The View from the Bottom Rail Essay

Davidson and Lytle pose an interesting inquiry about racial and category perceptual experiences in their chapter entitled “The View from the Bottom Rail. ” Seeking to show that our apprehension of what it meant to be a slave is far from complete. they ask the reader to see context. outlook. and caste in order to get at a more complete apprehension of the “peculiar establishment. ” This societal history efforts to supplement. and possibly even refashion. our apprehension of bondage.

One of the first elements of their analysis is to concentrate on untraditional topics. Historians have so frequently used members of the highest societal categories to inform their work that the consequence was obviously unidimensional. This prejudice was in big portion due to the production of primary beginnings ; so called “bottom railers” did non go forth much by manner of written or documental grounds for the research worker to see in her analysis. Our apprehension of bondage has come mostly from white histories.

It is easy to see how this apprehension could be skewed. as the authors’ usage of the Squires Jackson illustration so clearly suggests. Simple endurance dictated that slaves would misdirect Masterss. Beliefs in white high quality meant that Masterss would fabricate a world instead than accept actions that challenged it. The writers provide ample stuffs. both primary and secondary. to show the white position of bondage.

The development of unwritten history during the Great Depression offered great hope to historiographers that a restorative to the white/class prejudice of the yesteryear had been found. The Federal Writers’ Project included a subdivision whose undertaking was to interview former slaves. Here. at last. was the word of slaves about their status: The American Slave: A Composite Biography filled 19 volumes.

But Davidson and Lytle suggest that thre are a figure of methodological concerns that should do us to near this aggregation with a grade of incredulity. They besides identify a figure of beginnings that describe the methods of carry oning unwritten history. including one of peculiar involvement to pupils at the University of South Dakota. Dr. Ramon Harris. who taught at the USD History Department. authored one of the books they include in their bibliography.

Caution should steer us when sing any unwritten history beginning. Might at that place be built-in choice prejudices? Are the interviews drawn from a cross-section of slave provinces? Were the subjects’ memories clear? Is at that place a cross-section of age groups? Have subconscious or witting “cues” influenced replies? It is apparent that one must utilize such grounds in concurrence with other types.

Nowhere are these jobs more evident than in the two interviews conducted with Susan Hamlin. In the first. conducted by a white adult female named Jesse Butler. prima inquiries are asked of the topic. In add-on. the Butler led Hamlin to believe that she was from the public assistance office. Two critical influences are instantly at drama: a black adult female in a racially segregated society where inkinesss are often lynched and the marks of day-to-day racial slurs can non afford to antagonise a white adult female. so she is inclined to state Butler what she thinks the interviewer wants to hear. Second. the Butler’s purported place at the public assistance bureau may be something that can profit Hamlin if her replies please Butler. Such a moral force is non one to animate an accurate history of the yesteryear.

The grounds that this is in fact what happened comes from a 2nd interview. Although there is non conclusive cogent evidence that Augustus Ladson. the 2nd interviewer. was black. there is obliging circumstantial grounds that leads one to that decision. And that fact led Hamlin to supply a more blunt and critical history of bondage than she had given Butler.

Or did it? The writers suggest that there was an every bit forceful outlook that Ladson would desire to hear a certain type of history. Although Hamlin had nil to fear or derive from Ladson. there was still ground to augment her narrative.

It would look that the lesson of this chapter is to exert cautiousness and a healthy. although non enervating. grade of incredulity when we approach grounds. We must be cognizant of its virtues every bit good as its restrictions.