As election time draws near, I often wonder what the founders of our nation would think about the people we have become.
The God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are a gift of God….Thomas Jefferson (This from a man who went through his Bible and cut out all the things he did not agree with. )
We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalianable rights; that among these are life, liberty and pursuit of happiness….Thomas Jefferson (All men – not women. And while saying all men, he continued to hold black men and women as slaves.)
Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased as the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!….Patrick Henry (How ironic. Give me liberty or give me death and talk of slavery while he owned slaves and would deny them the right to declare – give me liberty or give me death.)
I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever….Thomas Jefferson
Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society…..George Washington
And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together. …James Madison
We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition, and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart. In this enlightened Age and in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest Offices that are known in the United States…..George Washington
No sooner has one party discovered or invented an amelioration of the condition of man or the order of society, than the opposite party belies it, misrepresents it, ridicules it, insults it and persecutes it….John Adams
Hence it is that democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and in general have been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths … A republic, by which I mean a government in which a scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect and promises the cure for which we are seeking….James Madison, Federalist Papers No. 10.
Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos….John Marshall
When we spent several weeks in Charleston, South Carolina a few years ago trying to escape the cold winter weather, I was amazed at all the churches with their tall steeples. We took a tour of the city on a boat and from the harbor you could see the beautiful steeples reaching to the sky. The city is called by some the “Holy City” because of all the churches. I was told there were over 400 churches and a variety of religions.
I was particularly interested in the French Huguenot Church because doing genealogy research I discovered one line of my ancestors were Huguenots driven out of France by King Louis XIV in 1685. The church is beautiful.
Another church we enjoyed was the Circular Congregational Church. They claim to be one of the oldest continuously churches in the South. We roamed through their cemetery with monuments dating from 1695. The street the church is located on is called Meeting Street and the street is given that name because it was here their first meeting house was built in 1681. In 1804 they built a circular hall replacing earlier buildings. When the building burned in 1861 they used bricks from the old building and constructed the present sanctuary in 1892.
Beating the congregation at the Circular Congrregational Church, St. Michael’s Church lays claim to being the oldest church in Charleston. On this site a small wooden church was built in what was then Charles Town in 1680. Called St. Phillip’s, as the town grew – and the congregation grew, a new building was built and given the name St. Michael’s. They began conducting services in 1761 and, except for a small addition in 1883, the church is basically the same today.
We spent over half a day exploring the Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (Holy Congregation House of God). The synagogue is a National Historic Landmark. It is the country’s second oldest synagogue and the oldest in continuous use.
They shared a lot of their history – both of Charleston and of the Jewish religion. They allowed us to see the place where they housed the Torah. For my husband and I, both history nuts of American history and of Biblical times, it was a wonderful experience.
One of the churches we wanted to visit was closed. This building is a beautiful Gothic-Revival structure and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church was founded in 1791 and included both free blacks and slaves. The ministers were often jailed for violations of laws that prohibited slaves and free black to meet without white supervision. After the unsuccessful slave revolt led by Denmark Vesey, the community burned the church to the ground in 1822 because Vesey had been one of the church’s founders. Vesey and 34 others were executed.
After rebuilding the church, the congregation met there until 1834 when the state legislature outlawed all-black churches. Again, blacks could not meet in church unless there were white supervision. They simply met in secret until after the Civil War ended and then they formally reorganized.
I could go on and on about the churches we visited. But as we thought about their claim to be the “Holy City” we wondered how they could really consider their history to back up that claim.
Just a few blocks from some of these beautiful churches is the Old Slave Mart Museum. Established in 1948 it is the first museum on the history of slavery in the United States. The museum is located in a portion of the city’s last major slave market.
In 1808 when the United States banned international slave trading, the domestic slave trade became big business. Charleston became one of the major buying and selling markets. It is estimated that 40% or more of the slaves imported to American came through the Charleston port. You can check out more on that story on my post.
In Charleston slaves were sold in open markets until 1856 when the city passed an ordinance prohibiting public sales. I guess the sight of blacks in irons and chains exhibited like animals for sale became too much for the people of the “Holy City.” In response a number of sale rooms or markets opened up in downtown Charlestown. One of the main ones was Ryan’s Auction Mart and the current museum is housed in part of that market.
The day we visited the museum the woman working there told us she was a descendant of one of the slaves sold there. Standing there in that dark place and trying to imagine the horrors of being sold like an animal and possibly being separated from parents or children, my mind wondered how people who built such beautiful churches to worship God on Sunday could deal in this terrible business on Monday through Saturday.
Being “holy” people they insisted that the slave markets be closed on Sunday so they could all go to church to worship God.
I left Charleston with mixed feelings. It is a beautiful city with the ocean and the old historical churches and houses. There are so many beautiful parks. There is so much history there. But I could not help but remember the history I saw there that I was never told about in history classes in school.
The slave market
Denmark Vesey statue
The original reason for building the Citadel
The first Memorial Day celebration where freed blacks honored the Union soldiers
The Gullah culture
Philip Simons Foundation
“Holy City.” Yes there are a lot of church steeples reaching to the sky. But after seeing all that I saw, I would never call it that.
In school we learned about the blockade at Yorktown which led to the surrender of Lord Cornwallis – which led to a quick end to the war for independence. We were told of the leadership of George Washington. We were told of the French hero who led French soldiers to aid us in the fight.
We were not told of the spy working with Lafayette whose information helped led Washington and Lafayette to the successful blockade of Yorktown.
Born a slave on a plantation in Virginia, James Amistead was granted permission by his master, William Armistead, to enlist in the French units fighting with the colonists for freedom from England.
The army employed James as a spy. He infiltrated General Cornwallis’ headquarters by pretending to be a runaway slave. The British welcomed him because as a native Virginian, he would know the terrain well. Armistead served as a double agent, supplying Lafayette with information on the British movements while giving the British misleading information. In this position, Armistead risked his life. He had no papers to carry showing he was a soldier and if discovered, could be hung for treason.
In 1781 the information Armistead was able to give Lafayette and Washington helped them in their plans for a blockade in Yorktown. This blockade led to the surrender of Lord Cornwallis – which quickly brought the war for dependence to an end.
So – with his help you would expect Armistead would have won his right to be free. However, because he served as a spy and not a regular soldier he was forced to return back to his master as a slave.
For over four years he continued to be a slave – having risked his life for the freedom of the colonists, but denied his own freedom. For over four years he petitioned Congress for his freedom. When Lafayette learned his comrade in arms was still a slave, he wrote to Congress and finally he won his freedom.
Armistead was able to buy a farm in Viriginia, marry and live the rest of his life as a freeman. In gratefulness Armistead added Lafayette to his name.
Another hero we were never told about in American history classes.
If you have ever studied American history you have probably heard of Jefferson Davis. He was the president of the Confederate States after they seceded from the United States in 1860 following the election of Abraham Lincoln. Many would have you believe the southern states left the union over the issue of state rights.
However, if you read the statements of Jefferson Davis, it is clear that slavery was the true cause of the conflict.
“If slavery be a sin, it is not yours. It does not rest on your action for its origin, on your consent for its existence. It is a common law right to property in the service of man; its origin was Divine decree.”
“African slavery, as it exists in the United States, is a moral, a social, and a political blessing.”
My own convictions as to negro slavery are strong. It has its evils and abuses…We recognize the negro as God and God’s Book and God’s Laws, in nature, tell us to recognize him – our inferior, fitted expressly for servitude…You cannot transform the negro into anything one-tenth as useful or as good as what slavery enables them to be.
It was one of the compromises of the Constitution that the slave property in the Southern States should be recognized as property throughout the United States.
The whole question was: Can a person be someone’s property? Davis argued that the Constitution recognized the right of protection of someone’s property. To him, the black man/woman were only property and therefore the Constitution’s promise that “every man is created equal” did not apply to them.
Of course, when the Civil War began, Jefferson Davis resigned his position in the United States Congress. Interesting that when the war was over and Mississippi was back in the Union, a black man was seated in Congress.
At that point representatives were not elected by the public, but rather by the state legislature. When the Republican dominated state legislature nominated Hiram Revels to fill one of the two seats, the minority Democrats agreed to the deal hoping this would “seriously damage the Republican party.”
Revels was never a slave. Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina in 1827 his father was a free man and his mother was of Scottish ancestry. Although educating black children was illegal in North Carolina, Revels was able to receive an elementary education from a free black woman and later moved north to complete his education. After attending Beech Grove Quaker Seminary in Indiana and the Darke County Seminary in Ohio, he was ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was able to attend Knox College in Galesburg Illinois on a scholarship and graduated with a degree in divinity and theology.. Revels preached throughout several states inclulding Illinois, Ohio, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee. While preaching in Missouri he was imprisoned for a brief time in 1854 “for preaching to negroes.”
During the Civil War he helped recruit two black regiments and served as a chaplain for a black regiment at both Vicksburg and Jackson, Mississippi.
When Congress met to certify Revel’s place in Congress, some tried to deny him that position because of the 1857 Dred Scott decision which said no African American could be a citizen. When the 14th Amendment was ratified by the states making anyone born in the USA a citizen, they then tried to deny him by saying he did not meet the nine-year citizenship requirement. However, the 15th Amendment, which passed just days before Revel was sworn in, stated that no one could be denied to vote or hold office on “account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
The abolitionist Wendell Phillips called him “The Fifteenth Amendment in flesh and blood.”
Revels served on the Committee of Education and Labor and the District of Columbia Committee. He pushed for integrating the schools iin the District of Columbia and fought against the banning of African-American mechanics from working at the Washington Navy Yard.
Upon leaving Congress, he served as the first president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State University). He also served briefly as Mississippi Secretary of State. Teaching theology at Shaw College, he also served on the Board of Trustees. He returned to his roots as pastor and died at a church meeting in Mississippi in 1901 at the age of 73.
There is so much talk today about being racist. Many are quick to call others by that name while as many as quick to insist they are not racist and that they are tired of people using the “race card.”
While I have never been called a racist (at least as far as I know) and I would say I was not a racist, I still took a look at what the dictionary said a racist is.
According to Webster’s dictionary a racist is someone who holds “a belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”
A more complete definition lists: “Racism is the belief that groups of humans possess different behavioral traits corresponding to physical appearance and can be divided based on the superiority of one race over another. It may also mean prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against other people because they are of a different ethnicity. Modern variants of racism are often based in social perceptions of biological differences between peoples. These views can take the form of social actions, practices or beliefs, or political systems in which different races are ranked as inherently superior or inferior to each other, based on presumed shared inheritable traits, abilities, or qualities.”
Using that definition I think I can honestly say I am not a racist. I have never believed that one group of people is inherently superior to another.
But using that definition I must say that I was raised by a generation who were clearly racist. Let me say that my parents and my aunts and uncles were good people that I loved and respected. I don’t believe they realized how racist they were. But looking back at that generation I see it is so clear that prejudices have been passed down from generation to generation. Only within the last few years have many been able to recognize this and to work to break that terrible cycle of beliefs.
As a young adult I had many arguments with my father who insisted that black people’s brains were not as big as white people’s brains. He also had other beliefs about physical differences that I will not even mention here.
For years I thought my father was just a country boy who came up with some crazy ideas. It is only as I have begun to research and read the history of black/white relations in our country that I have discovered this was not some crazy ideas of one man. This was what he had been taught along with many of his generation.
And that terrible lie has been a part of our history going back even before our country was established.
As our country was founded and began growing, there were many physicians and scientists who advocated that there was a difference between the “pure” race (white) and Africans and Native Americans.
One was Dr. Charles Caldwell. Dr. Caldwell visited the Musee de Phrenologie in Paris where he studied a collection of skulls taken from people from all the world. After his study, he determined that the skulls of African people show that they had a “tamableness” that not only made them perfect for slaves, but actually required them to have a “master.” This belief which was shared throughout our nation served to contribute to the belief that slavery was an acceptable part of nature. It contributed to the idea that whites were superior.
Another was Samuel George Morton. Morton’s collection of skulls is today part of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and is one of the most famous collections of human skulls in the entire world.
Morton published a book in 1839. In “Crania Americana” he described five “separate species.
(Excerpt from “Crania Americana” showing the supposed differences between the skulls of different races. Morton claimed similarities between the skulls of primates and African people.)
They were (in descending order) Caucasian, Mongolian, Malay, Native America and Negro. He wrote that these differences were dictated by God. He concluded that Native American minds were “adverse to cultivation, slow in acquiring knowledge.” His book was very popular in America and many believe this was used to justify removing Native Americans from their homeland and taking the land for white settlers.
His book became popular in Britain, France, Germany, Russia and India. Charles Darwin called him an “authority” on the subject of race. Others applauded his work and many in European countries began to also publish such ideas.
You might think the abolitionist would not have bought into this thinking. But many of the renowned abolitionists also believed this. The apparent “tambleness” of the blacks served two purposes. One, it could reassure that if the slaves were set free, they would not take revenge on their masters. Two, if they were naturally weaker and inferior to whites, society had an obligation to help them, not enslave them.
While I am sure today almost anyone would say these studies were ridiculous, I believe that this thinking has been passed down generation after generation.
My parents did not dislike blacks. I saw them often be kind and friendly with blacks we came into contact with at church services. However, without really stopping to think, they had been indoctrinated with that thought that somehow we as whites were superior to blacks. It was an almost unconscious thing – as natural as breathing in and out.
I am not a racist and in tracing my ancestry as far back as I have been able, I find no record of anyone owning slaves. But if I remain silent when I hear or see others making comments that are racist because I am afraid of losing friends, then what does that make me?
Examples of things I have heard from others:
One pastor friend said “We did blacks a favor by taking them from the jungles of Africa.”
One family member moved from one mobile home park to another because a black family moved in across from them and asked me “Would you like living next to a black family?” My response was that I did have black neighbors and they were some of the best in our community.
One family member, when hearing that my husband had found that one of his ancestors was a slave from Ghana said, “Well, that explains a lot of things.” Was she just trying to be funny? Maybe – but still – that is not funny.
Finally, while I do not agree with most of the items on the BLM agenda and I am not in favor of rioting and destroying, I have found it interesting to see the anger of many of my white friends over the restrictions or loss of rights they have experienced with this Covid crisis.
For over a year now we have been told we cannot gather in large groups, many of our sports, our schools, even our churches have been shut down. We have been denied entry to most retail stores unless we wear a mask. And the anger is real. And the anger is right.
But – I have to ask:
If we get so angry for some loss of freedom for almost two years, how can we not see that the history of not only loss of freedom, but loss of life, not for two years but for hundred of years might lead to anger.
And, if you really want to know the history that our black friends know (passed down from grandparents) I recommend the following books:
Red Summer, the Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America by Cameron McWhirter
Forever Free, the Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction by Eric Foner
Wilmington’s Lie, the Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy by David Zucchino
Life of a Klansman, A Family History of White Supremacy by Edward Ball
We can say we are not racists and we never owned slaves or we can begin to read and research our nation’s history and try to understand where our black friends and neighbors are coming from.
Hampton Park in Charleston, South Carolina, is a beautiful place to walk or just sit and enjoy the many flowers, trees and the fountain. When we spent a few months in Charleston during the winter of 2016 we walked almost every day in the park. At 60 acres, there are plenty of walkways. Just six months out from a knee replacement surgery, I found it a great way to get some exercise to build up my physical strength, but also a wonderful place to just sit and reflect on God’s creation.
But the park is also full of history.
Originally part of a plantation owned by John Gibbes, the portion that is now Hampton Park was purchased by the South Carolina Jockey Club and a race course was built. Named the Washington Race Course, the one-mile loop is now a roadway that runs around the park. Featuring some of the…
Raised on a plantation in the South, these two sisters became strong advocates to abolish slavery. The oldest, Sarah Grimke, accompanied her wealthy father to Philadelphia to seek medical treatment. While there, she met members of the Society of Friends. Returning to Charleston, she eventually became a Quaker and moved to Philadelphia where she became actively involved in the drive to end slavery.
Her young sister, Angelina Grimke, soon joined her sister in the north and also become active in the cause of freedom for the slaves.
This move, or course, made them outcasts with their family and former friends. Angelina only added to the South’s outrage when she wrote an Appeal to the Christian Women of the South. In that writing she wrote
I know you do not make the laws, but I also know that you are the wives and mothers, the sisters and daughters of those who do; and if you really suppose you can do nothing to overthrow slavery, you are greatly mistaken.”
While this brought the anger of the Southern population, it also made northern men unhappy. Many of them felt that a woman did not have the right to speak out about issues that were so controversial and political.
The opposition to her expressing her views not only did not stop her from speaking out about slavery, it also caused her and her sister to become outspoken agents for women’s rights.
Joining the American Anti-Slavery Society, the sisters began to speak to small groups of women in private homes and as their popularity grew, they soon moved to making appearances before much larger audiences, often ones that included men. Both sisters wrote on women’s right to equality in society. Angelina published Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free States and Sarah followed up with Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women.
Angelina married an abolitionist, Theodore Weld. Since he was not a Quaker the sisters were kicked out of the Society of Friends. The three of them moved to New Jersey and started a boarding school teaching students. When the Civil War broke out, they wrote to President Lincoln giving their support for the freedom of the slaves.
They discovered that their brother Henry had two sons by an enslaved women. They reached out and began a close relationship with the young men and supported their education. One of the men, Archie, studied law at Harvard and the other, Francis, went to Princeton Theological Seminary. Both men became leaders in the black community.
Frances was pastor of the 15th Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. This church was founed in 1841 as the First Colored Presbyterian Church. Rev. Grimke served as the third pastor for more than 50 years beginning in 1877. From his pulpit he called for civil rights, fought against racism in American churches, helped found the American Negro Academy in 1897 and was part of the group working to create the NAACP.
Archibald (Archie) Grimké had a distinguished career as a lawyer. He also created the first African-American newspaper, the Hub. He attended the first conference of the NAACP and worked with that organization the rest of his life.
Both women fought for women’s rights and for equal and fair treatment of the blacks after the Civil War. .They were active in the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association leading a protest of women on March 7, 1870 when they illegally voted in an election.
As I read about these women, I was challenged by their willingness to leave a life where they were pampered and waited on to speak out and fight for the rights of blacks. To not be afraid of those who tried to silence them as being less than equal of men. It is sad to me that many who have benefited from their fight do not even know their names.
In 1998 they were both posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Most of us have heard of Ellis Island. Many of us who have traced our ancestry can lay claim to having descended from someone who came through Ellis Island on their journey to becoming an American citizen.
Prior to 1892 immigration was controlled by individual states. On January 1, 1892 the Federal government opened an official immigration station on Ellis Island. More than 12 million immigrants would arrive in the United States via this island in the next 62 years. The island became a symbolic landmark and immigrants who came to this country to seek a better life saw this island as the doorway to the land of opportunity. A large majority of those who came were from Northern European countries.
Even today Ellis Island is held up as a great symbol of our country and the welcome it gave to immigrants. On a web site devoted to the island it is called “a poetic symbol of the American Dream”
After arriving at the island immigrants were screened for any obvious physical ailments. They also had to fill out a form before boarding the ship with their name, country they were from and some questions that could be used by the legal inspectors before being granting leave to enter the USA. Although some were turned away or kept for many days before being allowed to enter or sent back to their home country, only two percent were denied entry.
Today there is a National Museum of Immigration on the island. The first immigrant to be processed there has a statute in her honor. She has become a well-known historical figure
Other well known immigrants came through Ellis Island including Bob Hope, Irving Berlin and Cary Grant. Other less well known were Jamaican poet and writer Claude McKay and Olympic swimming champion Duke Kahanamoku.
This island is celebrated by our nation and it boast its own foundation website who states that its goal is:
The Foundation works to preserve and honor two of our country’s greatest landmarks: the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We pursue a diverse range of educational and community building efforts and work to create meaningful connections between island visitors and the dense fabric of American history.
There is a Passenger Search database where you can search for family members who arrived there from 1820 to 1957. There are close to 65 million passenger records. For $50 you can even have a foundation members search the records for you.
But what if your ancestors did not come from northern Europe? What if your ancestors came to the USA as slaves? Is there an island, is there a foundation for you to research your background?
Well there is Sullivan Island in South Carolina.
In 1674 Captain Florence O’Sullivan was placed by the government of Carolina in charge of protecting the city of Charles Towne (Charlestown). He chose the island that now bears his name as the best place to place a gun that would protect the town.
It quickly became a commercial center for rice and indigo trade. As the colonies grew and trade in slaves became another highly commercial venture, Charlestown quickly became the largest slave port in the USA. Sullivan’s Island was the main entry point for Africans forced into slavery in the North American colonies. Until January 1, 1801 when the slave trade was abolished in the USA, approximately 400,000 Africans were imported to the USA to labor in the tobacco and cotton fields of the South. It is believed that at least 40% of that number came through Sullivan Island.
“Pest houses” were built on the island where the slaves would be quarantined for days before they were then transported to Charles Town for sale at public auction.
Sadly, unlike Ellis Island, there is little to mark the history of those who came to the USA through this island.
In 1989 writer Toni Morrison noted this lack of recognition by our nation.
“There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath or wall, or park or skyscraper lobby. There’s no 300-foot tower, there’s no small bench by the road.”
In 1990 a small plaque was finally placed on the island commenorating all those who came to the USA through Sullivan’s Island.
A place where…Africans were brought to this country under extreme conditions of human bondage and degradation. Tens of thousands of captives arrived on Sullivan’s Island from the West African shores between 1700 and 1775. Those who remained in the Charleston community and those who passed through this site account for a significant number of the African-Americans now residing in these United States. Only through God’s blessings, a burning desire for justice, and persistent will to succeed against monumental odds, have African-Americans created a place for themselves in the American mosaic.
A place where…We commemorate this site as the entry of Africans who came and who contributed to the greatness of our country. The Africans who entered through this port have moved on to meet the challenges created by injustices, racial and economic discrimination, and withheld opportunities. Africans and African-Americans, through the sweat of their brow, have distinguished themselves in the Arts, Education, Medicine, Politics, Religion, Law, Athletics, Research, Artisans and Trades, Business, Industry, Economics, Science, Technology and Community and Social Services.
A place where…This memorial rekindles the memory of a dismal time in American history, but it also serves as a reminder for a people who – past and present, have retained the unique values, strength and potential that flow from our West African culture which came to this nation through the middle passage.
Erected in 1990 by the S.C. Department of Archives and History. The Charleston Club of S.C. and the Avery Research Center.
Pursuant to a request from the South Carolina General Assembly as Evidenced in concurrent resolution S. 719, Adopted June 3, 1990.
Two different islands – two different stories. Although those who came through Ellis Island no doubt suffered many difficulties just making the trip and then going through the screening process on the island, they came willingly as their own choice and came seeking the hope of a better life.
Those who came through Sullivan Island did not come as their own choice but were stolen from their family and home and subjected to a journey over the ocean that we cannot even begin to imagine. They did not come seeking anything or hoping for a better life.
Ellis Island might have a sign that said “Welcome to America”
Sullivan Island’s sign might say “Welcome to Hell.”
In Boston there is a Women’s Memorial that honors three women from our country’s early beginnings.
One of the statutes anyone familiar with American history would recognize. She is Abigail Adams, wife of our second president, John Adams, and mother of our sixth president, John Quincy Adams. One thing she is remembered for is advocating for women to be included in our country’s fight for freedom. Unfortunately, although our Constitution stated that “all men are created equal” it seems that did not include women. It would be years before women were given the same rights as men to take part in our country’s political life.
In her letter to her husband Abigail written on March 31, 1776 she asked him:
and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.
A second woman honored there is Lucy Stone.
An fervent abolitionist Lucy was one of the first women in Massachusetts to graduate college. Following in her parents’ footsteps she worked with the American Anti-Slavery Society. As she became an outspoken advocate both for freedom of the slaves and for women’s rights she was excommunicated from the Congregational Church.
After the Civil War when the Fifteenth Amendment was proposed giving black men the right to vote, many of the women’s rights proponents argued against it since it did not include women. Lucy supported it because it agreed with her abolitionist viewpoint and she believed it would eventually lead to women also gaining that right.
Lucy rightfully asked the question:
If, while I hear the shriek of the slave mother robbed of her little ones, I do not open my mouth for the dumb, am I not guilty?
The third woman is one that we rarely hear about. Phyllis Wheatley.
She was the first African-American poet to be published. What is so amazing is this took place while she was still a slave, even before our nation had declared its independence from England. Abigail Adams was a fan of her writings as was George Washington.
As her writings became popular and people were told they were the work of a black woman, many could not believe it. A group of prominent Boston men examined her and concluded that she had indeed written the poems. They wrote a preface to her book to attest that it was indeed written by a black woman. Even so, publishers in Boston refused to publish the book so she went with her master’s son to London where it was published.
As I read about this talented woman, it made me wonder just how prejudiced and can I say “stupid” our founding fathers were that they could not believe a black woman (and by inference black people) could be capable of such intelligence. I am so amazed at the courage it took for her to go to London and have the book published.
Here is one of her poems:
Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land, Taught my benighted soul to understand That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too: Once I redemption neither sought nor knew. Some view our sable race with scornful eye, “Their colour is a diabolic die.” Remember, Christians, Negro’s, black as Cain, May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.
I find it ironic that she refers to Cain as black. Clearly although her owners had recognized her abilities and had taught her to read and write, even learning Greek and Latin, they had also taught the false teaching in the Christian church at that time was that the curse God put on Cain was to make him black.
Sad how white slave owners tried to use the Bible to justify their slave society. Sad that even as educated as Phyllis was, she seemed to accept that terrible lie.
Even today, I wonder how many lies our society hangs on to as justification for not reaching out to those not like ourselves.