Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren (Genesis 9:25)
• What's up with the biblical story of drunken Noah? (Part 1) :: Yes, there are some strange stories in the Bible, no question about it. And there are those who happily twist the biblical stories to suit their own political ends. I'm going to split this into two different questions to be answered in two separate articles: First, the textual interpretation of the story itself, and second the history of how that the story has been used to "justify" slavery and the subjugation of black people in America.
• What's up with the biblical story of drunken Noah? (Part 2) :: A 1969 study of Lutheran Sunday school lessons and other educational materials found an implied justification of black slavery and segregation. James Baldwin, in The Fire Next Time (1964) wrote, "I knew, according to many Christians, I was a descendent of Ham who had been cursed, and I was therefore pre-destined to be a slave."
• 'The Curse of Ham': Slavery and the Old Testament :: The Book of Genesis records an instance of Noah cursing his son Ham's descendants to be slaves. Although there is no biblical evidence that Ham was the "father" of African peoples, various Jewish, Christian and Islamic writers came to believe that he was, and their association helped to justify centuries of African enslavement. NPR's Tavis Smiley talks to author David Goldenberg about his new book, The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which looks at how a misinterpreted Bible story has been used to justify centuries of African slavery.
• The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, by David M. Goldenberg :: This book attempts to explain how and why this strange interpretation of the biblical text took hold. It does so by looking at the larger picture, that is, by uncovering just how Blacks were perceived by those people for whom the Bible was a central text. What did the early Jews, Christians, and Muslims see when they looked at the black African? Clearly, the biblical interpretation is forced. How, then, did the biblical authors view Blacks and what were the postbiblical forces that wrung such a view from the Bible? This is a book about the ancient link between black skin color and slavery. It is, thus, a study of perceptions, symbolic associations, and historical ramifications. It explores how dark-skinned people were perceived in antiquity, how negative associations attached to the color black were played out on the stage of history, and how the connection between blackness and slavery became enshrined in the Curse of Ham. In 1837 the painter and theorist Jacques Nicolas Paillot de Montabert wrote:
White is the symbol of Divinity or God;
Black is the symbol of the evil spirit or the demon.
White is the symbol of light . . .
Black is the symbol of darkness and darkness expresses all evils.
White is the emblem of harmony;
Black is the emblem of chaos.
White signifies beauty;
White signifies perfection;
Black signifies vice.
White is the symbol of innocence;
Black, that of guilt, sin, and moral degradation.
White, a positive color, indicates happiness;
Black, a negative color, indicates misfortune.
The battle between good and evil is symbolically expressed
By the opposition of white and black.
De Montabert wrote these words in a manual for artists. For us, they starkly demonstrate how deeply and in how many varied ways black-white symbolism is part of Western culture.