Marse: A Psychological Portrait of the Southern Slave Masterand His Legacy of White Supremacy focuses on the white men who composed the antebellum southern planter class in the period of 1830-1861. This book is a psychological autopsy of the minds and behaviors of enslavers that helps explain the enduring roots of white supremacy and the hidden wound of racist slavery that continues to affect all Americans today.
Marse details and illustrates examples of the psychological mechanisms by which southern slave masters justified owning another human being as property and how they formed a society in which enslavement was morally acceptable. Kirkpatrick uses forensic psychology to analyze the personality formation, defense mechanisms, and psychopathologies of slave masters. Their delusional beliefs and assumptions about Black Africans extended to a forceful cohort of white slaveholding women, as well as how they twisted Christianity to promote slavery as a positive good. He examines the masters’ stresses and fears, and how they coped by developing psychologically fatal, slavery-specific defense mechanisms. Utilizing sources such as the vast treasure trove of slavery historiography, diaries, letters, autobiographies, and sermons, Marse describes the ways in which slaveholders created a delusional worldview that sanctioned cruel instruments of punishment and implemented laws and social policies of domination used to rob Blacks of their human rights. The seismic shift in race relations our nation is experiencing right now make this book timely, as it will advance our understanding of the South’s self-defeating romance with racist slavery and its latent and chronic effects. The parallels between the psychology of antebellum slaveholding and today’s racism are palpable.
H. D. Kirtpatrick
H.D. (“De”) Kirkpatrick was born and raised in North Carolina. He earned his B.A. from Harvard (1970), his M. Ed from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (1973), and his Ph.D. from the Saybrook University in San Francisco (1978). He practiced clinical and forensic psychology for thirty-seven years. In 2014, he learned that his paternal ancestors were slaveholders, shocking knowledge that changed his life, as he developed a deep friendship with a high school classmate with the same last name, whose ancestors had been enslaved by his ancestors. He lives with his wife, Katie Holliday, in North Carolina, where he pursues writing, development of a documentary, and exploring public history.
Combining history and forensic psychology, Kirkpatrick deeply explores how slaveholders justified to themselves owning other human beings. Unique and troubling, Marse traces the construction of a collective pathology and documents the enslavers’ psychological acrobatics. This is unforgettable and necessary work on the hard history of slavery, here unsparingly depicted.
Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore
Peter V. and C. Vann Woodward Professor Emerita, Yale University
A remarkable book: passionate and analytical, historical and personal. Be prepared to reexamine what you think you know about the United States’ past and present.
Thomas Cole, Ph.D.
Librarian, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library
POWERFUL; POIGNANT; EXQUISITELY DESCRIPTIVE; CONSTRUCTIVELY DISTURBING; AND, UNFORTUNATELY, REMARKABLY TIMELY.
David A. Martindale, Ph.D.
Marse is an honest, thoughtful analysis of the white supremacist mindset of nineteenth-century southern culture. Through searing forensic psychological analyses of white slaveholders and his own family’s role in the “peculiar institution,” H.D. Kirkpatrick reveals what most white people know but refuse to acknowledge: our country’s indebtedness to the enslaved, and in turn, our inextricable connection to each other.
Jeffrey B. Leak, Ph.D.
Professor of English and Africana Studies and Director of American Studies, University of North Carolina at Charlotte