With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

The Columnist Who Thinks African-Americans Should Be Grateful Their Ancestors Were Enslaved

A Seattle-area columnist has drawn the fire of more than a thousand complaining readers upset with her suggestion that African-Americans should be grateful their ancestors were enslaved and brought to America.

The column, by Adele Ferguson, was published in the Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal (KPBJ) on March 13, 2006. In the article Ferguson argued that black Americans should abandon the Democratic Party, claiming it doesn't have their true interests at heart.

“It mystifies me why the black population remains in thrall to the Democratic party,” she wrote, asserting that slavery was a blessing in disguise for black people, as it brought them to North America from Africa, giving them -- or at least their descendants – many new opportunities. “I have long urged blacks to consider their presence here as the work of God, who wanted to bring them to this raw, new country and used slavery to achieve it,” she wrote. Fifteen hundred readers, most of them outside the Kitsap area, wrote in to complain.

Ferguson, who is white, opened her column by saying, “I hope to see a shift in the attitudes of so many of my black brothers and sisters in this great country we share, from perpetual victimhood, to pride in their achievement on the road from slave to American citizen.”. She later wrote that black people need to leave the Democratic Party in order to more fully enjoy their place in this society. She argued that the Democratic Party does not best represent the needs of black people, especially in regard to public education.

In the days following the column’s publication the newspaper received more than 1,500 emails, according to a letter written by KPBJ Editor Lary Coppola to reader Walt Crowley, a Seattle historian. Crowley had asked if anyone on the paper’s staff had read the column before publishing it. He charged that the column was “the most appallingly racist, ignorant, and just plain stupid essay [he had] ever read.”

Coppola said KPBJ does not “condone the point of view expressed by Ms. [Ferguson], but we do believe in the First Amendment which celebrates free speech and diversity of thought. While Ms. Ferguson has the right to express her opinion, it's just that, HER opinion.” He insisted that even if he had wanted to censor the column he couldn't: “Ms. Ferguson's column is editorial material we buy, and are contractually obligated to run, unedited.”

Ferguson wrote in her column that black people need to move on from the fact that their ancestors were enslaved on this continent. She wrote that while life as a slave was certainly difficult, “many immigrants suffered hardships and indignations as indentured servants. Their descendants rose above it. You don’t hear them bemoaning their forbearer’s life the way some blacks can’t rise above the fact [that] theirs were slaves.”

While recognizing that black people now and in the past only want to be respected, she feels that “too many have yet to realize that to get respect, you have to give it.” She then discussed the treatment of President Bush at Coretta King’s funeral – treatment which she feels was shameful, especially in light of the treatment given to former President Clinton.

Because the article featured such unusual opinions, Crowley voiced concerns in his letter to Coppola that the column would reflect poorly on Kitsap County and negatively affect its businesses. Perhaps sharing Crowley’s concerns, KPBJ took down links to the column on its website, which may have had the effect of limiting media coverage of the column and the controversy surrounding it, which was limited mostly to online venues.

Crowley, summing up what was clearly the general consensus of the readers who emailed the paper, observed, “that you would publish it in the sixth year of the 21st century is only the more appalling -- and inexcusable.”

Related Links:
  • The column was pulled from the newspaper website, but you can view a scanned version here, and read the newspaper's comments here