The Sins of their Fathers

I had planned to drop the Apology for Slavery theme — let’s talk about what we can do to improve the lives of all Virginians now instead of wallowing in the past — but the Times-Dispatch published a story yesterday that was so outrageous, I have to respond. Here is the lede paragraph of a story written by Olympia Meola and Pamela Stallsmith:

Del. Frank D. Hargrove Sr., who recently disparaged blacks and Jews with comments about apologizing for slavery, had a great-grandfather who owned a slave.

Unbelievable. Where do we begin?

Let’s start with the “scoop” that Hargrove’s 22-year-old ancestor owned a slave, a 60-year-old woman — a fact revealed by “a search by librarians at The Times-Dispatch and the Library of Virginia.” What does that have to do with anything? Does this fact somehow de-legitimize what Hargrove has to say about apologies for slavery? If so, does it de-legitimize anything that everyone whose ancestors once owned slaves have to say? According to family lore, one of my ancestors, living in Delaware, did own slaves but manumitted them in his will. Does that mean my views carry less weight — four generations after the offense — than the views of someone whose ancestors never owned slaves?

Even the T-D writers are vague about why it matters. They wrote (my italics):

Still, the family connection to slaves did not sway the lawmaker’s opinion. He maintains that he will not support a proposed resolution for a state apology for slavery because he did not own any slaves.

What’s the implication here? That, even though he decries the evils of slavery, Hargrove should be racked with guilt for the actions of a great grandparent? There are people in this country who seriously argue that certain criminals shouldn’t be held fully accountable for their own actions, as in, say, killing someone, on the basis of the He-Was-Depraved-Because-He-Was-Deprived defense. The result: One class of citizens should not be held accountable for crimes they themselves commit, while Del. Hargrove should be morally accountable for an offense that his great grand-father committed.

Then there’s the notion that Hargrove “disparaged” blacks and Jews. No, he did not “disparage” anyone. The T-D lede implies that he made remarks that were insulting, degrading or invidious. He didn’t do that: He made comments that some blacks and Jews from the opposing political party made a loud protest of finding offensive. You can disagree with the notion that blacks should “get over” slavery, but only someone who uses moral indignation as a political weapon would characterize it as “disparaging” of blacks.

Hargrove also likened apologizing for slavery akin to the idea of Christians asking Jews to apologize “for killing Christ.” How does that “disparage” Jews? The clear intent of his message was that Christians should, in fact, “get over it,” that the Jews did not owe an apology. Del. Yet David Englin, D-Alexandria, a Jew, misconstrued Hargrove’s statement as to suggest that he was repeating the charge of Jews as Christ Killers — the absolute opposite of Hargrove’s crystal clear meaning.

Of course, in his era of exquisite political correctness, the matter of historical fact need not even enter the debate. There is not one Christian who reads the Bible or recites the Nicene Creed who would deny that Jesus died at the hands of Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator of Judea. The slander of Jews as “Christ killers” derives from the fact that the High Priests of the Jerusalem temple arrested Jesus, interrogated him, delivered him to Pontius Pilate and then demanded that the Romans, who held the power of capital punishment, execute him. The early Jews never disputed this account. Within a few decades, as we can deduce from the rhetoric of the early Christian Jews, Pharisaic Jews were characterizing Jesus as a fraud and a sorcerer who had it coming. A few centuries later, the Jewish scholars who compiled the Talmud recorded oral accounts in which Jews within the Pharisaic tradition were quite happy to take full credit for executing Jesus — eliminating the intermediary role of Pontius Pilate altogether!

The problem (from our perspective) is not that the temple priests were culpable to some degree for Jesus’ death (a historical fact) but that later generations of Christians use the offenses of long-dead priests, who presided over a temple that had been destroyed by the Romans long before, to tar the entire Jewish faith. In other words, the Christians declared the Jews guilty for the sins of their ancestors.

Hargrove said that’s wrong. In a supreme irony, the T-D now implies that Hargrove is somehow guilty for the sins of his ancestors.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


9 responses to “The Sins of their Fathers”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Interesting point about the nonpoint of Hargrove’s ancestor’s owning slaves. That’s typical TD mindlessness and more evidence of a rudderless, editorless newspaper. But it is Silvestri/Proctor’s idea of front page news.
    Curiously, however, only about 5 percent of all the men who fought for the Confederacy actually owned slaves, at least in the histories I have read. So, when some claim that the South fought to retain slaves, the reality gets a little fuzzy. And, a number who fought didn’t exactly volunteer, but that’s another story that the “Moonlight and Magnolia” types, inluding several Rebellion bloggers, don’t want you to know.

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Do you think that a black man about Hargroves age who grew up in the same county as he did – and went to a separate black school would pretty much agree with what has been said by those who object to the resolution?

    Personally, I DO feel guilt that I got a better education that black people my age got when both of us were in separate and very different schools.

    I didn’t make the decision – but I did benefit unfairly from it.

    Do you think it matters what black folks think about this IF they themselves were descriminated against not only with respect to schools but a host of other things – like separate water fountains, etc?

    I guess what I’m asking is how can any of us who are white presume to know how black folks FEEL about this?

    And if they FEEL different than some of us do – is an agreement to agree to disagree acceptable?

    What can be put on the table – instead – that would bring large scale support from the black community and some degree of healing…

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Maybe that’s the difference between us. I didn’t go to a segregated school. Sounds like you’re exorcising your own inner demons.

  4. Tom James (aka Brave Hart) Avatar
    Tom James (aka Brave Hart)

    All this is now obsolete. According to Harvard Professor Gates, on Charlie Rose, Monday night, geneaological DNA research now gives us the ability to trace our ancestry, without written records.

    It turns out all of us are related! Who knew?

    His PBS special airs Feb 1-8. Opra Winfrey is one of the famous Black Americans he traces the “roots”

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Having attended segregated schools, I would not be at all suprised if I met up with a black man my age who spent his life laboring as a janitor or other work that one ends up in without a high school diploma or education.

    I also would not be suprised that some of HIS counterparts ended up in the hands of the law if they could not get a job.

    The bad stuff hit so close to home that it’s hard for me to look away.

    No personal demons but not hard for me to visualize that 3 miles away is a ramshackle shack heated by wood with 3 generations of family there and one of them could be my age with the same roots in our county but black.

    I’m inclined to take his word on this even if I have quibbles even major misgivings about the wording.

    If that would be his request for me to show him respect for his maltreatmen, I’d probably be inclined.

    there by a quirk of fate, I could have born black and he white…

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    How far do we take PC absurdity? Am I owed an apology because my Irish ancestors were discriminated against?

    My ancestors took care of rich Southern homes during the hot summers, but they never owned anything more valuable than one of those wooden shacks mentioned earlier. No slaves for several generations at least; in fact we were all as poor as slaves, as my grandmother used to say. Who exactly am I to apologize to?

    Am I owed an apology because my great grandmother was an American Indian, and discriminated against? I have relatives who fought on both sides of Word War II, do I need to apologize to myself?

    I’ve read that when I was applying to college, the hardest group to get accepted was a white male, due to quotas and reverse racism. Does someone owe me a Harvard degree?

    I agree we have to deal with the sins of our fathers, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept the blame for those sins. Fix the problem, then move on.

  7. Scofflaw Avatar

    Just want to say that this is the most thoughtful post about the Hargrove debacle I have read yet. The T-D’s reporting has been shamefully biased, executed without objective methods, and is being exploited for political reasons. Keep up the good work Jim.

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Did your Irish ancestors have to drink at separate water fountains in the 1960’s?

    Were they fire hosed and had attack dogs turned lose on them in your lifetime?

    Were your Irish ancestors essentially denied a decent education that would allow them to have a decent job and to bring up their kids insuring that they got a decent education?

    I would AGREE that Indentured Servants were part of our history and that much of it was essentially involuntary servitude but I don’t think I heard of an entire nation of blacks who used whites for indentured servants much less slavery.

    Cultural Counter examples – yes. USA Institutional counter examples – no.

    This is not about apologizing for personal actions.

    I see this like telling someone you are very sorry that their family was attacked by a gang of thugs and that your family was very fortunate to escape harm.

    .. and, oh by the way, the group of thugs were sanctioned by the same State that actually protected you from those same thugs.

    .. in other words .. INSTITUIONAL, STATE-APPROVED bad treatment of their ancestors to cause long-term and lingering generational impacts.

    Indentured Servants was a European practice brought to this country.

    We, as a people, when we rejected and repudiated England and it’s discriminatory class practices to declare – as part of this Country’s vision – Fair and EQUAL Treatment of all people regardless of their heritage.

    … to INCLUDE the Irish .. but not the blacks…. remember – we considered them to NOT be people?

    No.. it’s not YOUR fault nor mine- but you CAN agree that this was very wrong for a government (Va) to foster?

    The Va GA did VOTE to close any school that allowed blacks.

    Now it’s being asked to express a sense of that group with respect to that and other odious practices endorsed by this State.

    They are not asking you and me to apologize.

    Why is there confusion with respect to the difference between a State level apology and a personal apology?

    What harm does it do to YOU if the GA apologizes?

  9. Big Kahuna Avatar
    Big Kahuna

    >Did your Irish ancestors have to drink at separate water fountains in the 1960’s?

    I wasn’t aware there was a statute of limitations on inexcusable acts, but I get your point and concede that being a slave was worse than being repressed, and racism takes many forms. But I wasn’t looking at it as a competition.

    >Were your Irish ancestors essentially denied a decent education that would allow them to have a decent job and to bring up their kids insuring that they got a decent education?


    I’m not saying it wasn’t wrong, of course it was wrong. But Del. Hargrove is not an evil racist for suggesting that an apology from the wrong people to the wrong people is not the best use of resources. It’s counterproductive, and cheapens what an apology actually is. Apologizing for something you never did reeks of hypocrisy and rubber-stamping. You can sympathize, you can be understanding, you can feel regret at what happened. But apologize?

    No, it doesn’t hurt me any if the GA officially apologizes. It doesn’t hurt me any if they don’t. That’s not really the best reason to do or not do something, though.

    My point was more that the GA – and all of us – have better things to do than to debate whether we should apologize for something we all agree was wrong. Otherwise we end up spending all our efforts looking for a new state song (and not getting one) rather than solving the actual issues of racism that still exist.

    That said, it’s probably now a better use of my time to declare victory and retreat.

Leave a Reply