Recently, I’ve been reading The Revolt Of The Black Athlete, by Dr. Harry Edwards. Early
in the first chapter, the term “Uncle Tom” was used often, which got me thinking. Do
people know the history of the term “Uncle Tom” and do they know why it should not be
used in the first place? So, in the following, I will be answering these questions and be
replacing “Uncle Tom” with another term that I suggest should be used.
The Origins of Uncle Tom
The origins of “Uncle Tom” comes from the anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life
Among the Lowly (usually shortened to Uncle Tom’s Cabin). The novel is about Uncle Tom
and the characters around him, starting with Uncle Tom, a Black man enslaved on a farm
owned Arthur Shelby. Author faced the threat of losing his farm, so he and his wife,
Emily, decided to sell Tom and another slave, Harry, to a slave trader. Harry’s mother,
Eliza, who was Emily’s maid, overheard Arthur and Emily talking about selling Harry
and Tom. So she escaped with Harry before they could sell her son. Tom on the other
hand, was sold to the slave trader, much to the dislike of Arthur’s son, George, who will
show up in the
story later on. Tom is put on a riverboat and is traveling down the Mississippi River
when he saves a little white girl from drowning. The little girl, Evangeline St. Clare, who,
in my opinion, is the white savior in the story, convinces her father, Augustine, to buy
Tom from the slave trader. After two years with the St. Clares, Evangeline (or Eva) dies
from an illness, and her father vows to free Tom. Instead, he ends up being sold by
Augustine’s wife after he was stabbed outside a tavern. Tom is sold to a man named
Simon Legree, the main antagonist in the story. Simon Legree begins to hate Tom when
he refuses to whip his fellow slave. Legree beats Tom and sets his goal on crushing Tom’s
faith in God, but Tom keeps reading the Bible and comforting the other slaves. But after a
while on the plantation, Tom begins to question his faith in God, until he has two visions,
one of Jesus and the other of Evangeline, which resolves his faith in God. After this, he
encourages two slaves to escape, in which they do. Legree demands Tom tells him where
they went, but Tom doesn’t say anything. Therefore, Legree orders that his overseers,
Quimbo and Sambo, who went from slaves to overseers by betraying other slaves,
whip Tom to death. They both repent after seeing Tom’s character while he was dying.
Shortly before Tom dies, George Shelby, the son of Arthur Shelby earlier in the story,
comes to the plantation to free Tom but finds out it’s too late.
Why Shouldn’t the term “Uncle Tom” Be Used Anymore?
The characteristics of a so-called “Uncle Tom” does not match up with the one in the
story. Uncle Tom did not betray his race, instead, he did two main things that are against
what a so-called “Uncle Tom” would do. One: he refused to denounce something he
believed in, which was God, even while the white man was beating him, Second, he
unlike Quimbo and Sambo, refused to snitch on runaway slaves. So instead of using the
term “Uncle Tom” to describe someone who may be so-called “selling out their race”,
Sambo is a more accurate term. Sambo, like his counterpart, Quimbo, went from being a
slave to a Black overseer by betraying slaves. The term “Sambo” originally was used
for people that were mixed with Black and Native American ancestry, but then became a
term used for anyone that has Black and white ancestry. In the story Sambo was a part of
the wrongdoing committed by Legree. So when a Black person defends the wrongdoing of
a white person, the person is not an Uncle Tom, but actually a Sambo.
In my opinion, the term “Uncle Tom” should not be used any longer, and perhaps Dr.
Harry Edwards, and many other writers, use the term to convey the message
about someone who betrays or speaks out against, fellow Black people. I think the term
should be replaced with “Sambo”, a more accurate term. Some, if not most, have been
misinformed about the origins of “Uncle Tom”, and I hope we can be more accurate in our
terminology in the future when we discuss Black people who are considered to be
betrayers of other Black people, or who defend the unjust actions done to Black people by
other so-called racial groups.