The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Anti-Gay Group Decides Slave Children Weren’t Really Better Off

By Robert Steinback on July 12, 2011 - 2:35 pm, Posted in Anti-LGBT

All right, all right, so maybe the black family wasn’t better off during slavery. That’s the latest from a religious right organization that meant to attack same-sex marriage.

The conservative pro-family organization called THE FAMiLY LEADER (TFL) last week boldly issued a sweeping 14-point candidate pledge by which office-seekers would declare “a Dependence on MARRIAGE and FAMILY.” Entitled “The Marriage Vow,” the document’s original language included an astonishingly ham-fisted evaluation of black children born out of wedlock, suggesting that life for black children was better in bondage because both parents were more often present then than now: “Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.”

Critics had a field day. “A good rule of thumb for empathizing with black Americans is avoiding suggestions that we were better off as property,” blogger Adam Serwer wrote at The American Prospect. Baratunde Thurston, co-founder of Jack & Jill Politics, wrote, “Who in the world thinks bringing up slavery to defend family is a good idea?” Thurston sarcastically pointed out that if one insisted on carrying the tortured logic a bit further, slaves could be seen as beneficiaries of free housing, health care and board, not to mention experiencing zero unemployment, plus plenty of fresh air and exercise.

Even many conservatives, some of whom tend to gush over political pledges, balked at this one. Blogger Mack Rawden, at the website Pop Blend, wrote, “I’ll throw my vote away to a third party before I help anyone who signs this disgusting Marriage Vow. … The Marriage Vow is not only stupid, it’s hateful, illogical and hypocritical. It pretends to defend the rights of some by pissing all over the rights of others.”

Two days after The Marriage Vow’s introduction, and after considerable bad press, the paragraph in question disappeared from the text posted on TFL’s website. What had started out as a public-relations attention-grabber had withered into an earnest, yet still oddly tentative, expression of contrition.

“After careful deliberation and wise insight and input from valued colleagues we deeply respect,” TFL said in a statement, “we agree that the statement referencing children born into slavery can be misconstrued, and such misconstruction can detract from the core message of the Marriage Vow: that ALL of us must work to strengthen and support families and marriages between one woman and one man. We sincerely apologize for any negative feelings this has caused, and have removed the language from the vow.”

That retraction did nothing for critics like Daily Kos blogger “Christian Dem in NC,” who wrote, “A ‘misconstruction’?  A ‘misconstruction’?  You suggest that even as blacks grew up without freedom or human dignity, they at least had two parents – and you call that just a ‘misconstruction’?  Sorry, but as a black myself, I find this ‘apology’ almost as insulting as the original statement.”

In a phone interview, TFL spokeswoman Julie Summa told Politico’s Maggie Haberman: “We came up with the pledge and so we had no idea that people would misconstrue that. It was not meant to be racist or anything. It was just a fact that back in the days of slavery there was usually a husband and a wife … we were not saying at all that things are better for African-American children in slavery days than today.”

There was “usually a husband and wife”? Well, not really. Even where slave mothers and fathers (or slave men who acted as fathers, if, as often happened, the slave owner was a slave child’s biological sire) were on hand to rear their children, it was illegal for slaves to marry.

That’s according to Lorraine Blackman, an associate professor at Indiana University, who co-authored the very 2005 report TFL cited as the source of its data on black families. Speaking to Osha Gray Davidson of Forbes magazine about her team’s report, entitled “The Consequences of Marriage for African Americans,” Blackman criticized TFL’s comparison of black family life then and now. “That’s just wrong. That’s a serious error,” Blackman said. Not only could slaves not legally marry, she noted, but slave parents and children could be separated at the whim of their owner at any time. Indeed, Blackman’s research team found that after Emancipation, blacks all but stampeded to get married, and by 1950, from a starting point of near zero, 80% of all black families were headed by married couples.  The precipitous drop-off in black married families – to 34% by 1996 – occurred after that.

It is true, as TFL points out, that more than 70% of black children in America today are born out of wedlock. Furthermore, the 2005 study suggested that improving rates of marriage among blacks would indeed help overall black quality of life, although some of its recommendations for accomplishing that might not appeal to conservatives – such as increasing job training and educational opportunities for black men as well as reviewing punitive drug sentencing policies to reduce incarceration rates, thereby improving the pool of marriageable black men.

The Marriage Vow takes predictable positions such as “faithful monogamy” (including the pledger’s personal vow to remain faithful to his or her spouse and not dally with anyone else’s) and emphatically rejecting same-sex marriage. But its 14 principles set forth rigidly conservative declarations on a range of issues, including abortion (protecting “the innocent fruit of conjugal intimacy”), welfare and tax policy, the national debt, downsizing of government, Islamic Shariah law (“and all other anti-woman, anti-human rights forms of totalitarian control”), gays in the military (referred to as “commingling among attracteds”) and even, subtly, immigration (“Recognition that robust childbearing and reproduction is beneficial to U.S. demographic … health and security,” which sure sounds like code for keeping people who don’t look like “us” from crossing the border).

THE FAMiLY LEADER, based in Des Moines, Iowa, identifies itself as an “associated partner” of Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, the latter designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. (For reasons not addressed on its website, the organization capitalizes all the letters of its name except the “i” – most likely to suggest that the individual is subordinate to the family.)  Bob Vander Plaats, TFL’s president, has made three unsuccessful bids to become Iowa’s governor, and was Mike Huckabee’s Iowa campaign chair in 2008. Vander Plaats was instrumental in the campaign to remove three Iowa Supreme Court Judges who ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.

The organization’s primary education division, the Iowa Family Policy Center (IFPC), has received more than $3 million in federal grants since 2004, according to the Iowa Independent. IFPC president Chuck Hurley in March 2010 called homosexual activity “more dangerous for individuals who engage in it than is smoking,” and said legalized same-sex marriage would “lead to dramatically higher rates of HIV and syphilis,” according to the Independent.

  • MrsCaptJack

    Ruslan ~ Many of us succeed in spite of either parent. I couldn’t wait for my parents to divorce. After that, I was constantly kicked out of the house for not waiting hand and foot on this woman who claimed I owed her my soul for giving me life.

    The plain fact of this Marriage Vow is that it stinks to high heaven. Its creators got so pleased with themselves they demonstrated their true colours by referencing slavery as a jolly good time for black families.

    Let’s not even begin to go down the road on how allowing same sex marriage is going to create more VD. How does that work? Two people get married, never stray and voila here’s some VD? I know tons of gay couples that have been together for decades. Would that we could all marry and be so happy.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    “The point of the comparison is that our culture has deteriorated to the point where black children are more likely to be born without an intact family than they were under the most shameful slavery period.”


    1. Your claim is historically false; slave “families” could be broken up at any time, and masters and overseers could have their way with female slaves as they pleased.

    2. The assumption is that living in an “intact” two-parent family is so positive that it can be considered as equally if not more important than being considered a human being.

    The idea that being raised in a two parent family is so important is demonstrably false. Many children of “intact” homes go on to become complete screw-ups, while many raised by single parents go on to succeed.

    The other problem is the statement says nothing about the reason for out-of-wedlock births- black fertility amongst married women decreased radically beginning in the 1970s. Hence more babies were born to single women, not married, proportionately.

    The morons who wrote the statement assume that the problems of the black community are due to family structure, when in fact the problems which exist among black families are a direct result of economic conditions, many of which were never in their control to begin with.

    But that would involve looking at facts, and we know how much conservatives hate that.

  • A.D.M.

    Ranger G, you’re crazy. Putting the whole debate about abortion aside since that’s not what this topic is about, this vow was saying black kids were better off under slavery. Slavery is not a good thing, no better how you spin it. Shame on you for trying to spin this bulls–t.

  • Sam Molloy

    The Bible does not “condone” slavery. Old testament Joseph was sold into slavery and ended up running the place because he had faith. It does say if you are a slave, try and make the best of it. It’s still written for us because it’s estimated there are thousands of actual slaves in modern day America, and I don’t mean mallrats or credit card victims, I mean locked up and forced to pick tomatoes or be prostitutes.

  • Ranger G

    The point of the comparison is that our culture has deteriorated to the point where black children are more likely to be born without an intact family than they were under the most shameful slavery period. The reaction of the left, including SPLC, tracks precisely the reaction of New Yorkers to billboards telling the truth–that the most dangerous environment for a black baby in NYC is the womb–and that reaction was to suppress the billboards rather than work on the deadly problem that was exposed. Shame on SPLC for fostering such absolute nonsense.

  • Sharon Gibson

    Oh, I forgot- “misconstrued” Do they really think it wouldn’t be taken the way it was and how stupid do think we are for not taking offense.<<

    I can't believe that they are so ignorant that they would come up with this tortured take on slavery in the first place.

  • Emma

    Exchange black for Jew and what do you have? One more case of rabid crazy people taking over a nation.

  • JH Robbins

    So now that the pledge has been altered, does that mean that Bachmann, Santorum, et al will need to initial these changes? heh

  • Charles Dan Austin

    One of the things that I enjoyed growing up in the fifties and sixties was the weekly publication of the Congress of Racial Equality which was an education in itself. Many of the best writers opf the day such as W.E. B. Dubois appeared in its pages and to discuss African American history and the impact of the dependency of slavery being carried on into the Southern Jim Crow Laws that sprang up in the 1870’s and continued for another 90 years. Thankfully Presidents Kennedy and Johnson perservered and enacted the badly needed Civil Rights laws of the 1960’s. Slavery retarded our counntry and largely because the Protestant Christian South saw the issue of race superiority to be a religious one and a state right. They were wrong then and they continue to ber wrong today. Thankfully there are wondderful people like Morris Dees to continue the fight for equality and dignity.

  • Martha W

    Oh, I forgot- “misconstrued” Do they really think it wouldn’t be taken the way it was and how stupid do think we are for not taking offense.

  • Martha W

    I was seriously taken aback that this would come, even from this group, which, I’m sorry to say is based in Iowa. Believe me, many Iowans do not support this group’s mission. Vander Plaats did indeed lead the effort to oust 3 Iowa Supreme Court judges over their decision about the state’s law allowing same gender couples to marry. What should be promoted is children being raised by healthy parents, regardless of race, economics, faith or sexual orientation. Lots of children are abused, neglected and killed by heterosexual and white parents and lots of children are raised well by people of color, unmarried, poor or GLBT. STD’s happen in white marriages.

  • Terry Washington

    How can even conservatives seriously asserted that black families “were better off under slavery”??? Let’s see being stripped of culture and religion, treated little better than chattel,having families broken up at the drop of a hat,not even being allowed to have last names(why else do so many African Americans have last names like Jefferson, Lincoln, Washington et al) or to marry-whoever made such a claim deserves to be driven out of polite society at the very least!

  • Clay Williams

    When I told my brother about “The Marriage Vow” and its content/comments, he was livid! His comment: “Many ‘good’ christians seem to have forgotten (if they ever knew or cared) that Slaves were routinely hanged, castrated, horse-whipped and tortured and the women raped…and nothing was done about it!” Seems to me that those responsible for The Marriage Vow should return to the classroom and brush-up on their history! And no, my brother and me are not black. We are proud Native Americans of the Cherokee tribe, eastern band!

  • A Walkaway

    The sad thing is that these people believe that since the Bible condones slavery, slavery is therefore OK. (I’ve heard and read their stupid arguments about “Bible-based slavery.) The scary fact is that the people behind this are dominionists, and dominionism has been demonstrated to have racist anti-civil rights roots. Indeed, the movement is racist and bigoted to the core.

    Funny, but the Bible also prescribes an abortifacient for jealousy. Yet they’re hostile to abortions. (Yes, I know the trolls will try to argue that it’s really not that, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…)

  • Chuck Mielke

    Amazing yet instructive. The reference to slavery was clearly an attempted smash against Obama and his policies, but “too many” responded to the blatant racism and historical revisionism of the absurd claim, so it was retracted. Can we call this one a game that the ultra-right “christians” didn’t win?

  • Mitch Beales

    The so called Christians who support these “pro-family” organizations have always believed in marriage between one woman and one massa. In my opinion they should all be sold south.

  • skinnyminny

    I find a lot of fault with this TFL pledge. I mean, really, lots of fault. Here are some of the things they could add to not make this sound so discriminatory –
    They can make sure that their husbands not have sex outside of marriage, i.e., seeking prostitutes, banging the maid-or other household help like Arnold did, and the sex tourism of underage children…that means their wives need to stay home, lay off the anti-anxiety pills and alcohol and raise their own kids. That also means stop putting elder parents in rest and senior citizen homes.

    They need to tell law enforcement to not act like quick-draw mcgraw’s when dealing with black men on the street. They also need to stop printing documents and stories that black women are the most unattractive in the world – and that black men are the most violent in the world. They need to stop this nonsense that looks is the most important thing in the world – I’ll use this is an example, Jen Anniston, Jen Love Hewitt is pretty but can’t keep a good relationship going. So, again, just because something looks good on the outside doesn’t mean they are marriage or relationship material. I mean if looks are so important, and everyone has to be so perfect, then, I’m not sure what’s going to happen to a lot of the vets coming back with visible injuries that will need all the support and love they can get, in addition to the people that had some other misfortune or was born disabled.

  • Reynardine

    Allowing same-sex marriage would lead to more VD? Then allowing any kind of marriage leads to more VD. Monogamy at all leads to more VD. These people are proposing a social agenda that leads to VD. Shame on them.