To me, from now, from here, slavery seems so improbable. Not informal, chance slavery like bringing home a captured souvenir from winning a war; but institutionalized slavery. It requires a belief that the slaves aren't really as human as the owners – how does someone do that to a person they are living with every day (and, more than sometimes, having sex with), it requires complex laws to define who are the slaves and who are the owners, it requires an huge infrastructure to keep the slaves from escaping, it must, I think, require a preoccupation that permeates every part of society.
That is why the whole concept of slavery in the south is abhorrent but not really real. And that is why a post, entitled Honoring CHM: One Drop, on Ta-Nehisi Coates's blog, is so horrific. With little commentary, it shows a picture of eight people and reprints a letter asking for money to educate them. They are emancipated slaves.- eight individual, traumatized, human beings.
The letter describes each one of the people with passages like this
Wilson Chinn is about 60 years old, he was "raised" by Isaac
Howard of Woodford County, Kentucky. When 21 years old he was taken
down the river and sold to Volsey B. Marmillion, a sugar planter about
45 miles above New Orleans. This man was accustomed to brand his
negroes, and Wilson has on his forehead the letters "V. B. M." Of the
210 slaves on this plantation 105 left at one time and came into the
Union camp. Thirty of them had been branded like cattle with a hot iron,
four of them on the forehead, and the others on the breast or arm.