View From The Bottom Rail
– Slavery Essay, Research Paper
January 29, 2001
HIS 2112 Dr. Harris
A View From the Bottom Rail
The View From the Bottom Rail is a document dealing with the ways in which historians have tried to recover the newly freed slaves’ feelings and point of view after the Civil War. In almost every way, it is impossible to determine what the slaves really thought and felt about slavery and their masters because of the lack of proper evidence. With the evidence presented, readers are left to decide for themselves the feelings that the slaves possessed.
When I read this document, I felt the true point of view from the slaves is best documented by the oral testimony of African Americans themselves. Even though the story may vary from interviewer to interviewer, at least we are getting true statement from a real slave who endured slavery, and not from someone who did not. When reading some of the accounts from northern white sources and the way they observed the slaves celebrate Christianity, it makes me think of ignorance. The white sources stated that the “shouts” that slaves attended were “..the most hideous and at the same time the most pitiful sight I ever witnessed”. At the time, the white people believe that anyone who did not worship Christianity in the same way that they did was considered as savage and not right. It disturbs me that people criticize one another for the way they celebrate a faith that is of the same kind. The slaves and white people both believed in Christianity and that should have been a tie that would bring them closer together. Unfortunately, ignorance is a problem that struck and is here to stay.
After reading this document, it made me think about different cultures and about how I, myself, have criticized and given false documentation of people from different cultures and backgrounds. I believe that the best way to gather evidence is to go straight to the source. In this document, the historians are coming in contact with written prejudice and unreliable sources and the best evidence that they can rely upon is the accounts from the African Americans. I believe that not all of the southern and northern accounts of slavery during the civil war were meant as racist comments, but just as ignorance.
The View From The Bottom Rail is an excellent documentation of the detective work that historians have put into solving the mysteries of the point of view of the slaves during and after the Civil War. A feeling of grief came over me when I read the statement “I was right smart bit by de freedom bug for awhile.” Charlie Davenport, reflecting the black experience, said this statement. It is sorrowful that even though freedom had come to a nation, many slaves still had to settle for a view from the bottom rail.