American Institutional And Intellectual Life

1455 Words Nov 21st, 2016 6 Pages
The issue of slavery in the United States has been hotly debated for centuries. Historians continuously squabble over the causes and effects of America’s capitalistic, industrial form of slavery. But two of the most heavily discussed questions are whether the institution of slavery destroyed African culture in America, and whether it reduced slaves to a child-like state of dependency and incompetence. Anthropologist Melville Herskovits, and historian Stanley Elkins both weigh in on this debate: Herskovits with, The Myth of the Negro Past, and Elkins with, Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life. In, Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life, Elkins asserts that African culture was all but destroyed by a repression of the slaves’ rights, at the hands of their masters. He claims that complete dependence on their masters and a lack of collective cultural identity and family bonds, reduced slaves to a child-like state of helplessness and ignorance, and childish behavior called the ‘Sambo’. Herskovits takes a different stance in this debate. In, The Myth of the Negro Past, he claims that African culture was not completely destroyed by slavery, and that the ‘Sambo’ stereotype was no more than a myth or at least a gross generalization. He uses slave revolts and the persistence of African culture in American in music, dance, and language as evidence to prove this. Stanley Elkins argues in, Slavery: A Problem in American…
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