2 Moynihan utilized Elkins's theses to support his own view that slavery had uprooted the traditionallypaternal black family. "Slavery," he argued, "stripped [blacks] of their African heritage," put themin "a completely dependent role," and "most important of all....vitiated family life."
So too didWilliam Styron portray slaves as victimized and broken in his prize-winning novel,
The Confessionsof Nat Turner
It is no coincidence that the advent of serious studies of slavery was contemporary to theCivil Rights Movement. So influential were the ideologies of that Movement, that historians in theSixties found it increasingly necessary to refute Elkins' thesis. Three in particular, John Blassingamein
The Slave Community
(1972), Eugene Genovese in
Roll, Jordan, Roll
(1974), and HerbertGutman in
The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom
(1976), all effectively did just that. Apartfrom the enormous academic impact, their efforts provided the necessary intellectual groundwork for proponents of black nationalism, who saw no source of pride in a heritage of dehumanization,and for equal rights advocates, who feared that a subtler premise of "cultural deprivation" wouldreplace that of biological inferiority as a new source of racial discrimination.
In devising their arguments, these historians had to build off the premise first assumed byElkins--that within the institution of slavery masters operated as a force
their slaves--andthen show that slaves somehow resisted. Although their theses differed in important nuances, allthree essentially drew on the significance of the slave community and its cultural resources--folklore, music, superstition, and "significant others," like black preachers and conjurors--as
On Herbert Gutman
Published by Random House. See also John Henrick Clarke, ed.,
William Styron's Nat Turner:Ten Black Writers Respond
(New York: Beacon Press, 1968) and George M. Fredrickson,
The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on the Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914
(New York, 1971).
On Herbert Gutman