Sentimentalizing the Trade

Around the turn of the 20th century, a sentimentalized remembrance of slavery emerged, fueled by books and movies, most famously Birth of a Nation (1915) and Gone with the Wind (1939). Throughout the South, the history of slavery was softened or erased. Groups such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy raised money to erect monuments to Confederate soldiers and generals and faithful slaves. Textbooks and historic house museums talked of benevolent masters and happy slaves. Only in the last twenty-five years have museums, historic houses, corporations, cities, and colleges begun to acknowledge their indebtedness to the institution of slavery and the slave trade.

More recently, the violence and horror of the slave trade has been graphically represented in the television mini-series Roots (1977) and the film Twelve Years a Slave, winner of the 2014 Academy Award for best picture. The main character, a free black man named Solomon Northup, was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Washington, D.C. His journey into enslavement passed through Richmond, Virginia, and the jail of "Goodin" who might have been the Richmond trader William Goodwin.