Disclaimer: I wrote this a few months ago. I don’t know why I didn’t post it right away. I think at the time I had wanted to do more research on the Abolitionists before talking about them with any sort of authority. Anyway, I read more about them. Anyway, except for finding what Crandall’s opponents said, my thoughts on that, and adding that transgendered people are also now being banned from the military, this post is largely unchanged from what I wrote then.
I was reading Slavery in the Courtroom by Paul Finkelman not too long ago, and this paragraph really stood out to me:
“Abolitionists were considered social radicals and outcasts. Most Northerners did not consider themselves to be Abolitionists, and many Northerners despised those who did. Mob attacks were not uncommon, particularly in the 1830s. In addition to the Alton, Illinois, riots and the attacks on Prudence Crandall discussed in this section, there were riots in Cincinnati, Utica, New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston during that decade. (pg. 139)”
So, I’m from the South. I know we were on the wrong side of history. The North were the ones who fought to end slavery during the Civil War. But… I mean, I knew there must have been a time where they didn’t care about ending slavery, but I didn’t realize that even in the North there was a time where the Abolitionists were outright unwanted.
The next section of the book details Prudence Crandall’s story. The quick summary is that Crandall owned her own private school for young women, and when she admitted a black girl into her school people complained. Many parents took their daughters out of the school, and Crandall decided instead to reopen her school as one for girls of color and ran an ad in The Liberator – a well-known Abolitionist newspaper run by William Lloyd Garrison. Then all hell broke loose. Here’s the next page:
Her neighbors prosecuted her; they created a whole new law just to try to harm her. and she wasn’t convicted because of a technicality. Just, let that sink in. Surely we can all agree now that the Abolitionists were on the right side of history. Surely, by now we can all see who was morally in the right. But just look at how much opposition the moral side really had.
Where am I going with this? I think there’s a lot we as a society still need to learn from this story. People today are still being oppressed. People today still don’t have equal privileges. There are still people like Crandall’s neighbors who would rather have things stay the status quo instead of allowing good and necessary change to happen. There are still people today who would like to pretend that treating each other as human beings with all of the same hopes and fears as you is a worthless endeavor.
What’s so messed up is that I am sure Crandall’s neighbors would have considered themselves Christians. Obviously the text doesn’t explicitly say one way or another, but considering we’re a Christian nation, it sounds like a safe bet. But as a Christian, shouldn’t their basis – their entire worldview – revolve around the love of Christ? But it would be ludicrous to argue that they were in any way trying to show the love of Christ to the girls they were barring from having an education.
“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” – 1 John 4:8.
Okay, just to be fair to the other side, here are Crandall’s opponents’ words in a Resolution they stated during a town meeting:
“Whereas it hath been publicly announced that a school is to be opened in this town, on the first Monday of April next, using the language of the advertisement, “for young ladies and little misses of color,” or, in other words, for the people of color, the obvious tendency of which would be to collect within the town of Canterbury, large numbers of persons, from other states, whose characters and habits might be various and unknown to us, thereby rendering insecure the persons, property, and reputation of our citizens. Under such circumstances our silence might be construed into an approbation of the project…” [italics mine](The Abolitionist Decade, 1829-1838: A Year-by-Year History of Early Events in the Antislavery Movement. by Kevin C. Julius. pg. 106.)”
So, essentially, they didn’t want these school-aged girls in their town because they were afraid of them. They didn’t want these girls to come to their town to get a good education because of what it might do to their reputation. Really? We can all agree that’s ridiculous, right?
The Abolitionists realized that how we treat the lowest in our society will set the bar on how everyone is treated. Of course we see that now, right? Of course I would have sided with the Abolitionists. But stop yourself right there. Please. It’s so easy to just dismiss whoever is obviously the bad guy as just the bad guy, and to never look at ourselves and reflect on how we may be like them.
People of color still are not treated the same as white people. Their lives are not valued in the same way a white person’s is. Weekly I hear stories of another person of color getting harassed or shot by police. What are you doing to stand up for the people who don’t have your privilege?
I shouldn’t just be talking about white privilege either. What about the poor? The immigrant? The homosexual? Oh, but that last group is morally in the wrong though, aren’t they? Surely, their lifestyle is just hurting so many people, isn’t it? But, for the sake of argument, even if it is, as a Christian, I have to ask: So? How does that change how I treat them? How I treat anyone? Again, as a Christian, isn’t my basis the love of Christ? How is keeping trans-gendered people out of bathrooms and the military showing the love of Christ? How is taking away Welfare programs from the poorest in our society showing the love of Christ? How is banning refugees showing the love of Christ? How can you be content with the high cost of healthcare when people need healthcare when they are at their most vulnerable?
Read Prudence Crandall’s story again. Our country was not great. It still isn’t. I’m not saying we have nothing to be proud of. I’m not saying there have not been great people in our country. Prudence Crandall was one of them. In the face of adversity she followed her convictions no matter what obstacles she faced. But I have to ask you to be honest: Who are you most like?