Was Uncle Tom an Okie Doke Negro?

The Bass Sisters
3 min readFeb 29, 2012

by Dee Dee Bass Wilbon & Deana Bass (TheBassSisters)

Without serious debate, most would agree that one of the more pitiful names a black person can be called is an “Uncle Tom.” It holds its place on the shelf with sell-out, Okie Doke Negro and Oreo. However, Uncle Tom has a longer and more storied history than these other pejoratives.

Actually, neither of us had ever read Uncle Tom’s Cabin; Life Among the Lowly — Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1851 novel that introduces us to the slave Tom until a few years ago. If ever there was an example of a character’s brand gone astray, we think it must be that of Uncle Tom’s.

An Uncle Tom by today’s definition is someone who appeases White oppression to the detriment of Black society. After reading the novel, it is clear that the description does not fit the character, Tom.

If you have not read the book, the remaining post includes spoilers.

Uncle Tom was not the Okie Doke Negro that we paint him into today. Yes, he does make some curious choices, like not running away with Eliza when he realizes that Shelby has sold him to settle his debts. He doesn’t kill Legree when Cassy gives him an ax and a path to freedom. And he uses an oxymoron by calling St. Clair and Shelby “good masters.”

Tom is in fact, the strongest, wisest and most Christ-like character in the novel. He is arguably one of the bravest and most Christ-like characters in American literature.

He gives equal respect to both slave girl and mistress. Did you see how he took all the cotton out of his bag and gave it away to the poor slave girl so that she wouldn’t be beaten? He forgave his captors while they were in the middle of their sin. Ultimately, his strength and determination to be Christ-like convinced his enemies to follow Christ. He took a beat down that robbed him of his life rather than letting Legree know where Cassy and Emmeline were hiding. You see Uncle Tom was not an Uncle Tom at all.

We don’t mean to convey that Beecher Stowe was not initially criticized for Tom’s bent towards peace at all costs. An 1852 review in the Liberator questioned why is it appropriate for whites to attack injustice and tyranny with equal force and blacks are encouraged “to be patient, harmless, long-suffering, and forgiving.”

We do however strongly suggest that as we read the character, Beecher Stowe meant to brand Uncle Tom as a person who works to better himself by daily reading of God’s word, someone who has a thousand cheeks to turn, someone who treats everyone with the same respect regardless of race or socio-economic background, someone who would willingly lay down his life for a friend and someone who recognizes that our soul is “bought and paid for by one that is able to keep it, and you {or any earthly master} can’t harm it!”

Sound off…In light of these points in Tom’s character, what would you say about being branded an Uncle Tom?

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The Bass Sisters

Dee Dee Bass Wilbon & Deana Bass Williams are co-founders of Bass Public Affairs and co-hosts of the podcast, Policy and Pound Cake.