On his Facebook page,* The King’s College professor Anthony Bradley, keeps this issue alive by asserting that Tony Evans was right to say that African-American families were “a lot stronger” during slavery than now. Although he didn’t break much new ground, Evans later clarified his remarks.
Bradley referred to an excellent book by Herbert Guzman and said:
Here’s the deal. Tony Evans was largely correct. The black family was stronger during slavery *and* Reconstruction. It’s simply not true that slavery was characterized by slave families being split up. While that did happen it was not the norm. To make Evans’ point stronger, the black family was also better off during Jim Crow. It was the 1970s, thanks to LBJ and Nixon, that the black family went South. The people up in arms about Evans must not know that much about the history of slavery in this country.
It is tempting to say to all concerned just read Gutman’s book and leave it at that. I believe Evans and others who take his position are incorrect and I recommend the same book touted by Bradley. Gutman’s interest in his book is responding to Daniel Moynihan’s book, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. Gutman said this about Moynihan’s effort:
Although Moynihan emphasized the importance of unemployment as a cause of family disorganization among lower-class Afro-Americans, he confused the problems of poor blacks in the second half of the twentieth century with those of their great grand-parents in the first half of the nineteenth century. And he misperceived the history of both groups.
Moynihan argued among other things for what Gutman called “the slavery-specific hypothesis,” i.e., that slavery bred a culture of poverty among African-Americans. Critics of the hypothesis responded that if one controlled for income levels the racial differences in families diminished substantially. According to Gutman, critics of the slavery-specific hypothesis did not minimize the harshness and inhumanity of slavery but countered that problems in the African-American family were more related to “massive structural unemployment.” From my reading of the evidence, “massive structural unemployment” can’t be separated from white privilege and structural racism which can’t be separated from the reality of slavery.
In my reading of Gutman, he doesn’t make a case for a stronger African-American family during slavery. He addresses different concerns than which generation was stronger. He makes a case that African-Americans adapted as well as could be expected under the oppression of slavery. He demonstrated that African-Americans worked to maintain marriages and ties to children. However, he also told the truth about the horrors of slavery for slave families. No need to confuse the problems of slave families and modern African-American families with comparisons that do not illuminate the situation of either group.
* A commenter brought this to my attention.