Sunday, July 7, 2013

Civil War Sunday - Paula Deen and the Civil War

Next week we mark the 150th anniversary of the start of a terrible riot in New York City.  On July 13, 1863, an event related to the Civil War...well, you'll have to come back to read more about it.

But something that is happening now, in our United States, has echoes of the event now called the New York Draft Riots. It won't be commemorated next week in the same way that famous battles, such as Gettysburg, were, which is why I need to blog about it. 

But first, back to the present.

By now, if you are an American, you have heard of a woman by the name of Paula Dean.  Many of us are probably sick of hearing about her, and I don't intend to add any fuel (to to speak) to the fires that are already burning.  But the fact that this fire is burning at all is proof, as I have said too many times, that we are still fighting the Civil War (just less physically) here in the United States.

Just go on any of the thousands of web sites carrying coverage (of any sort) of the Paula Dean controversy and read the comments.  The articles themselves may be of some interest but it's the comments that will really interest you.

I have a number of fans abroad (thank you!), so let me briefly explain who Paula Dean is.  She is a celebrity chef, restaurant owner, creator of various lines of cooking equipment that, until recently, were sold in major department stores, and is basically a one woman industry.  Paula has (or, actually, had) several cooking shows on a cable network called The Food Network.

She has an awful lot of fans in this country who love her decadent, butter-heavy recipes.  I may not eat in that style, but I also believe in personal responsibility, so if you want to check out her recipes, "go for it".

She and her family are responsible for a lot of tourism to Savannah, Georgia, a city I last visited in March of this year, and a city that I love.

Paula being in the news started with a former restaurant manager suing Paula and her brother for racial harassment and another kind of harassment I can not mention in a "G" rated blogging competition.  In a deposition for the lawsuit, Ms. Deen admitted to using a word I would have been severely punished for using in my childhood, but also a word that is still way too commonly used in this nation.  As a result, Paula Deen has lost her contract with the Food Network and is quickly losing endorsements and other contracts.

She has kept a lot of her fan base, and I can say that she has a lot of fans in upstate New York, where I live.  A lot of people feel for her plight.  But, by now, you are asking "what does Paula Dean have to do with the Civil War?"

Paula Dean had ancestral relatives who were slave owners.  Don't be shocked by this; most people who lived between the founding of our country (and prior!) and the Civil War era (1861-1865) benefited either directly or indirectly by slavery.  And then there were the slaves - let's not forget about them.

With that in mind, listen to portions of the interview.

Paula Deen's great grandfather committed suicide after the Civil War. He was despondent.  His life was ruined.  And, his "30 workers" ran away.

Those 30 workers weren't workers except in the loosest definition of the word.  They were SLAVES,  human chattel, to use and abuse however the owner wished.  Perhaps Paula Deen's great grandfather didn't abuse his slaves (if you ignore the fact that enslaving people is abuse), but the truth is, they weren't "workers".   So, Paula seriously can not utter that word that describes what those workers were.

No, I don't mean the N word.

Instead, she can't utter the S word.  You know, Slave.  As in "yes, my family owned other human beings at one time". 30 were a lot?  How about one? Many descendents of slave owners have faced that part of their geneology.  Many others haven't. I can't speak for the descendents of said slaves but they can speak just fine for themselves.

Don't tell me those workers were like family, Paula.  Yes, humans thrown into circumstances shared with other humans form bonds.  But, what does that tell you, that those 30 workers ran away after the war.  You're surprised?  They were slaves and now they were free.  Free like you and me, to make something of the rest of their lives.  And they obviously (to use another cliche) voted with their feet.

Our country has a long way to go.  Race relations are a delicate topic. It remains delicate.  Will the Paula Deen episode allow us to finally lance that boil upon the skin of our nation?  I doubt it.

Next week:  the New York Draft riots.


  1. The one silver lining in the whole Paula Deen thing is that it has shown how far our country has come in the past several decades.

    At one time, people would have shrugged and said, "What's the big deal?" when it comes to something like this. The public's reaction to this story makes it obvious that this sort of behavior is no longer socially acceptable. Thank goodness!

  2. Stopping by from UBC

    Please don't forget that there were black slave owners as well.

    Indeed, human slave trafficking is still alive and well on a global scale. As long as man will continue to dehumanize another human being, we will continue to have this challenge.

    Peggy Nolan

    1. Peggy, it is a fact that a number of free blacks in the antebellum South owned slaves. This can be substantiated, I understand, through U.S. Census records. Some may have been owned as "slaves on paper only" but I think it is beyond dispute that many were owned (used and mistreated) as actual slaves. The Cherokee Native American Nation (and several other Native American groups) also owned slaves. Today, slavery still exists-and yes, illegally, in the United States. That situation is sickening.

  3. I hadn't heard of her (oh dear) thanks to your post I am now enlightened!I imagine that there are millions of descendants from slave owners (including people in England)
    It was a very interesting post!

    1. Slavery existed around the world back in 1861-1865 - and, sadly, it still exists today.

  4. Sad, just sad. The issue of human slavery is a current Global issue and true, we still have a long way to go to make this wrong a right.

  5. I had heard that there was stuff with her but didn't keep up with it. I do find your thoughts interesting though. There is still a lot of racial issues in our society especially in the south where she is from. Oh that we would realize that we are all created in God's image and worthy of acceptance and love.

  6. Very interesting. Until we all stand up and say "no more" this will continue. IN some ways we have progressed so far, but in others we are centuries behind.

  7. I've been hearing alot about Paula Dean lately with no idea who she is or why. Thank you so much for clearing that up for me!

  8. I recently learned that one of my ancestors owned slaves, which surprised me because he was a Mennonite who had moved to Maryland from Pennsylvania, and Mennonites were taught that slavery was evil, but perhaps that was later. I felt a twinge of shame when I read about this ancestor, even though at least two of my other ancestors were active on the Underground Railroad.

    But as far as Ms. Deen saying "workers," that probably shows she is a little ashamed to say "slaves," and that's not necessarily bad. Shame is a sign that we know it's wrong. And I am hopeful because the younger people know that racism is uncool, at least.

  9. As a journalist, historian, and ethicist I take issue with the conclusions you attempt to draw with this article. I went back and checked the 'facts' that you use to support your argument and I found some discrepancies. The most notable being the reason John Batts committed suicide. The assumption that the suicide was due to the emancipation of his slaves is unfounded and unsupported. He committed suicide thirteen years after the end of the Civil War, and without proof of a suicide note it is inexcusable to speculate as to why anyone would take their own life. The second issue I take with your article is the biased and accusatory tone. As a blogger you reserve the right to present only one side of the story. But, as a fan of the 13th and 14th amendments you should also keep in mind the 5th and 6th amendments. Paula Deen has not been found guilty in a court of law, only the court of public opinion. The most concerning issue I have with this article is the line you attempt to draw between ancestral slave ownership and present day racism. It is impossible to defend the theory that being related to slave owners causes racism. As a last point you spelled her name wrong throughout the entire article. It is Paula Deen, not Paula Dean.

  10. Perhaps one silver lining of the whole "Paula" situation is furthering discussion. Very, very good post on a delicate subject, Alana.


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