Discussions of racial problems almost invariably bring out the cliché of “a legacy of slavery.” But anyone who is being serious, as distinguished from being political, would surely want to know if whatever he is talking about — whether fatherless children, crime, or whatever — is in fact a legacy of slavery or of some of the many other things that have been done in the century and a half since slavery ended.
Another cliché that has come into vogue is that slavery is “America’s original sin.” The great Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said that a good catch phrase could stop thinking for fifty years. Catch phrases about slavery have stopped people from thinking, even longer than that.
Today the moral horror of slavery is so widely condemned that it is hard to realize that there were thousands of years when slavery was practiced around the world by people of virtually every race. Even the leading moral and religious thinkers in different societies accepted slavery as just a fact of life.