There shall be no neutrals

The ongoing PBS series The American Experience has been praised as “the finest documentary series on television,” and The Abolitionists, broadcast last night, is possibly the finest episode I have ever seen. Behold William Lloyd Garrison, American hero. At the time that he wrote these words in 1831, introducing the first issue of The Liberator, he was virtually alone as a white ally:

There shall be no neutrals. Men shall either like, or dislike me. Let Southern oppressors tremble. Let their Northern apologists tremble. Let all the enemies of the persecuted blacks tremble. On the subject of slavery, I do not wish to write with moderation. I am in earnest. I will not equivocate. I will not excuse. I will not retreat a single inch, and I WILL BE HEARD.

There is a place for incremental change, and compromise, and pragmatism, and respect for a diversity of viewpoints. The enslavement of other human beings by those claiming to be Christians did not – ever – provide such a place. The question of slavery is one of those fundamental moral issues on which there is no legitimate debate. No moral defense of it is possible.

The simple statement of this fact made the dominant class of slave owners, and their apologists, extremely angry. Pay attention to what makes those who enjoy a privileged position over those they hold to be inferior to themselves extremely angry today, and ask yourself why.

You can watch complete episodes of The American Experience online at PBS is a national treasure that must be protected from its detractors.