Outrage at 'contented slave' view of history

January 8, 1999

A small college in the American South has bowed to pressure from civil rights groups and cancelled a course that argued slaves were content with their lot.

The course, called "North Carolina History: Our Part in the War for Southern Independence", claimed that slaves were happy in captivity, loyal to the South and not particularly interested in being liberated by the North in the civil war (1861-1865).

Teachers were drawn from a southern heritage group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which bases its claims on contemporary diary entries by northern and southern whites and 1930s interviews with former slaves.

News of the assertion provoked national outrage from the pre-eminent black civil rights organisation, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Rev George Allison, director of the North Carolina Branch of the NAACP, said: "It's derogatory toward the African-American community, and it has a negative impact on our future."

Despite the criticism, administrators of the Randolph Community College in Archdale, North Carolina, initially stood behind the course, whose curriculum they had approved.

College president Larry K Linker said: "Randolph supports an open educational atmosphere where varying views may be presented that are not necessarily the views of the college."

But when the United States Commission on Civil Rights invited historians and other civil war experts to counter the claims, Mr Linker abruptly cancelled the course.

"We would never intentionally set up any class that is offensive to anyone in our community," he said. "Obviously this class has done that. Therefore, we are going to step back and take a close look at it and at our process of approving courses. Although we remain committed to the ideals of academic freedom, that freedom should not allow any course that hurts the very people we are trying to serve."

Southern conservatives have blasted the decision and said the school had caved in to political correctness.

"We cannot allow political correctness to rewrite history or wipe out our heritage," said course instructor Jack Perdue.

The Southern Legal Resource Center, a group specialising in litigation involving Southern heritage issues, has also protested.

The centre's associate director Neill Payne said: "The fact that the school has decided to cancel this class demonstrates the ability of the forces of intimidation to stifle academic freedom."

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