An Open Letter to Bill O’Reilly, who clearly doesn’t understand basic American history.

Bill. Honey. Are you for real?

Let me repeat:
Are you for fucking REAL?

Because NO. NO, THEY WERE NOT WELL FED. NO, THEY DID NOT HAVE DECENT LODGINGS PROVIDED.

Perhaps they had ENOUGH food provided to fill them up (this is heavily debated in the sources I have found), but what they received certainly wasn’t a balanced, nutritional diet — not even close! They got the leftovers from the master’s house, the offcuts, the bits nobody wanted. Slave diets were primarily pork (and even that was mostly fat) and cornmeal. No good quality protein, no calcium, no magnesium, no iron. Kids were born calcium-, magnesium-, and iron-deficient, and these deficiencies only got worse as they grew — plantation owners believed a good diet for children was “mostly cornbread, hominy, and fat.” (Kiple and Kiple, http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/3786390.pdf, 1977) Vegetables weren’t considered “proper” food for slave children. Northern and pregnant slaves suffered from vitamin D deficiency both due to lack of Vitamin-D-rich food and lack of proper sun exposure. Kiple and Kiple call the slave child’s diet “nutritionally disastrous.” And they’re not fucking wrong.

I am FOUR GODDAMN PAGES into this 28-page article on nutrient deficiencies in slave children, and already I want to punch your smug face, Bill. You need to go back to school and re-learn your antebellum history. How can you sit there and tell me that these slaves were well-fed when they have a nutritionally disastrous diet???

Contemporary Southern physicians thought there was a “package of Negro diseases.” Slaves and slave children had higher incidences of dental problems and bone and skin complaints, higher likelihood of contracting infectious diseases, and higher chances of dying young. Descriptions of runaway slaves mention bandy legs, horrible teeth, splotchy skin, jaundiced complexions. Not just a few. Hundreds of accounts from over a hundred plantations all throughout the South. And you want to say they’re well fed?! Why don’t you survive on that cornbread, hominy, and fat diet, Bill, and tell me how you’re feeling after a year. Hell, even after a month!

As for housing, the article I found focuses on the greater Washington, DC area, but I think you can reasonably extrapolate and assume similar conditions for Southern slaves as well. The author describes their housing as “one-room log pens,” when the majority of white American homes had multiple rooms. If they weren’t housed in those one-room buildings, they were lodged above their workspaces in the back of the lot. Out of sight, out of mind, right? By the 1850s there were large shanty towns in Southern cities housing both free and slave Black Americans. (Vlach, http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/40073209.pdf, 1994)

It’s honestly hard to find good articles on actual slave housing, the stuff that was far more common than the neat and tidy quarters that stand today. What survives has done so only by virtue of being constructed with better materials. The slave quarters you might see at a plantation today do not in any way invoke the true appearance of slave quarters over a hundred and fifty years ago. For one, you’re missing the sounds, the smells, the people themselves. For two, we don’t know what’s been destroyed by time. We might be able to figure it out archaeologically and through pictures and descriptions from the 1800s, but time machines don’t exist yet.

So, Bill, until you’ve seen with your own damn eyes the buildings the slaves who built the White House lived in, don’t you dare try to tell me (or any other person on the planet, for that matter) that the slaves upon whose backs America was built were well-fed and well-housed. A majority of them were treated horribly — and even if they lucked out on getting a decent master, if you fed a modern child nothing but cornbread, hominy, and fat, CPS would take that kid away from you. It’s abuse, pure and simple.

Christ, dude, this isn’t even my field of history, but you said something stupid and I had JSTOR access, and so you get angry Em. I didn’t even need sources to prove you wrong (take a look at any decent college-level American history text published within, oh, the last fifty years?) but hey, a guy like you (who makes outrageous claims with notoriously biased sources to back you up) probably would wonder where I got my information. At least mine is peer-reviewed.

Bill, darling, you can’t be one of the great demagogues of our time with bad information. All it does is make you look like an idiot. The conservative version of history is based in incorrect information, bad research, and the ideology of the ones telling it. Reality has a liberal basis, sweetheart, and every last bit of my peer-reviewed information concurs.

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