s merely been reconstructed into yet another institution taken over by government, and which now manifests itself through an ever-growing dependence upon the welfare state. It seems we’re finally achieving racial equality in America, as everyone becomes economically enslaved to our government master.

  • Ann

    Thank you, Pete H. (Jan. 11, 12:50 p.m.) for your reply! YES! “Slavery by Another Name” is an extraordinary book and piece of research/scholarship! That it is so beautifully written only adds to its power! Thank you for bringing it up, and I would like to suggest to other post-ers that they may want to seek it out! It is American history!

    To Nana’s post (Jan. 11, 12:55 p.m.), I would like to add this: Very soon I want to start researching the effects of European colonialism in Africa ON the African societies and economies, before the advent of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. How very important that knowledge would be, and yet, I know virtually nothing about it.

  • http://onpoint.org William

    The legacy of slavery cannot be swept under the rug to avoid the telling of a history which not only tells of the travails of African slaves, but also the organized effort of White Americans to reduce Africans to ‘less than human’ for the moral rights to the benefits of their labor. The gains for White Americans for this less than human belief, was economical, and possibly enhancing, for ones social status in interaction with wealth. The mentality of cultural/social supremacy for too many White Americans continues today. And, the inclination towards conceptualizing and treating today’s African-americans as inferiors outside the embrace of our democracy of competent citizens. This problem embraces even President Obama in some circles.

    In the abscence of a telling of the rich history of Africans on the African continent, African-americans and White Americans are left with the prevailing picture of inferiority and inept struggle to be competent as a group. This prevaling picture is reserved for all but a few “rare” African-american women and men with intelligence, and, the talent to master critical elements of dominant group success.

    The African story is, in part, one of success. There existed during the time before European acendency, West African empires with a geographic scope equal to the continental United States or European countries. *See the kingdoms of Ghana and Mali and it successors as examples. These empires were govenerned by a royal central government which depended upon the input of regional governors to maintain a successful organization of disparate tribes similar to the European reality in later years. *See Mansa Musa for the grandeur of a Black Muslim king on his pilgrimage to Mecca, and his effect upon the gold economy of African and European countries, as one example of organizational and economic success.

    The Muslim connection carried with it the requirements for education in basic reading and writing skills for the Koran, and mathematics for trade. *See Timbuctu, and “Skip” Gates video exploration of his African roots.

    There are other sources available which reveal a people light years away from Sambo, Steppin Fetchit, and Flavor Flav. These references are usually revealed piecemeal in academia or in the media, e.g. Black Athena (the influence of early Egyptian culture upon the development of classical Greek culture); the writings of Basil Davidson(cogently explaining African royalties’ forced participation in the acquisition of slaves), a recent edition of National Geographic Magazine concerning the Black rulers of Egypt, and other programming and sources which reveal a productive African history across the continent. The effects of African culture upon European culture is minimized, or credit is not given, usually.

    In conclusion, finally :- ), In the absence of information such as this, the self definition, and other definition of African-americans, usually relies upon an American history of defeat and suffering and a reference point for many as “victim” and incompetent. Not a great place to be psychologically in a “we are number 1 society”.

    Education and enlightenment of the American populace against the stereotypic view and bent history of African slaves, potentially elevates the life passage of African-Americans, and, the thoughts and behavior of White Americans.

  • Brett

    First, congratulations to Noni Carter for getting her book published by Simon and Schuster. That is no easy feat! As she mentioned, the editing process toward publication can be a challenging one.

    I think it is important to remember that Noni Carter’s book is directed toward young adults. A new generation of Americans often only know of our history of slavery in intellectual terms, at best, and a novel that brings to life a woman’s story of being enslaved in the early-19th century can bring history to the foreground in genuinely emotional terms. Perhaps not much more can be gleaned from this story by older adults who are familiar through other books with what African-Americans had to endure, but the fresh telling for a new generation isn’t a loss to further “self-victimization.”

    I have lived in the South for most of my life (I’m white and in my mid 50′s). When I was a kid, some JIm Crow laws still remained, and there were remnants of those laws still in existence in the South long after they were considered “illegal.” That part of our history, as well as the slavery of the 18th and 19th centuries are still very present in the local, historical culture of our town. My home town is a place whose history is rooted in the Revolutionary and Civil War times. Monticello and Montpelier are near by, Mount Vernon is a little farther north. There is a large stone in our town square that was once used as a stump on which to place slaves during auction sales. Many of my friends are direct descendants of slave-owners and slaves. When my family moved to a more rural area, two counties over in 1970, there was a farm near our house that had what would essentially be considered enslaved people living on and working the farm. One man, I remember in particular, Mr. Beener, a man in his ’60′s at the time, worked on the farm in exchange for room, board and a small wage. He had done so all of his life, as had his father and his father. The mentality at the time in these parts was one of complete separatism. So, we aren’t that far from these chapters in our history as some wish to believe. In addition to remembering slavery in this country, it is also important to remember what life was like before the Civil Rights movement and before the end of Jim Crow laws.

    There will always be some who use the history of their families, culture and race, etc., as a way to blame the world for their lack of success in life. Yet, this phenomenon shouldn’t negate the need to keep history alive. After all, promoting understanding that history is greater than simply relaying dates, and so on, is of the utmost importance in how history is taught and learned.

    It is important to remember how Asian people were treated in this country, as well as the Irish and Italians (my ancestry), and these stories should also be part of any telling of our history. Developing countries more than not have histories of many dark elements in their quest to grow and prosper, unfortunately. We also can’t deny ourselves some modicum of pride in how far we have come, in a relatively brief period of time, in moving away from some of our unsavory beginnings.

    It is heartening that African-American history and culture is beginning to be described outside of a context of a few notable Blacks in our history, and described outside of a Eurocentric view. For years it was Frederick Douglass, George Washington Carver, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and so on, held up as the only important sources of pride for African-Americans, as if their legacy started in the mid-19th and early-20th centuries. There is a legacy of pre-European history from African culture that has only recently been held up with reverent connection to African-American history.

  • david peterson

    I remember my father saying in the sixties when
    the set asides for minorities were being created
    that once this was set in motion they would never
    give up this up, he was proved right. Affirmative
    action and victim hood is forever and the list of
    injured keeps growing, added to racial minorities
    were all women, gays, all immigrants, transgenders,
    religious groups like Jews, Mormons and you name it.
    This all makes make me sick that this has wrecked
    the Democratic party and now working people are forgotten so they can be served up to Wall Street Fat cats while the party that used to protect them is being held hostage to one issue victim groups who
    only selfishly see their own suffering.
    god help us

  • Steev

    I agree that African history is neglected and needs to be given more emphasis. I’ve read and traveled extensively in Africa to this end. However I’m suspicious about those who would portray all African history as glorious until Europeans came and ruined everything, or who lump ancient Egypt together with sub-Saharan cultures. These are over-simplifications. There were great empires and highly-developed societies prior to colonialization. There were also African governments who profited from the slave trade (and not because the were coerced.) There were centers of learning and sophisticated systems of civil governance. There was also recurring warfare, slavery, and in some places canibalism and human sacrifice. These are all facts that Africans themselves can tell you about, so let’s go to the extreme of painting that continent as morally superior to others.

    Some misguided Afro-philes suggest that muslim culture is somehow African, when in fact it was a wave of colonization and cultural imperialism that came before the European version. In the muslim conquest of northern Africa, Africans lost their own religions, their African names, and many of their customs, which were replaced with Arab ones. Arabs also traded in black slaves centuries before Europeans did, although not in such enormous numbers.

    Today American tourists visit Africa to rediscover their roots, and Africans are happy to have them and their tourist dollars. I’ve noticed that black American tourists tend to buy the same souvenirs that other tourists buy – many of which are not authentic cultural artifacts but things manufactured specifically for tourists. I remember reading a memoir by a black American journalist who felt angry toward Nigerians who scammed him and ripped him off. “Is this any way to treat a brother?” he said. Then he learned his history and realized that the ancestors of these Nigerians might have sold his people to the slave traders.

    For those who want something of authentic African culture, I recommend studying Vodoun, the indigenous religion of countries like Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Nigeria. It’s still alive and practiced, and it exists in watered-down form in the Caribbean and the American South. Understanding the real thing can be a window into the soul of the continent.

  • John Graman

    The thing I can’t understand is, why is one person asked to resign from a public office over a public comment and another is not asked to resign over a very similar comment, just because of which political party they belong to. Seem that one party gets a pass on most issues when the others are unforgivable.

  • Brett

    “I remember my father saying in the sixties when
the set asides for minorities were being created
that once this was set in motion they would never
give up this up, he was proved right.” -david peterson

    Yeah, Blacks should have given up the right to vote by now! What’s their problem? And what about all of those uppity Blacks who wanted to go to the same schools as Whites? What was that all about? All those lunch counters, water fountains, hotels, restaurants and the like…damn, they are so crowded now! And, with that Affirmative Action, you’d think they would have been happy getting turned down for management jobs, as long as they had jobs! Right? I guess Black people think they’re too good to be janitors, bell hops, house maids, etc. Besides, White people need to make more money working the same jobs as Blacks…how else are we gonna maintain our superiority? It’s a sad state of affairs that Blacks have taken perfectly good jobs away from White, heterosexual Christian men; and, as you mentioned, what about ALL of those women and ALL immigrants? Back in your father’s day, White men didn’t have to compete with Blacks, women, and foreigners for jobs! And, who do gays think they are in wanting the same legal rights as heterosexuals? Asking to be granted the same rights as any heterosexual, White, Christian man in a marriage is just plain whining, for chrissake! Back in your father’s day, gays stayed completely silent and in the closet where they belong! And those Jews have been given special privileges at the expense of White, heterosexual Christian men for far too long! They’ve been whining ever since they lost Jesus to our side over 2,000 years ago! As you say, if those Democrats had spent their political capital on White, heterosexual Christian men only, instead of trying to ensure the rights of all people, then we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now. Civil rights issues never needed to go before our legislative process!! …(I thought I’d mention, I’m being sarcastic)…

  • cory

    Ann and Pete,

    I just want to follow up on a few things.

    1. Neither of you really addressed the point that other historical slave holding nations don’t suffer the same self-loathing and anguish that Americans are expected to. I don’t hear this conversation from the Dutch, Egyptians, or English.

    2. Slavery in human civilizations is historical tragedy. Other historical tragedies include the Dresden and Tokyo firebombings, the plight of Native Americans, and the subjugation of women for thousands of years. The slavery issue in America seems to hold some priviledged class of notoriety. I don’t know if this is good or healthy.

    3. Finally my unanswered question about the end of the slavery issue. Slavery doesn’t really end until we get over/past/beyond the handwringing. We’ll never get past this until we put the sixties (1860’2 AND 1960′s) in a reasonable historical context.

    Please don’t misunderstand me. Slavery is one of humanities ugliest blemishes. However, it is only one of the ugly blemishes that comprise the body of work that comprise human cruelty. It isn’t isolated, unique, or priviledged.

  • Louise

    A fitting program given the vile and despicable statements of Senator Harry Reid’s “negro” comments concerning Barack Obama.

  • twenty-niner

    “The legacy of slavery cannot be swept under the rug to avoid the telling of a history which not only tells of the travails of African slaves, but also the organized effort of White Americans to reduce Africans to ‘less than human’ for the moral rights to the benefits of their labor.”

    More white guilt…

    I can tell you how I’ve managed to grow up white-guilt free. When I was a kid living in a working-class neighborhood in Chicago, “Roots” was aired on television, and that week I took quite a few beatings from the black kids in the neighborhood while they shouted “make me your slave” as they smashed me in the face. No hard feelings…

    My ancestors are Russian Jews who had to endure their own persecution, with many family members dying the Holocaust, and never owned a slave in their lives. The point is that most everyone has a hard-luck story of some sort. Throughout history, humans have been abominable to other humans, and will likely continue the practice. I wish you liberals would pull your thumbs out of your mouths and get over it. You play the hand you’re dealt as best you can, and that’s it.

  • Ann

    Cory, Actually, research and study comparing the Dutch, English, and American economies and societies after their involvement in the Transatlantic Slave Trade would be a fascinating undertaking. It’s possible that the scholarship has already been undertaken, altho perhaps the publishing of the results was done in England or the Netherlands. As Pete and I both said (we do not know one another), there is always more to learn and examine.

    You mention the plight of the Native Americans. I am always carrying on parallel research on the Algonquins of Virginia. My grandmother said that our ancestors came from one of those tribal peoples. Now that I have been doing genealogical research into my African-American ancestors, I am faced with a huge question. Were we indeed Native American, or was that a “cover/cover-up story” that my grandmother gave us, because she, at about age 20, and her husband, my grandfather, at about age 30, “passed as white” during a bowel-deep period of Jim Crow (She told us this story in 1954 — did SHE think things would ever change?).

    You would be amazed that my grandparents were designated “Black” on the censuses and City Directories in Virginia and Pennsylvania, because my grandmother in particular had skin that was literally white in color. Yet all those Jim Crow laws and social proscriptions applied to them until they “passed as white”. Why would they have done that? I believe that THEY, and probably most African-Americans, believed in the American dream of equality and hard work more than the legal system and White society would allow them to experience. Were there consequences to their “passing”? Yes, I believe there were, especially the possibility that they could only “achieve” this status by moving away from all those who were near and dear to them. Perhaps they could not socialize with their own family again; I’m sure it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for them to attend their own, beloved church, etc.

    My grandmother told me proudly of her relatives, but she described them as “Native American”. All my research, which ALSO allowed me to meet cousins I did not know I had before and which includes information from these cousins, indicates that we were African-American, which on legal documents was expressed, back to 1815 as far as I could find anyway, as our being Black, Mulatto, Negro, Colored, Negro.

    One cousin, an historian, scholar, and publisher, has discovered that we lived in or near, what was called a “maroon”, on my grandfather’s side. Maroons were areas where dispossessed Native Americans, runaway slaves, free Blacks, and Whites lived together for mutual protection and by choice. At some point in our maroon’s history, the powerful White society near the maroon decided that THEY, the Whites, would decide who was properly “an Indian”, based on “who looked like one” (this is straight from primary source material)! (The Journey of a Multiracial Family by Frances Bibbins Latimer, tells the tale!) I will never be able to tell you whether I DO have any Native American ancestry from that period of the maroon, or from someone else in my family tree, or whether our Indian designation was a “cover up” generated by brave souls who just wanted to be able to work and achieve a good, American life. That my grandparents were pale enough to “pass as white”, was an advantage they had over other people of color, including some of their own siblings; that their paleness allowed them access to the American dream is an INDICTMENT of that dream and of the prejudice of the society that dreamed it. And it is playing out still, as seen in racial profiling and its consequences in so many areas of life in the U.S.A.

    I actually really believe that Jim Crow had an even greater debilitating effect on African-Americans that slavery did. As I said before, Jim Crow “officially” ended only in 1965. “Get past the 1960’s”, you say? My grandmother’s sister, who never “passed” would have only wished she had lived so long!

    My dream is that many families whose ancestors “passed”, search for and find their African-American relatives! I can imagine a whole movement to restore our families!

  • Cool Bass

    When the question is posed as to why to continue to talk about slavery, there is a clear answer why, when we reflect on the dialogue that was perpetuated by this young lady’s interview. We see that for all Americans, our history has shaped all of us into who we are individually and as a nation. And to try to ignore it or try to limit the idea that slavery is on the history of a certain group of people only allows the fears that dominate our lives, and produce our miss perceptions of others to persist. Noni Carter has by bringing this topic back to the surface from a perch of youth has given us all an opportunity to focus not on what slavery was in past, but more so on the bondage and restrictions that we have on ourselves and how it to address these issues. So for those who are descendants of slave owners, enslaved peoples any where, or freed peoples the answer is the same – the slavery is within and until we understand this fact we will continue to be in search of freedom.

    I applaud the courage and ability of this young lady, and I look forward to the impact that this and her future works will have on on us.

  • Ronnie

    Its true that slavery was common all over the world through history. But it was unique in America because it lasted untill late in the 19th century, when it gradually came to be considered a human rights violation. It was out of date, because by 1865, ordinary people were increasingly recognized as having individual rights and as worthy people, not just fit to be used by the powerful and wealthy. This was new in history.

    Also since america was settled as a free country breaking from the class systems of europe, and we had the declaration and constitution, there was a huge collision between the new systems of thought and ideals, vs the old, outmoded and cruel system of using people.

    It was the stage of history that america reached. Remember that in our lifetimes, murders of blacks in the South by whites went unpunished, and many murders have only recently been solved. So the lives of blacks could be taken, and sheriffs and judges colluded to let the killers go free–this in the country was supposed to be the great example of freedom and rights of the individual to the world. Never a day went by when politicians and pundits did not boast of superiority to other countries, in this respect. I’ve heard this for generations, and it ignores our excusing murder on a racial basis.

    What is the effect of this on the psychology of a people?
    People are molded by their society’s attitudes toward them. Affirmative action has let blacks be seen as just like everyone else. Now the younger generation sees them all the time in all professions and roles increasingly, contrasted with the earlier generations, when blacks could mostly only get jobs as maids and janitors. If whites only saw them in these jobs, how could they ever picture them as anything else? This is how prejudices finally lessens, and people gradually become more equal. We’re still in the middle of this process.

    The people that say blacks perpetuate victimhood are under the illusion that their own place in life was all due to their own hard work and fine qualities. These critics of others never had their race ban them from a place to live, a college or apprenticeship, a job, bank credit, mortgage, you name it. For the dominant group in any society, the travails of the underclass are invisible.They think they have hurdles to overcome in their own lives but these personal hurdles are nothing compared to belonging to a group that is negatively perceived to start with.

  • Steev

    This discussion brings out the divide between black and white worldviews.

    Black listeners seem happy to have another examination of the slavery part of our national history.

    White listeners think, enough already.

    Are white listeners uncomfortable because they’re insensitive, or pricked by guilt at some level? Would they rather not face some of the horrible things our ancestors did to each other? How much discussion of slavery is “enough”?

    How much is “enough” for black listeners? At what point does one feel that the subject has been adequately covered and turn toward the future and the improvement of the society we live in? Are they sure that slavery is never used as an excuse for under-performance in the present?

  • cory


    Britain had slavery into the 19th century as well. They outlawed slavery in 1807.

  • Stacked

    As a white listener, I’d just like to say that “I don’t care.” I don’t feel guilty about it. I’m sick of hearing the “belly aching” about it. Shut it! Half a million white people died FOR you to resolve it. Blacks owe US!

  • Janet

    The way we “import” illegals into country is very similar to the slave trade a few hundred years ago.

  • Ann

    I have not yet red “Good Fortune”. In the context of looking for my African-American family members, I have read many books about slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights era of the 1960’s. What I found was American history and African-Americans’ contributions to our ideal of democracy! To Steev (Jan. 12, 8:06 a.m.), “Would they (White listeners) rather not face some of the horrible things our ancestors did to each other?”, and to Stacked (Jan. 12, 10:26 a.m.), “I’m sick of hearing the ‘belly aching’ about it”, I would suggest this:

    Read the books of new scholarship about these issues and time periods. What you will find is not “belly aching”, but portraits of people who have been here since at least 1619. Those brought from Africa were brave people who did their best to retain their freedom. (Reading about slave insurrections is heart stirring!) African-Americans believed in independence and opportunity as much as the Colonists, and they believed in freedom and equality as much as White American citizens, once we became a country. Yes, laws and social order were against Blacks and Native Americans surprisingly from the first European footsteps on our shores; but the full tale is NOT one of belly aching, but of heroism and determination and of hard, hard work. Please, open your heart.

  • Stacked

    “Open my heart?” Listen to me, and listen well…Black People didn’t FREE themselves, they were freed BY white people. Black People didn’t achieve Civil Rights, they were given them by White People. Black People didn’t elect a mulatto President, White People did. White People are the MAJORITY still, and never before in recorded history has so much been done for a racial minority by the majority population. Get down on your knees and thank God Almighty that you live here. Every nation in Africa is a sh*thole! Instead of asking for more, why don’t you do a little serious thinking, and say “Thank You” to a white person today! Say “Thank You” to all the white people who have died to give you what you have today! “Open my heart?” Close your hand, and open your ears!

  • Ronnie

    re comment britain had slavery til 1807, true but their whole society wasn’t built on it at home. It was in their empire, and they did conduct the slave trade. So in their own country it didn’t have the effect it did in america….they didn’t have to integrate their modern society with millions of ex slaves and with different skin color. They only had to change their class system with same race underclasses…much easier.
    So in america we ended our slavery much later 1865-by law only–and that was about the same time as russia freed the serfs–russia was one of the worst, most backward autocracies compared to europe. Interesting comparison to america, founded on freedom–for some. Took many generations to extend rights to all.

  • Stacked

    Another good point. Every people has been slaves at one point or another, but most of them freed themselves! They didn’t get any help, or have it done FOR THEM! And yet there is one population, the only one in history to have it so easy, and we never hear the end of it. No good deed goes unpunished.

  • Kenny

    I’m taken aback to come to these comments today and find so many who think a story about slavery is passe. Hard to believe we’d be hearing a similar reaction had the program been about the John Adams miniseries. You also have to think that those responding are not likely to be among those, like Noni Carter, whose ancestors were enslaved people.

    I am of Greek heritage and grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. I was attending public school in the middle 1960′s at the time of integration. We learned nothing in school about slavery at that time from the point of view of those enslaved. I got through my B.A. and M.A. at Auburn University without correcting that lack. Given the blind spots in my education and upbringing, I welcome the opportunity to learn more about what slavery entailed.

    Congratulations to Noni on her brave book and precocious achievement!

  • Alan

    What a magnificent young citizen! Bravo Ms. Carter! Bravo!

  • T. Winter Gibson

    This was excerpted from a speech delivered by Willie Lynch on the bank of the James River in the colony of Virginia in 1712. Lynch was a British slave owner in the West Indies. He was invited to the colony of Virginia in 1712 to teach his methods to slave owners there. The term “lynching” is derived from his last name.

    “LET’S MAKE A SLAVE “The Original and Development of a Social Being Called ‘The Negro.’” Let us make a slave. What do we need? First of all, we need a black nigger man, a pregnant nigger woman and her baby nigger boy. Second, we will use the same basic principle that we use in breaking a horse, combined with some more sustaining factors. What we do with horses is that we break them from one form of life to another; that is, we reduce them from their natural state in nature. Whereas nature provides them with the natural capacity to take care of their offspring, we break that natural string of independence from them and thereby create a dependency status, so that we may be able to get from them useful production for our business and pleasure.”

    Please consider this when you want to ignore what SPECIFICALLY happened only to black in America. NO OTHER SLAVES ENDURED THIS. And add to that 300 years of education, Jim Crom, Segregation. Slavery didn’t truly end until 1955.

    Please read ‘Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II’ by Wall Street Journal’s Douglas Blackmon it will enlighten you.


  • Ann

    Stacked, Fortunately there are books galore that chronicle the contributions of African-Americans throughout history. Many African-Americans begged to help fight in the Revolutionary War, but the White colonial governing forces did not want to “arm” Blacks. George Washington eventually relented when he saw the bravery of one of his own slaves in a different context. Approximately 180,000 African-Americans fought for the Union during the Civil War, and others fought for the Union Navy. African-Americans were at San Juan Hill, and unfortunately (in my view), the Buffalo Soldiers were recruited to fight in the Indian Wars. African-Americans have been in all of America’s wars since.

    African-Americans and Whites pushed for the FIRST Civil Rights Act during Reconstruction, but a successful venture in that area was not achieved until 1964 and 1965 (Voting Rights) thru devoted work by African-Americans working along with Whites in a campaign that was dangerous and sometimes deadly.

    After the Civil War, Blacks sought out their long-lost relatives, and then sought education to learn to read and write. Then they registered to vote and to run for office. They soon filled state and federal elected positions, UNTIL the second-wave of Reconstruction and the beginning of Jim Crow. You are writing to someone whose relatives were African-American civil rights activists during the first and second Reconstruction periods, thru Jim Crow. My grandmother’s brother, among his other accomplishments, worked hard (and probably in great danger) to try to change the Maryland Education Law. His version was enacted in 1916, and to read it makes me cry: the changes he fought so hard for only reflect back a picture of how horrid the law must have been before his changes, for the law still calls for separate, but “equal” education. 1916 was in the depth of Jim Crow.

    There are so many African-Americans who fought physically and politically for freedom, equality, opportunity for themselves and for the country as a whole. There have been and still are many, many unknown African-Americans working to make American laws and practices more accurately represent American ideals. This is not passivity. Changes did not come about just because things were “done for” Blacks. Information is readily available in libraries, on line, by speaking with people in your community.

  • Stacked

    Too right, but it’s a drop in the bucket when compared with all the White People who have done things to help Blacks in this country. Point out a Black Nation that has done as much to help their racial minorities? Point to one! You can’t. The bottom line is that Blacks just can’t ever seem to say “Thank You” and mean it. They just seem to me to keep crying foul and saying “You owe me!” We’ll I don’t owe them anything, and I don’t feel sorry for them, and I’m sick of them never acknowledging that comparatively, they’ve had it ease. The Jews suffered in 8 years more deaths and brutality than the Blacks in the US did. The Vietnamese were under brutal war and occupation for 300 years. My ancestors were enslaved by the Romans, but you do see any of those people still crying about it, and they all got on their feet, and moved forward!

  • Ann

    Stacked, Perhaps if you listened to their nation’s version of NPR, you would hear the national stories of exploitation in Vietnam and thruout the former Roman Empire. I honor the Jewish campaign of “Never Forget”. I expect you do, too. You’d need to have a lot more information about these various societies before you can create your own “comparative suffering” chart — a venture I’d stay away from, preferring narrative descriptions of history. And, those narrative descriptions keep growing as more and more information is learned and brought forth. A lot of the narrative is about heroism and joint ventures toward change, not “belly aching”, as I said.

    And, as others have pointed out, Ms. Carter’s book is for young people, and her character values education. I applaud what I understand about this book, and I, for one, can’t wait to read it, even tho I am way past the intended age group!

  • Stacked

    I wonder if this 18 year old kid (because we all know that 18 year olds are wise, right?) ever looked at a Civil War battlefield, and of all the crumpled white bodies laying there, and ever wondered if their families payed the ultimate price for HER freedom? This issue is over. The debt has been repayed and then some. It’s now time for the Black Community to take it’s place as equals along side all the other people of this nation, and share the joys and RESPONSIBILITIES with a glad heart. I’m sure many of you think I’m “out there” but I’m just saying what MOST White people really think. We’re out of patience with you. Anti-UP!

  • Steev

    It sounds like “Stacked” and others in similar denial ignore the contributions of black soldiers and civilians in the American Revolution and the Civil War, as well as the risks they ran and retributions they suffered in the Underground Railroad, the Civil Rights Movement, and other self-help campaigns. You have to have very selective view of history to believe that magnanimous white people did all these charitable things for black people, after bringing them in chains to labor in servitude for 200 years.

    As a white person I’m scandalized by the expressions of these apologists and deniers. I’m no bleeding-heart liberal, I won’t tolerate Afro-centrists either, but people who warp history to white-wash themselves need to be corrected.

  • Stacked

    You’re not going to twist this one. I never discounted any of their contributions. You’ve got it backwards. I was pointing out that lately, not enough has been done to highlight the Whites role in all of this! Half a Millon dead ones on the Civil War battlefield, all those who marched, and voted, by their very numbers make it unquestionable that it is THEY who have done the majority of the work, just by their sheer numbers in comparison. The Blacks didn’t do any of this on their own, and it’s high time they said “THANKS!” And as far as 200 years, which is regrettable, it’s a blink of an eye compared with other peoples who have been enslaved. Not to mention that they were sold to the Dutch by their very own in Africa, because slavery and warfare has been going on there since well before the “White Man” set foot on the continent. The Arabs were stomping all over the continent doing the same slaving for a thousand years, but you don’t hear blacks saying anything about that. In face a lot of them join the Muslim religion, which is not indigenous to Africa…it’s the religion of peoples that enslaved them for far longer than Europeans did! The whole point in all of this is that it’s time to call a stop to this constant “guilt tripping” and Black people need to stop blaming everyone else for their problems. Life isn’t fair, for any of us. You get out of it what you put into it. Your responsible for yourself, and this nation has done a hell of a lot that no other people in recorded history has ever attempted to right past wrongs. Where’s the gratitude? You wouldn’t get this kind of deal from anyone else other than Americans! Do any of them wish they were still in Africa? No. They’ve got the best deal on earth here and they all know it!

  • Shana

    A better point might be made for Miss Carter’s efforts is that is helps us Americans remember important events in history. We all want to learn from our mistakes, but if they are forgotten, we risk making the same mistakes repeatedly. Just as we don’t want to forget the Holocaust, how horrible and tragic it was, we do not want to forget slavery in America. There’s the issue of Native Americans, Rockerfeller’s coal miners, Japanese Internment Camps- all injustices that immediately come to mind. Americans should use our complicated and emotional history to not only gauge how far we’ve come and also to push us to improve ourselves and experience how far we can go.

  • Deborah

    With so many black youth trading education for prison, if Ms. Carter’s book excites a generation to fulfill the dreams of Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, Emmett Till, Sojourner Truth, W. E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, Martin L. King, and many many more–then perhaps, this nation by its very youth can be transformed to a place that lives out its creed.

    Obviously Ms. Carter is no ordinary 18 year-old. She is eloquent, well-read, and has accomplished what many have only dreamed of–it takes a special person and a loving family to produce such a positive person in this world. I say to all the “haters” Keep Hope Alive! Perhaps, your dreams will be fulfilled too–assuming you have any!

  • T. Winter Gibson

    Thank you STACKED!!! For your ancestors who participated in the greatest crime against humanity in the history of the world. Thank you STACKED for your ancestors who caused the murder of between 300-600 million blacks in the middle passage. Thank you STACKED for your ancestors raping black women creating the light skinned black person. Thank you STACKED for your ancestors who sat idly by while your southern brothers lynched and castrated black men for no reason at all. Thank you STACKED for your ancestors who stole the country from the Native Americans.Thank you STACKED for your ancestors who disallowed blacks the right to read and be educated equally for 300 years so that by now they could be on the same level as their white counterparts. Thank you STACKED for your ancestors who spied on Black organizations and self-help groups through the FBI (cointelpro)in order to disrupt and keep them from being successful so you’d have less to complain about. THANK YOU STACKED! How’s that for gratitude?

  • Kenneth Likis

    WBUR, your rules for commenting state:

    While we encourage a robust, open debate on the topic at hand, these comment threads are moderated by On Point and WBUR, and we may delete comments that we judge to be off-topic, unduly repetitive, or that descend into personal, ad hominem attacks.

    Where is your moderator? Why is so much ad hominem vitriol still visible among these comments?

  • Rawdon Waller

    Seems like a well-written, well-researched book on something so morally repugnant as slavery is useful in and of itself. What would be better would be some research in cognitive psychology (applied clinically) relating to helping the progeny of enslaved people to overcome feelings of anger, regret, and so forth. Ditto for the progeny of holocaust survivors, war veterans, indeed anyone (group or individual) who has suffered psychological and/or physical harm either directly or indirectly.

  • Rawdon Waller

    The commentator “Stacked” makes some interesting points, but presents them in an ‘unbalanced’ way. His anger seems to deny the simple claim that slavery is among the ugliest practices humans can do to one another. Thus, it seems that appeals to white people fighting for the lifestyles blacks Americans ‘enjoy’ – while perhaps deserving some further examination – fails to address the problems that derive from said historical mistreatment by white Americans.

    As for other commentators complaining that black Americans can’t forget the issues raised by the young author, I retort: do Jews forget? Do Japanese forget? Do Palestinians forget? Do Croatians forget? Do Australian Aborigines forget? Or Polish (regarding the NAZI invasion in WWII)? Or the Irish? Do white Americans forget the proud fight for independence from the imperial bully that was Britain? NO. Does this mean forgetting is an unhealthy thing to do? I don’t know. Maybe we all need psychiatric (or some other form of help).

  • Stacked

    Why was my comment removed? T. Winter Gibson, Thank you for your current people killing, raping, and robbing my people today, and that’s backed up by REAL crime statistics. What’s your EXCUSE for that? Mod, you remove this, you’re a hypocrite. Look at what T. Winter Gibson said about “MY PEOPLE” the RACIST! I want some fair treatment, and JUSTICE here!

  • justanother


    Using hate to fight hate, you might get a immediate temporary thrill of your vengeance, but when you do that, you are planting seeds with hatred for your future generations. Do you really want your kids or your grand kids to forever trapped in those anger and hatred, for which you are suffering right now?

    Break the link by not only loving yourself, but forgiving and loving others who are different than you — tolerance.

    I know truth always sound cliche.

  • Stacked

    No hate here. A simple “Thank You” on the part of the Black Population for all the White People who fought, died, and did good on their behalf is hardly hate or racism. So far, not one reply in the positive, even though the facts are undeniable. Something’s wrong with that equation. As far as me, I would take you up on your advice, if I thought I was a racist, but I’m not. You seem to suffer from some kind of guilt complex that is not your burden to carry. Tolerance has been shown…but not returned, that’s the crux of the issue. Stop beating yourself up. Questioning the pragmatic social deficit now going on is no sin.

  • Linda

    Posted by Stacked, “I’m sure many of you think I’m “out there” but I’m just saying what MOST White people really think.”

    I do think you’re out there, and you’re NOT saying what most white people really think. Speak for yourself if you must, but don’t speak for me.

    Congrats to Ms. Carter; can’t wait to add your book to my classroom library.

  • justanother

    ****You seem to suffer from some kind of guilt complex that is not your burden to carry. Tolerance has been shown…but not returned, that’s the crux of the issue. Stop beating yourself up. Questioning the pragmatic social deficit now going on is no sin****

    Stacked, I have sorted out all my thoughts before I propose “forgiving” & “tolerance”. And believe me, I won’t let “political correctness” to send me on a guilt trip without examining history, social justice, and self consciousness.

    Yes, tolerance has been shown, but you seem to regard tolerance as some kind of token. If they are really tokens, you still got a long way to pay. But tolerance is not token to pay off some kind of quilt trip. It is a way of life, a way of thinking, it is our forever goal to reach peace. Your journey of peace has been derailed by your short sight. Stay the course, broaden our vision, think peace for our future, “peaceful reality” can be created by us.

Aug 21, 2014
In this November 2012, file photo, posted on the website freejamesfoley.org, shows American journalist James Foley while covering the civil war in Aleppo, Syria. In a horrifying act of revenge for U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq, militants with the Islamic State extremist group have beheaded Foley — and are threatening to kill another hostage, U.S. officials say. (AP)

An American is beheaded. We’ll look at the ferocity of ISIS, and what to do about it.

Aug 21, 2014
Jen Joyce, a community manager for the Uber rideshare service, works on a laptop before a meeting of the Seattle City Council, Monday, March 17, 2014, at City Hall in Seattle. (AP)

We’ll look at workers trying to live and make a living in the age of TaskRabbit and computer-driven work schedules.

Aug 20, 2014
In this Oct. 21, 2013 file photo, a monarch butterfly lands on a confetti lantana plant in San Antonio. A half-century ago Monarch butterflies, tired, hungry and bursting to lay eggs, found plenty of nourishment flying across Texas. Native white-flowering balls of antelope milkweed covered grasslands, growing alongside nectar-filled wildflowers. But now, these orange-and-black winged butterflies find mostly buildings, manicured lawns and toxic, pesticide-filled plants. (AP)

This year’s monarch butterfly migration is the smallest ever recorded. We’ll ask why. It’s a big story. Plus: how climate change is creating new hybridized species.

Aug 20, 2014
A man holds his hands up in the street after a standoff with police Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo. (AP)

A deep read on Ferguson, Missouri and what we’re seeing about race, class, hope and fear in America.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Your (Weird? Wonderful? Wacky?) Roommate Stories
Tuesday, Aug 19, 2014

We asked, and you delivered: some of the best roommate stories from across our many listener input channels.

More »
1 Comment
Our Week In The Web (August 15, 2014)
Friday, Aug 15, 2014

On Pinterest, Thomas the Tank Engine and surprising population trends from around the country. Also, words on why we respond to your words, tweets and Facebook posts.

More »
Nickel Creek Plays Three Songs LIVE For On Point
Wednesday, Aug 13, 2014

Nickel Creek shares three live (well, mostly) tracks from their interview with On Point Radio.

More »