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Professor Emeritus R.L. Watson publishes Book on Slavery in South Africa

Rocky Mount, NC

As part of his study on slavery in South Africa’s Cape Colony during the 1800s and the residual effects, historian Dr. Richard L. Watson explored and compared that country’s experience and the issues of slavery in the United States.  The results of his extensive research and analysis are at the core of a recently published book titled, “Slave Emancipation and Racial Attitudes in Nineteenth-Century South Africa” from Cambridge University Press (February 2012).

Dr. Richard L. Watson, NCWC Professor Emeritus of History

Watson is Professor Emeritus of History at North Carolina Wesleyan College.  He became affiliated with the college in 1972 and after a distinguished career in academia, retired from full-time responsibilities in 2007.  He is well-known as an outstanding teacher, researcher, and authority in his field.  Watson has published two other books about South Africa, in addition to numerous related articles printed in professional journals and other publications.

Jay Stubblefield, Ph.D. is Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at NC Wesleyan.  He said, “Dr. Watson’s recent book from Cambridge furthers his longstanding reputation as an historian of the highest order.  I and the entire faculty at Wesleyan were very pleased to learn of its publication, and are proud to call him one of our own.”

Watson earned his bachelor’s degree in history at Duke University.  He achieved the master’s degree in history while serving as a Teaching Fellow and lecturer at Boston University. He continued at BU to complete his doctorate in African History.

In the introduction of this book, he wrote, “Slavery was abolished by Parliament throughout the British Empire, including the Cape Colony of southern Africa, in 1834. The Empire’s former slaves suffered another four years of so-called apprenticeship before finally being freed in 1838. A short time after this, however, it became clear that for the former Cape slaves, freedom was tightly circumscribed, in some respects even illusory. This study examines the road to that outcome”

Watson voiced one of his reasons for choosing this topic saying, “I was born, grew up, and continue to live in the southern United States. The legacy of slavery still weighs heavily here, and I cannot help pondering the similarities and differences between my region and South Africa.”  Watson currently lives with his family near Rocky Mount, NC.

Cambridge University Press describes Watson’s book as an examination of, “…the social transformation wrought by the abolition of slavery in 1834 in South Africa’s Cape Colony. It pays particular attention to the effects of socioeconomic and cultural changes in the way both freed slaves and dominant whites adjusted to the new world. It compares South Africa’s relatively peaceful transition from a slave- to a non-slave society to the bloody experience of the U.S. South after abolition, analyzing rape hysteria in both places as well as the significance of changing concepts of honor in the Cape.

“Finally, the book examines the early development of South Africa’s particular brand of racism, arguing that abolition, not slavery itself, was a causative factor; although racist attitudes were largely absent while slavery persisted, they grew incrementally but steadily after abolition, driven primarily by whites’ need for secure, exploitable labor.”

More information about Dr. Watson’s book is available at