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Open letter to E.W. Jackson:

Historians may disagree on who originally articulated the statement “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Some credit this quote to Abraham Lincoln while others claim it was the wisdom of Mark Twain. What is not in doubt is that a wise and judicious man would be well served to follow this sage advice; clearly, Earl Walker (E.W.) Jackson is neither wise nor judicious.

Jackson, who is the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Virginia, recently made the astonishingly ignorant, historically inaccurate statement, “Slavery did not destroy the black family.”

While making his case that it was government programs of the 1960s that caused “the black family to deteriorate,” Jackson went on to say that slavery made it “difficult” to keep black families intact. Believing that I must have misunderstood the GOP candidate, I replayed his full speech no less than ten times before accepting the fact that my ears were not deceiving me. How is it possible that anyone could be this ill-informed, this unacquainted with historical facts and this willing to put his ignorance on display for the entire world to ingest?

It’s hard to believe that one needs to educate a Harvard-educated attorney and Christian minister, but please allow me to offer my assistance. By its very nature slavery was the destruction of the black family. The countless people who were brutally and callously captured into slavery were not willing participants. They were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, beloved family members of every type. The destruction of their families began when they were captured, taken from their homeland and sold into slavery.

Once in the new land, these people were no longer … people; they were simply property. Property to be inspected, sold, bartered, haggled over and exchanged just as one would a farm animal. They lost their language, their gods, their families, their sense of safety, even their names. Because they were only property they were often made to “mate” so as to create other small pieces of property (called children) and these small pieces of property were often sold. This, Bishop Jackson, will destroy a family.

If these pieces of property, these slaves, dared dream of having something more, of being something more, if they ever attempted to obtain freedom, they suffered incalculable and unimaginable brutality. They were hunted down by dogs, beaten, mutilated and killed. They were publicly hanged so that all the other pieces of property would know to never dare dream of freedom. Mothers and fathers were forced to watch as their children hung like strange fruit swaying in the southern breeze. They were not allowed to read (even the Bible), to speak before being spoken to, to touch or at times even look upon their owners without first being granted permission. Mothers were made to leave their own children to tend to the children of their masters, and all were fed and allowed to rest as their masters saw fit. Many, in fact most, lived out their entire lives on the master’s plantation doing the master’s bidding, and working to realize only the master’s dreams.

Bishop Jackson, surely you must realize this will destroy a family. In your speech, you said your great-grandparents were born slaves in Orange County; you went on to say that they were an “intact family.” Allow me to state the obvious: your great-grandparents’ family remained intact for the same reason any slave family remained intact — because their master chose not to sell them and separate them one from another.

Slaves had no control over their families or their fate. Imagine being a mother and having your child ripped from your arms to be sold and never seen again. Imagine being a husband or father knowing your wife or daughter is being repeatedly raped yet having no power to defend them. Imagine watching the person you love most in the world violently beaten, humiliated and degraded, knowing that, not only can you not defend your loved one, but that a similar or worse fate awaits you if you even look the master in the eye. So you just eat it; you eat the pain, the degradation, the agony, the unjustness, the violence, the humiliations, the brutality, the squalor and the selling of your loved ones. This, Bishop Jackson, was the purposeful destruction of the black family. Reasonable people can discuss the negative or positive impacts of governmental social programs on society. Reasonable people can disagree if this program or that program assisted this family or that family or made them too dependent on the government. When you are willing to have those rational, fact-based discussions Bishop Jackson, I’m sure many scholars will be happy to join you in that debate. However, no reasonable, rational, thinking person can concur with your statement that “Slavery did not destroy the black family.” It did. And if you honestly can’t realize that obvious, harsh reality, you are not fit for public office.

Let me close by speaking to you as one Christian to another. Please go read Proverbs 17:28. “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.” Bishop Jackson, for the love of God please hold your tongue or all might think you a fool.

Phyllis Randall, Leesburg

Phyllis Randall is a community advocate in Loudoun County. She is the immediate past chairwoman and current vice chairwoman of Virginia’s Fair Housing Board. Randall was appointed by Gov. Tim Kaine and retained by Gov. Bob McDonnell.