17 July, 2020

Slavery and the Jews

The compilers have avoided another distinction that most historians regard as crucial--that between primary sources, written at the time, and secondary ones, written later on the basis of the primary sources. The evidence presented in the footnotes consists almost entirely of secondary historical accounts, written mostly by Jews and often in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when Jews newly arrived from Europe were trying to establish themselves as full participants in their new country. At that time many of those immigrants saw the African slave trade and slavery as a key feature of the American experience, and participation in it as truly American. In fact, it was.
Many of these early Jewish-American writers thus missed the hideousness and the tragedy of what they were describing. Even Korn's 1961 article today seems downright blind to the suffering of the victims of the slave trade and their descendants. Since then, however, Jewish-American scholars have written some of the best studies of the internal workings of African-American slave communities in North America, and have been applauded by many African-American scholars for their understanding.