Historian Barbara Fields


Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Retired Moderator
Dec 31, 2009
Smack dab in the heart of Texas
I only saw her on Ken Burns Civil War, but I got confused. At varying times, she made multiple self contradictory statements about the war.

Well, you get interviewed and then someone else edits, so I've learned to take these things with a grain of salt. What in particular struck you?

Her credentials are impressive.

John Hartwell

Forum Host
Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts
In Race -- the Power of an Illusion, Ms Fields points out a very important concept regarding American slavery:

"There is no need to justify bondage in a society in which everybody stands in the relationship of inherited subordination to someone else: servant to master, serf to nobleman, vassal to overlord, overlord to kings, and king to king of kings.​

"It required, I argue, extraordinary circumstances to make people think that slavery called for any rationale beyond the common sense. And so it was the prevalence of freedom rather than the fact of slavery that created the extraordinary situation calling for the extraordinary invention that American racial ideology represents. English people might find Africans and their descendants to be heathen in religion, outlandish in nationality, and weird in appearance but that did not become a ideology of racial inferiority until one further ingredient became part of the mixture, and that was the incorporation of Africans and their descendants into a polity and society in which they lacked rights that others not only took for granted, but claimed as a matter of self-evident natural law. That is why the slave society of the United States was the only one in the hemisphere that developed a systematic pro-slavery doctrine. You don't find that anywhere else. Bondage does not need justifying as long as it seems to be the natural order of things. You need a radical affirmation of bondage only where you have a radical affirmation of freedom."​