Editor: I am writing in response to all of those who are trying to excuse or minimize a negative interpretation of the statement made by School Board member John Beatty (Catoctin District): “It was worse for African Americans after reconstruction because they did not have the patronage of the master.”
“Patronage is the support, encouragement, privilege or financial aid that an organization or individual bestows to another.” (Wikipedia)There is not one word in this definition that can be applied to the master-slave relationship.There was no support or encouragement.There was no privilege or financial aid.Nothing was “bestowed.”Food and shelter were provided to the extent necessary for the master to continue to obtain free labor.
I cannot conceive of any context in which the use of the word “patronage” is acceptable.The slave was property and the master was entitled to treat the slave in any way he chose to.The master dictated every aspect of the slave’s life and did so for his own benefit.The master could whip slaves—even causing their death—and this was acceptable under the legal system.The master could sell off the spouse or children of a slave.A slave could not choose to leave the “patronage” of the master.The slave was not entitled to “life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness,” which we consider to be fundamental to our life in the United States of America.
Life was very difficult for former slaves during Reconstruction.But worse?Does one prefer to be a human being or property?A human being can have hope for a better future. Property is denied human emotions such as hope.
One can find individual former slaves who expressed their opinion that their life was harder after slavery. But this is not because slavery was better or because of the patronage of the master.It was because former slaves were not paid a decent wage for their labor.It was because it had been illegal to teach a slave to read and write or to acquire skills necessary for a life that was not controlled by another.It was because the law did not accord them their basic human rights. There are many reasons why life was hard for former slaves, but I would not put “patronage of the master” on that list of reasons.
The use of the word “patronage” invokes the image of a kindly master.This image is false in every way and does nothing but allow some people to excuse the reality of slavery and the Confederacy. John Beatty’s statement is abhorrent and contributes to the myths that continue to be perpetuated.He ought not to have a say in the functioning of a committee dealing with issues of equity in the 21st century.Brenda Sheridan has made the right decision and those School Board members who sought to avoid confronting this issue head on did not.
Patti Maslinoff, Leesburg