Media Center: ‘Problem of Slavery…’ by David Brion Davis

Media Center: ‘Problem of Slavery…’ by David Brion Davis

WHO: David Brion Davis


WHEN: Published by Knopf February 10, 2014

WHERE: The author lives near New Haven, CT.

WHY: “This is a book of surpassing importance.
“This magisterial volume concludes Davis’s three-volume study of the intellectual, cultural, and moral realities of slavery in the West since classical times. The dean of slavery historians and Yale emeritus professor, Davis has always seen the problem of slavery as a ‘problem of moral perception’ requiring ‘disciplined moral reflection.’
“Concentrating in this book on Britain and the US, he takes readers through the Civil War. His focus here is the central importance of the Haitian Revolution, of free blacks throughout the world, and of failed American efforts to colonize freed people in other lands—subjects too little emphasized in earlier histories. Differentiating himself from most other historians of slavery, Davis stresses the profound complexities of slavery’s existence, the unintended consequences of approaches to ending it, and the contingencies that accompanied its end in the US and elsewhere.
“In stately prose and with unparalleled command of his subject, he offers a profound historical examination of the termination of servitude in the West—a termination that, however, failed to end slavery’s accompanying racism, whose consequences remain with us still.” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, a starred review

“This is a well-researched and broad historical and global analysis of the complex motives and actions on all fronts, highlighting the transcontinental tension between efforts by white society to dehumanize and the fight by freedmen and slaves for freedom, full humanity, and citizenship.”
—Vanessa Bush, in a starred review for BOOKLIST

Jacket photo. . . . .

From the preface of this book: During the decades it took to write this trilogy on “The Problem of Slavery”—this volume was preceded by The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (1966) and The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution (1975)— people repeatedly asked me, “What led to your great interest in race and slavery?” It therefore seems appropriate to begin this final volume with a fairly brief reply.

Given the national racial segregation of my childhood and youth, it is not surprising that while I and my parents made eight interstate moves across the country, and I attended five high schools in four years, I never shared a classroom with an African American. After turning eighteen, in early 1945, I became exposed to the appalling racism of the Jim Crow South, where I received months of combat training for the invasion of Japan. After the war unexpectedly ended, I found myself on a large troopship bound for Europe. Though seasick, I was ordered to take a club, go down into the hold, and keep the “jiggaboos” from gambling. In this highly segregated army, I had never dreamed there were any blacks on the ship. But after descending a long winding staircase, I came upon what I imagined a slave ship would have looked like. Hundreds and hundreds of near-naked blacks jammed together, many of them shooting craps. After answering the question “What you doin’ down here, white boy?,” I hid in the shadows for four hours until relieved of “duty.”

Media Resources:
About the book | About the author | Download the jacket or the author photo

Publicist for this title:
Michelle Somers | 212-572-2082 |