Haunted by his family’s involvement in slave trade a Virginia man sues reporter for accurately telling their history

Ama Nunoo Oct 2, 2019 at 03:00pm

October 02, 2019 at 03:00 pm | History

Ama Nunoo

Ama Nunoo | Staff Writer

October 02, 2019 at 03:00 pm | History

Photo: Roanoke Times

Many families made fortunes during the triangular slave trade to the detriment of the African Americans that were sold off.

Two or three generations down the line, some of the slave owners’ families, especially those who belong to the  “First Family of Virginia,” might want to disassociate themselves from their family’s past.

Such is the case of Edward Dickinson Tayloe II who is suing the local newspaper C-Ville Weekly, the reporter and one of her sources for contributing in the article about him that extensively made several mentions of his family’s thriving slave trade business.

So, for a piece that was to be written about him, that eventually turned into a history lesson on the Tayloes, portraying them as white, rich, socially prominent slave owners, Dickinson is lashing out at anyone who had a hand in the piece with his over $1 million suit.

The 76-year-old is suing for defamation because his current image has now been put under a microscope.

The Washington Post citing the reasons for the suit said the article destroyed decades of goodwill built up with clients and neighbors by falsely insinuating that Tayloe is “a racist who joined the monuments lawsuit to antagonize people of color.”

The said story also implied he – like his ancestors – generally hopes to “roil the lives of black people,” according to the suit.

The paper in a March 6 article profiled all those involved in the suit to prevent all Confederate statues from being removed in Virginia.

Lisa Pence, in the article which still remains online  recounted Tayloe’s family past as ‘prolific slaveholders’, The Daily Beast  reported earlier this month.

The article Pence wrote was off the back of the family’s own well documented legacy as one of the biggest slave owning families in the state. To preserve their history, the Tayloes donated almost 30,000 historical papers to the Virginia Historical Society.

According to the Daily Best, these papers had slave plantation ledgers stating the actual number of slave workforce controlled by the family in the 19th century and how they built their family empire using these slaves to “amass wealth, land, and political power”. 

Pence ‘accurately’ outlines the role of the Tayloes in the slave trade in her article, the Daily Beast writes.

“Facts about the Tayloe family’s slaveholding past—including the regularity with which it engaged in the heartless practice of splitting up enslaved families – appeared in a brief profile of Edward Tayloe.”

To get a comprehensive article, Pence enlisted University of Virginia Professor Jalane Schmidt, who provided expert analysis and thoughts on the Tayloe family history and him. She said: “For generations, this family has been roiling the lives of black people, and this is what [Tayloe] chooses to pursue.”

Many experts believe the suit will be thrown out of court because all the reporter did was to state facts that exist in historical books in her article.

The University professor, Schmidt, will most likely be protected by the first amendment because she is at liberty to share her views on any issue, especially being an expert in her field.

Also, many of such suits could be lurking in the woods as more people are being vocal about the horrors of the slave trade and demanding reparations.

The Post spoke with the political director for the Public Participation Project, a nonprofit group that advocates for First Amendment rights, Evan Mascagni, who said, “it seems that as a society we’re currently revisiting our history of slavery, as more and more information comes to light … I think we will see a rise in lawsuits targeting those who are drawing attention to that family history.”

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