Nat Turner – Prophet and Revolutionary

I’ve been working on this for a while…

It seems like every day there is a new horror story of people of color getting killed by the police. I’m always hearing of a new Tamir Rice, Stephon Clark, or Philando Castile. Sometimes I wonder what I would do if one of my friends’ name were added to that ever-growing list of people. What would I do if, like Castile, a traffic stop ended with my friend getting shot at seven times? What if my friend died and the officer wasn’t even fired, but was placed on paid leave? I might have a chance to find out – it keeps happening. Stephon Clark was killed on March 18, and he is far from the last. Just last week (I’m writing this on April 16) there was a man named Diante Yarber who was shot multiple times by the police in a Walmart parking lot. He wasn’t violent. He wasn’t armed. And if past occurrences are any indication, the officers won’t be charged, and they’ll pull up every little thing Diante had every done wrong to somehow make his death seem less tragic. What if Diante had been my friend? Not all of my friends have squeaky clean pasts. They’re still people I know and love and grew up with. They’re still people I joke around and go get lunch with. So, what if a police officer shot and killed my friend? Would I tweet about it? March in the city? But besides awareness, what has that done for the myriad of cases where police kill black people with little consequence?

What if I didn’t have any reason to think that justice would be met unless I took justice into my own hands? Eye for and eye, tooth for a tooth. You kill my friend I kill you. Would that be understandable? Would you be able to make excuses for me? Would you want to?

Most likely there are as many answers as there are people to that question. Your opinions would probably range from me being a dangerous fiend to someone who did something completely justifiable – especially if you knew the story.

In a similar way, Nat Turner is viewed as either a demon in human skin to a failed revolutionary working on behalf of an oppressed people. But too often, especially with people who view him as the former, he is taken out of the historical context in which he lived – even though David Walker’s Appeal had begun circulating throughout the country only a few years prior, America had been praising the revolutions throughout France, and Haiti’s slaves had successfully overthrown their masters. Despite all of this, many of the newspapers in his day depicted Nat as a crazed religious fanatic. Thomas Gray’s Confessions of Nat Turner also served to spread this point of view. If I were to take Thomas Grey’s Confessions at face value, the best I can say about Nat was that he was an intelligent, albeit largely uneducated man who took his religious fanaticism to a deadly level. But, let us go over the facts.

Nat Turner was a slave who led a rebellion against slave-owners in Southampton, VA. It began on August 22, 1831. He surrendered to Benjamin Phipps on October 30, 1831. Much of what we know of Nat comes from an interview with him dictated by Thomas R. Gray after Nat gave himself up.(1) Gray describes Nat as thus:

“He is a complete fanatic, or plays his part most admirably. On other subjects he possesses an uncommon share of intelligence, with a mind capable of attaining any thing; but warped and perverted by the influence of early impressions. He is below the ordinary stature, though strong and active, having the true negro face, every feature of which is strongly marked. I shall not attempt to describe the effect of his narrative, as told and commented on by himself, in the condemned hole of the prison. The calm, deliberate composure with which he spoke of his late deeds and intentions, the expression of his fiend-like face still bearing the stains of the blood of helpless innocence about him; clothed with rags and covered with chains; yet daring to raise his manacled hands to heaven, with a spirit soaring above the attributes of man; I looked on him and my blood curdled in my veins.”

According to Gray’s account, Nat Turner was born into slavery on October 2, 1800. In Nat’s words, at a young age it was recognized that he was gifted.

“‘The manner in which I learned to read and write, not only had great influence on my own mind, as I acquired it with the most perfect ease, so much so, that I have no recollection whatever of learning the alphabet–but to the astonishment of the family, one day, when a book was shewn me to keep me from crying, I began spelling the names of different objects–this was a source of wonder to all in the neighborhood, particularly the blacks–and this learning was constantly improved at all opportunities.'”

When he reached adulthood:

“‘…Having arrived to man’s estate, and hearing the scriptures commented on at meetings, I was struck with that particular passage which says : “Seek ye the kingdom of Heaven and all things shall be added unto you.” I reflected much on this passage, and prayed daily for light on this subject–As I was praying one day at my plough, the spirit spoke to me, saying “Seek ye the kingdom of Heaven and all things shall be added unto you. [Gray interjects]Question–what do you mean by the Spirit. Ans. The Spirit that spoke to the prophets in former days–and I was greatly astonished, and for two years prayed continually, whenever my duty would permit–and then again I had the same revelation, which fully confirmed me in the impression that I was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty……

And on the 12th of May, 1828, I heard a loud noise in the heavens, and the Spirit instantly appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it on and fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first should be last and the last should be first. Ques. Do you not find yourself mistaken now? Ans. Was not Christ crucified. And by signs in the heavens that it would make known to me when I should commence the great work–and until the first sign appeared, I should conceal it from the knowledge of men–And on the appearance of the sign, (the eclipse of the sun last February) I should arise and prepare myself, and slay my enemies with their own weapons.”

It’s around here in the narrative that Nat details the plan and execution of the insurrection. It goes on for multiple pages. If you have any interest in reading it the link is at the bottom of this blog. Nat ends his confession with, “I am here loaded with chains, and willing to suffer the fate that awaits me.” (1)

Nat Turner was sentenced to be hanged. He was executed on November 11, 1831. In the words of the magistrate recorded in Gray’s Confessions,

“Borne down by this load of guilt, your only justification is, that you were led away by fanaticism. If this be true, from my soul I pity you; and while you have my sympathies, I am, nevertheless called upon to pass the sentence of the court. The time between this and your execution, will necessarily be very short; and your only hope must be in another world. The judgment of the court is, that you be taken hence to the jail from whence you came, thence to the place of execution, and on Friday next, between the hours of 10 A. M. and 2 P. M. be hung by the neck until you are dead! dead! dead and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul.”

Although Gray’s account is by far the most complete account we have of Nat Turner, there were many newspaper articles written about him and his insurrection. One of the earliest stated:

“Disagreeable rumors have reached this city of an insurrection of the slaves in Southampton County, with loss of life, in order to correct exaggerations, and at the same time to induce all salutary caution, we state the following particulars.

An express from the Hon. James Trezevant states that an insurrection had broken out, that several families had been murdered, and that the Negroes were embodied, requiring a considerable military force to reduce them.

The names and precise numbers of the families are not mentioned. A letter to the Post Master corroborates the intelligence. Prompt and efficient measures are being taken by the Governor, to call out a sufficient force to put down the insurrection and place lower Virginia on its guard.

Serious danger, of course, there is none. The deluded wretches have rushed on assured destruction.

The Fayette Artillery and the Light Dragoons will leave here this evening for Southampton; the artillery go in a steamboat, and the troop by land. (Constitutional Whig of Richmond, Virginia, August 23, 1831.)

Garrison wrote his thoughts about it in The Liberator. In it, he blames Turner’s insurrection on the oppressive slaveholders – no mention is made of Nat possibly being a fanatic, but he declared that such violence was natural on the part of people who have been kept oppressed and ignorant for so long:

“The insurrection of the blacks in one of the counties of Virginia, and the indiscriminate massacre of the white inhabitants, an account of which will be found in another column, furnish a subject of serious reflection. It certainly is an awful warning; and they indeed must be fool-hardy, who despise its admonition. The good man must shudder at the recital of the outrage, whilst the Christian philanthropist feels that renewed exertions are necessary to prevent one oft-recurring evil, by the suppression of another, whose long endured existence diminishes our sensibilities, and makes us think of it but too lightly, until a day of tremendous retribution approaches, and the curse of inhumanity recoils to plague the offender.

We sincerely hope that the account we have published will prove exaggerated. It affords us no pleasure to record the details of a slave insurrection, attended as it always is and inevitably must be with murder and most foul outrage. But it does astonish us that they who are most exposed to its violence, adopt such inadequate measure to prevent it, and rely upon the ignorance of the slave, for protection against those terrible calamities, which the brute passions, fostered by that very ignorance, are sure to produce when roused into action. Let our Southern Brethren do more to enlighten their slaves and they will do much to protect themselves. Let them introduce, a system of gradual amelioration, and emancipation. Let the black be taught that the white man does not recognize an indisputable power over body, mind and soul, – that he acknowledges the evils and injustice of slavery, and is willing to aid, so far as his duty to himself, his neighbor and his God will justify his conduct, in producing its ultimate extinction.

What forbids the passage of a law that every child born of a slave, shall be free, and educated at the public expense? These children might be taught to work on plantations, and their superior value, as free and independent laborers, would be more that equivalent to their wages.

We wish that the people of the slaveholding States would think more of the subject. Slavery, in this country, cannot exist forever, and they who feel its curse fall heaviest, should surely not be the last to attempt a remedy for the evil.” (The Liberator. Pg. 2. Boston Transcript. Sept. 3, 1831. No 36.)

When Nat was captured, he was described as thus:

“Gen. Nat. The following is a letter from the Post Master at Jerusalem, Va, to the editor of the Norfolk Beacon, dated October 31:

Gentlemen – Last night the 30th inst. About 9 o’clock, the news reached our little village that Gen. Nat was taken alive. He reached this place, well guarded to day, at a quarter after 1 o’clock, and was delivered into the hands of James W. Parker and James Treznant, gentlemen justices, and after one or two hours close examination, was committed to prison. During all the examination, he evinced great intelligence and much shrewdness of intellect, answering every question clearly and distinctly, and without confusion or prevarication. He acknowledges himself a coward, and says he was actuated to do what he did from the influence of fanaticism: he says the attempt originated entirely from himself, and not known by any other Negroes but those to whom he revealed it a few days before, and then only 5 or 6 in number; he acknowledges now that the revelation was misinterpreted by him, and says it was revealed to him not to follow the inclination of his spirit-he is now convinced that he has done wrong, and advises all other Negroes not to follow his example. He was taken about 12 o’clock on Sunday, in a Cave that he had just finished and gotten into; and while in the very act of fixing the bushes and bows to cover him, a gentleman by the name of Benjamin Phipps, walked up near the spot, and was only led to examine it by accidentally seeing the bush shaken; after removing the covering he discovered Nat, and immediately pointed to kill him with his gun, but he exclaimed ‘don’t shoot, and I will give up,’ he then threw his sword from the Cave, that being his only weapon, and came out, and went with Mr. Phipps until they reached some other gentlemen, when after staying at the Keys all night they proceeded here to-day. Respectfully, T. TREZNANT, P.M.” (The Liberator. Pg. 2. Nov. 19, 1831. No 47.)

The Richmond Whig contains a letter from Southampton Co. (Va.) dated Oct. 31, 1831, giving an account of the capture of Nat Turner, from which is taken the following extract:

Nat seems very humble; willing to answer any questions – indeed, quite communicative, and I am disposed to think, tells the truth. I heard him speak more than an hour. He readily avowed his motive; confessed he was the prime instigator of the plot, that he alone opened his master’s doors, and struck his master the first blow with a hatchet. He clearly verified the accounts which have been given of him. He is a shrewd, intelligent fellow; he insists strongly upon the revelations which he received as he understood them, urging him on and pointing to this enterprise: he had taken up the impression, that he could change the aspect of the weather, and produce a draught or rain, by the efficacy of prayer; that he was in particular favor with Heaven, and that he had often mentioned it to his few associates, that he knew he should come to some great or very bad end. His account of the plot exactly corresponds with that of the other leading men who were apprehended. He denies that any except himself and five or six others, knew any thing of it. He also says, that a day in July was fixed upon, but that when the time arrived, they dreaded to commence it. He seems, even now, to labor under as perfect a state of fanatical delusion as ever wretched man suffered. He does not hesitate to say, that even now he thinks he was right, but admits he may possibly have been deceived. Nevertheless, he seems of the opinion, that if his time were to go over again, he must necessarily act in the same way.

He denies ever having been out of the county since the insurrection, and says that he intended to lie by too better times arrived. (The Liberator. Pg. 2. Nov. 19, 1831. No 47.)

Granted, many of the above excerpts were taken from newspapers sympathetic to slave owners. Garrison got his news from those same sources because, well, slaves didn’t have their own newspapers. It should be noted that Nat Turner’s descendant, Bruce Turner saw his ancestor as someone who, “Saw an opportunity to try to correct something that was an extremely bad evil.” He believes Nat Turner was a freedom-fighter who started a movement that helped end the institution of slavery. “Prior to the insurrection, slave owners actually believed that the slaves were happy in their condition,” he says. “Nat Turner changed that.”(2)

Whether Nat Turner’s rebellion actually did some good in the grand scheme of ending slavery is difficult to say. Certainly the immediate aftermath was incredibly painful for black people around Southampton. Around 60 white people were killed in Nat Turner’s rebellion, but the immediate aftermath saw a slaughter of over twice that many black people  – many of whom had nothing to do with the rebellion.

In the words of Thomas Wentworth Higginson in an article written 30 years after the insurrection:

But the immediate danger was at an end, the short-lived insurrection was finished, and now the work of vengeance was to begin. In the frank phrase of a North Carolina correspondent,—“The massacre of the whites was over, and the white people had commenced the destruction of the negroes, which was continued after our Men got there, from time to time, as they could fall in with them, all day yesterday.” A postscript adds, that “passengers by the Fayetteville stage say, that, by the latest accounts, one hundred and twenty negroes had been killed,”—this being little more than one day’s work.

These murders were defended as Nat Turner defended his: a fearful blow must be struck. In shuddering at the horrors of the insurrection, we have forgotten the far greater horrors of its suppression.

The newspapers of the day contain many indignant protests against the cruelties which took place. “It is with pain,” says a correspondent of the National Intelligencer, September 7, 1831, “that we speak of another feature of the Southampton Rebellion; for we have been most unwilling to have our sympathies for the sufferers diminished or affected by their misconduct. We allude to the slaughter of many blacks without trial and under circumstances of great barbarity….. We met with an individual of intelligence who told us that he himself had killed between ten and fifteen….. We [the Richmond troop] witnessed with surprise the sanguinary temper of the population, who evinced a strong disposition to inflict immediate death on every prisoner.”

There is a remarkable official document from General Eppes, the officer in command, to be found in the Richmond Enquirer for September 6, 1831. It is an indignant denunciation of precisely these outrages; and though he refuses to give details, he supplies their place by epithets: “revolting,”—“inhuman and not to be justified,”—“acts of barbarity and cruelty,”—“acts of atrocity,” —“this course of proceeding dignifies the rebel and the assassin with the sanctity of martyrdom.” And he ends by threatening martial law upon all future transgressors.

In the words of an eye-witness:

I am indebted to my honored friend, Lydia Maria Child, for some vivid recollections of this terrible period, as noted down from the lips of an old colored woman, once well known in New York, Charity Bowery. “At the time of the old Prophet Nat,” she said, “the colored folks was afraid to pray loud; for the whites threatened to punish ’em dreadfully, if the least noise was heard. The patrols was low drunken whites, and in Nat’s time, if they heard any of the colored folks praying or singing a hymn, they would fall upon ’em and abuse ’em, and sometimes kill ’em, afore master or missis could get to ’em. The brightest and best was killed in Nat’s time. The whites always suspect such ones. They killed a great many at a place called Duplon. They killed Antonio, a slave of Mr. J. Stanley, whom they shot; then they pointed their guns at him, and told him to confess about the insurrection. He told ’em be didn’t know anything about any insurrection. They shot several balls through him, quartered him, and put his head on a pole at the fork of the road leading to the court.” (This is no exaggeration, if the Virginia newspapers may be taken as evidence.) “It was there but a short time. He had no trial. They never do. In Nat’s time, the patrols would tie up the free colored people, flog ’em, and try to make ’em lie against one another, and often killed them before anybody could interfere. Mr. James Cole, High Sheriff, said, if any of the patrols came on his plantation, he would lose his life in defence of his people. One day he heard a patroller boasting how many niggers he had killed. Mr. Cole said, ‘If you don’t pack up, as quick as God Almighty will let you, and get out of this town, and never be seen in it again, I’ll put you where dogs won’t bark at you.’ He went off, and wasn’t seen in them parts again.” (3)

Nat needs to be remembered. Slaves tried to fight back; they were killed. I ask you to consider the ways it is possible to protest injustice. What is more unjust than slavery? Yet words and petitions were never enough. David Walker’s Appeal was censored(4), The Liberator was censored (5, Under “Incendiary Publications”) But then violence, too, failed according to Nat’s story. But when looking at the revolutions in France, Haiti, and even the United States, you can’t say violence never works. Did not our country go to war when every other means of petition failed? What does our own Declaration of Independence say?

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security…

…In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

What more can we ask of the slave? What is in our Declaration that was not ten times worse for the slave? And yet Nat Turner was demonized. And the people of color in our nation today, when wishing to draw attention to the wrongs done to them, are told they are unpatriotic for protesting like our founding fathers did, and the avenues available to them for protest are subsequently barred from them, like the NFL not contracting Kaepernick, or players being fined if they kneel in peaceful protest.

I’m not saying I condone violence, or want it to happen, but at what point is enough enough when faced with your brothers and sisters being killed in their own backyards, like Stephon Clark was, and justice never being done? Could we at least not demonize oppressed people who turn to violence as the only means they see to effect change? How about we try listening to each other before it gets to that? Oh, but like Malcolm Jenkins’ sign said,

Image result for you're not listening malcolm




“Is Life so Dear…” A Comparison Between the Works of David Walker and Patrick Henry

On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry gave a speech at the Second Virginia Convention. It’s a speech that has been praised throughout the history of our country. Although the exact words were not recorded, William Wirt’s version in his biography of Patrick Henry was largely thought to capture the substance of the speech, so his version is the one that’s usually cited.

Near the beginning of the speech, Henry says,

“The question before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate.”

So whatever terrible thing that is happening to Patrick Henry and his compatriots is comparable to slavery. What is this terrible thing?

“Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort.”

Oh, okay. It’s the threat of subjugation that has Patrick Henry worried. That’s fair. Next section gives us more info on why Henry is worried:

“They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne! In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free– if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending–if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained–we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot?”

So this threat has been going on for a while. And their oppressors are pretty powerful. So even if they were to fight against the British, why does Patrick Henry think America could win?

“There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.”

Oh, okay. Higher power. Makes sense having God on your side would give you a chance at winning.

“There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable–and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.”

More allusions to slavery. And a prediction that terrible things will inevitably come if everything continues in its present course. Got it.

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at 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!”

The line people memorize. Also the end of the speech. Nice! Very passionate. Very effective. Good job! People are going to remember what Henry said for centuries afterward and it will fill them with patriotic zeal – a reminder that America stands for FREEDOM!

Okay, cool. Now let’s look at David Walker’s Appeal. Near the beginning, he asks these questions:

“Can our condition be any worse?–Can it be more mean and abject? If there are any changes, will they not be for the better, though they may appear for the worst at first? Can they get us any lower? Where can they get us?”

Oh wow. Something terrible is happening. Sounds like whatever evil Patrick Henry was arguing against. What could it possibly be?

“And as the inhuman system of slavery, is the source from which most of our miseries proceed, I shall begin with that curse to nations, which has spread terror and devastation through so many nations of antiquity, and which is raging to such a pitch at the present day in Spain and in Portugal.”

Oh! Wow! So the majority of Walker’s issues lie with literal slavery – the very antithesis of freedom, as Patrick Henry would agree. Well, as someone born in America, land of the free, makes sense that Walker would be against that. And, like Henry, Walker believed that God is a God of justice who would fight for the oppressed:

“In fact, they are so happy to keep in ignorance and degradation, and to receive the homage and the labour of the slaves, they forget that God rules in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, having his ears continually open to the cries, tears and groans of his oppressed people; and being a just and holy Being will at one day appear fully in behalf of the oppressed, and arrest the progress of the avaricious oppressors.”

Walker also made predictions if the oppression in his day continued in its course:

“The whites want slaves, and want us for their slaves, but some of them will curse the day they ever saw us. As true as the sun ever shone in its meridian splendor, my colour will root some of them out of the very face of the earth. They shall have enough of making slaves of, and butchering, and murdering us in the manner which they have. No doubt some may say that I write with a bad spirit, and that I being a black, wish these things to occur. Whether I write with a bad or a good spirit, I say if these things do not occur in their proper time, it is because the world in which we live does not exist, and we are deceived with regard to its existence.—It is immaterial however to me, who believe, or who refuse–though I should like to see the whites repent peradventure God may have mercy on them, some however, have gone so far that their cup must be filled.”

A call to fight for justice. A belief that justice will prevail. Not so different from Henry. So, what did slavery look like? Why was slavery so terrible that even Patrick Henry – a slaveholder in his day – felt how terrible it is? According to Walker:

“I will give here a very imperfect list of the cruelties inflicted on us by the enlightened Christians of America.–First, no trifling portion of them will beat us nearly to death, if they find us on our knees praying to God.–They hinder us from going to hear the word of God–they keep us sunk in ignorance, and will not let us learn to read the word of God, nor write–If they find us with a book of any description in our hand, they will beat us nearly to death–they are so afraid we will learn to read, and enlighten our dark and benighted minds –They will not suffer us to meet together to worship the God who made us–they brand us with hot iron–they cram bolts of fire down our throats–they cut us as they do horses, bulls, or hogs–they crop our ears and sometimes cut off bits of our tongues–they chain and hand-cuff us, and while in that miserable and wretched condition, beat us with cow-hides and clubs–they keep us half naked and starve us sometimes nearly to death under their infernal whips or lashes (which some of them shall have enough of yet)–They put on us fifty-sixes and chains, and make us work in that cruel situation, and in sickness, under lashes to support them and their families.–They keep us three or four hundred feet under ground working in their mines, night and day to dig up gold and silver to enrich them and their children.–They keep us in the most death-like ignorance by keeping us from all source of information, and call us, who are free men and next to the Angels of God, their property!!!!!! They make us fight and murder each other, many of us being ignorant, not knowing any better.–They take us, (being ignorant,) and put us as drivers one over the other, and make us afflict each other as bad as they themselves afflict us–and to crown the whole of this catalogue of cruelties, they tell us that we the (blacks) are an inferior race of beings! incapable of self government!!–We would be injurious to society and ourselves, if tyrants should loose their unjust hold on us!!! That if we were free we would not work, but would live on plunder or theft!!!! that we are the meanest and laziest set of beings in the world!!!!! That they are obliged to keep us in bondage to do us good!!!!!!–That we are satisfied to rest in slavery to them and their children!!!!!!–That we ought not to be set free in America, but ought to be sent away to Africa!!!!!!!!–That if we were set free in America, we would involve the country in a civil war, which assertion is altogether at variance with our feeling or design, for we ask them for nothing but the rights of man, viz. for them to set us free, and treat us like men, and there will be no danger, for we will love and respect them, and protect our country–but cannot conscientiously do these things until they treat us like men.”

It was much, much worse than Patrick Henry ever alluded to in his speech. It was an evil that, if you were to look at it full in the face… what else is there to do than break down in tears? Surely, such an impassioned pamphlet – in the land of the free, home of the brave – must have stirred the people to fight against such a great evil in the same way Patrick Henry’s speech did? Evil is evil, and America is all about fighting oppressors, right?

Hah! No. Instead, what America mostly saw was an incendiary writing calling for slave insurrections. They focused on sections like this:

“If you commence, make sure work–do not trifle, for they will not trifle with you–they want us for their slaves, and think nothing of murdering us in order to subject us to that wretched condition–therefore, if there is an attempt made by us, kill or be killed. Now, I ask you, had you not rather be killed than to be a slave to a tyrant, who takes the life of your mother, wife, and dear little children? Look upon your mother, wife and children, and answer God Almighty; and believe this, that it is no more harm for you to kill a man, who is trying to kill you, than it is for you to take a drink of water when thirsty; in fact, the man who will stand still and let another murder him, is worse than an infidel, and, if he has common sense, ought not to be pitied.”

…I have to ask, how is the above paragraph much different than Henry saying, “We must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!”

To be fair, to some people Walker’s Appeal did have the same affect as Henry’s speech. Frederick Douglass said, “Walker, a colored man, whose appeal against slavery startled the land like a trump of coming judgment, was before Mr. Garrison or Mr. Lundy [in advocating for an Anti-slavery movement].” But most of the country, and especially the Southern states, David Walker’s appeal was feared and hated. To quote an article on PBS about it:

The Appeal made a great impression in the South, with both slaves and slaveholders. To the slaves the words were inspiring and instilled a sense of pride and hope. Horrified whites, on the other hand, initiated laws that forbade blacks to learn to read and banned the distribution of antislavery literature. They offered a $3,000 reward for Walker’s head, and $10,000 to anyone who could bring him to the South alive. Friends concerned about his safety implored him to flee to Canada. Walker responded that he would stand his ground. “Somebody must die in this cause,” he added. “I may be doomed to the stake and the fire, or to the scaffold tree, but it is not in me to falter if I can promote the work of emancipation.” A devout Christian, he believed that abolition was a “glorious and heavenly cause.”

My question is: Why does it not get the same recognition as Henry’s speech? Especially today? Does it not advocate for the inherent worth of every human being? Isn’t America all about freedom for everyone?


Garrison’s Detractors

William Lloyd Garrison enjoyed the backlash against him, and would often prominently feature articles against him on the front page of the Liberator under a section called Refuge of Oppression.

Here’s a highlight from one of Garrison’s detractors from the beginning of the Liberator’s career:

“we have no words adequately to express the resentment which the South feels towards these fanatics. The outrage is intolerable; and it is without excuse. Do these incendiaries plead that they are Americans, and that they have a common interest in the character of the whole Union? The pretext is frivolous. When the North entered into the present union with the Southern States, it was agreed, that as a members of the confederacy, they would have nothing at all to say to our ownership in the slaves, Or to their emancipation… If there be anything wrong or dishonorable in retention of slaves, it is confined to ourselves. As citizens of the United States they have nothing to say to it. They have no political right, clearly – and it is as certain they have no moral right. It is an evil which they do not understand. The remedy is left to our own discretion. It is best understood by ourselves. These men are not only impertinent, but pernicious intermeddlers. They not only bring mischief upon the whites, but they aggravate the very evils which they profess to remedy. They strengthen the cord of slavery itself. They compel us to treat them with a severity, which is as painful to the slave as it is irksome to the owner. A regard for our own security must impose upon them additional restrictions – and in case those vile miscreants should ever succeed in raising rebellion among them, they alone will be held responsible, in the eyes of God and man, for all the blood which will flow…

The South, then, warns the North. The crisis may increase. The interests of the North may soon suffer as well as those of the South. The intercourse of her citizens, with the Southern States, will be submitted to unpleasant restrictions, from the effects of the suspicion which is now excited. The public mail will be fettered. Our own safety will compel us to drive off the most obnoxious people of color, who will become public nuisances in the northern cities. Commerce will be gradually fettered…

Let us trust to each other – and treat us as we would treat you – sympathize with your situation and put down the Fanatics.” (A Calm Appeal From The South To The North, originally published in the Richmond Enquirer. Republished in the Liberator, Vol. 5, No. 35, Sept. 19, 1835)

Why discuss this “Calm Appeal” that was written 182 years ago? Because the arguments he makes aren’t too different from what people today say. For instance, on the October 5 show of The Daily Show in a Between the Scenes segment, Noah showed a clip from the Fox News show Varney & Co. where a commentator there had said that immigrants like Trevor Noah were “Looking down their noses at us about our gun laws versus the gun laws in their native lands.” He went on to say, “Ah, this is an American conversation.”

See that? That same argument! It’s saying you’re not allowed to care about issues that don’t directly affect you. It’s saying you can only point towards the things wrong within your own culture! Never mind if, like Noah, you move to another country and wish to talk about the issues that affect everyone who is in that country. I mean, I’ve never heard of a mass shooter asking folks where they’re from before shooting them dead. And never mind if, like Garrison, you’re from the country you wish to critique. Oh, but just not the right part of the country, of course. That makes sense.

Noah’s retort was, “I’m an honest person – I try to be. And so I will tell you how I feel about what’s happening. I won’t fake outrage; I won’t try and be angry about something that I’m not angry about; I will tell you how I feel. and when you live in a place for a while – when you call it home – you feel things that happen, you know, because it’s happening to us… If anything I would argue most of the problems we face in the world come from the fact that people don’t deal with issues that they don’t have to deal with.”

Garrison chose to be aware of the injustices people who weren’t him were facing. He chose to be a voice for people whose voices were never heard. He and the abolitionists changed the face of our nation. If you don’t believe the abolitionists had that large a role to play – if you somehow believe the Civil War wasn’t fought over the issue of slavery – explain what was said of the abolitionists near the end of the Liberator’s career:

“They have accomplished the present war. They worked for it thirty years, and here it is. They have wrecked a powerful, peaceful and happy country… They have transformed the country into a vast graveyard. They have shed an ocean of blood and squandered mountains of money. They have made the air heavy with the shrieks of the wounded, the groans of the dying, and the lamentations of the mourners. They have devastated the fields and plantations of the South, and destroyed the Commerce of the North… all this they’ve accomplished in thirty years… if they desire to raise a monument to perpetuate the remembrance of their triumphs, our battlefields will furnish them with enough human skulls for a pyramid, and a Wendell Phillips or Beecher would be only too happy to deliver the address at the laying of the corner skull…

Estimating the white population of the United States in 1860 at twenty-six millions – and this is within a few hundreds of the official figures – we find the abolitionists have been instrumental in causing the death of one man out of every two-hundred and sixty people, and the crippling or otherwise disabling of one man out of every fifty-two people. Also that the abolitionists have caused the destruction of property valued at six-hundred millions of dollars, and a war expedite sure of about five-thousand millions. If these are things to be proud of, let the abolitionists hold a perpetual jubilee… What are the cruelties and expenses of slavery when compared to this? … This sad account will certainly have to be settled someday – not in this world, perhaps, but certainly in the next. Then, if the abolitionist can find any food for gladness in these facts, it will be when they enter Hades, and discover that the worst fiends receive them with respect, and that Satan, Mephistopheles, Beelzebub, Moloch, and the other devils vacate their thrones to offer the newcomers all the Insignia of pre-eminence in evil. The jubilee in Philadelphia will be nothing in comparison to this grand satanic reception.” (Jubilee of the Abolitionists – What They Have Accomplished. Originally published in the New York Herald, Dec. 7, 1863. Republished in the Liberator, Vol. 33, No. 51. December 18, 1863.)


William Lloyd Garrison: Passionate Commitment

In researching the Abolitionists, a name that frequently appeared in relation to that movement was William Lloyd Garrison. Realizing that any study of the Abolitionists wouldn’t be complete without a study of Garrison, I read a 450+ page biography about Garrison called The Liberator: William Lloyd Garrison, written by John L. Thomas and published in 1963. I also perused copies of the Liberator I found online, along with other supplementary research. His story was fascinating, so I decided to highlight it here in my blog.

“More than any other American of his time he was responsible for the atmosphere of moral absolution which caused the Civil War and freed the slave. The contradictions in the man found their reflection in the dominant mood of Anti-Bellum America. The American people claimed the virtues of the free individual and regularly elected
military men for presidents. They professed a hatred of privilege and thought of themselves as a chosen people. They feared the power of institutions and proceeded to organize societies and institutions of every conceivable kind. They boasted of their secular Enlightenment heritage, yet remained profoundly Christian. They talked like pragmatists and acted like idealists. They preached equality and practiced slavery. And finally, they believed in peace but went quickly and dutifully to war.” (Pg. 4)

The best word I can use to describe Garrison is passionate. He grew up in a fairly legalistic Christian background where he was taught of the evils of alcohol and infidelity. Morality had very little grey for him. Right was right and wrong was wrong and no one could sway him from his convictions.

His strong conviction in the wrongness of slavery mostly developed after he became friends with Benjamin Lundy, a Quaker who had seen some of the terror of slavery on a trip to West Virginia through which slaves were often transported. Garrison eventually had a falling out with Lundy over the issue of colonization – of which Lundy was a strong proponent. Not even friends were safe from the strength of Garrison’s ironclad morality. America wasn’t safe from his ironclad morality.

In his first anti-slavery speech at Park Street Church in Boston on July 4, 1829, Garrison had this to say: “Every Fourth of July our Declaration of Independence is produced, with a sublime indignation, to set forth the tyranny of the mother country and to challenge the admiration of the world. But what a pitiful detail of grievances does this document present in comparison with the wrongs which our slaves endure! In the one case, it is hardly the plucking of a hair from the head; in the other, it is the crushing of a live body on the wheel,-the stings of the wasp contrasted with the tortures of the Inquisition. Before God, I must say that such a glaring contradiction as exists between our creed and practice the annals of six thousand years cannot parallel. In view of it I am ashamed of my country. I am sick of our unmeaning declamation in praise of liberty and equality, of our hypocritical cant about the unalienable rights of man. I could not, for my right hand, stand up before a European assembly, and exult that I am an American citizen, and denounce the usurpations of a kingly government as wicked and unjust; or, should I make the attempt, the recollection of my country’s barbarity and despotism would blister my lips, and cover my cheeks with burning blushes of shame.”

And again, in the first volume of his paper, the Liberator,  he wrote: “I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.”

In a day where everyone agrees on the evil of slavery, his words, despite their passion, may seem like nothing more than what any decent person would declare – certainly nothing to get worked up over. But it wasn’t long before vitriolic responses began pouring in. Responses like in the paragraph below were common.

“still the letters filled with fear and contempt kept coming. ‘You damned scoundrel. Hell is gaping for you! The devil is feasting in anticipation.’ A Washington slaveholder wrote, ‘your paper cannot much longer be tolerated… shame on the Freeman of Boston for permitting such a vehicle of outrage and rebellion to spring into existence among them.'” (Pg. 133)

Garrison loved being an agitator if he felt it was necessary. Nothing could sway Garrison and the abolitionists from their cause. He saw himself as in the same vein as the prophets from the Old Testament, doing the will of God by declaring truth to a hostile and apathetic society. Perhaps one of the best summaries I can show of Garrison’s life is from an article that was republished in the Liberator in 1863:

“[The Abolitionists] first battle was for freedom of speech and the press. And, in the face of riots and Lynchings, and murders even, and while its meetings were broken up by mobs, and its presses thrown into rivers, and its orators and editors shut up in prisons or shot down at their posts, that fought out this fight during five or six years, with a persistency and a courage which have few parallels in the annals of progress and reform…  Unseduced by blandishments and undeterred by violence, the abolitionists keep straight on, urging their obnoxious doctrines upon public attention, not always in the mildest terms nor with the sweetest temper, but with stern facts and sturdy arguments, until they compelled the nation to stand still and listen… We utter no eulogium upon the abolitionists. Posterity will do them justice, awarding praise and blame with impartial hand. Like other reformers, some of them have sometimes been impatient if not intolerant of those who were less quick to see, less keen to feel, less prompt to act, than themselves. Their great work hastens to completion. We venture the prediction that if any of those who aided in forming the Society of 1833 shall live till a third of a century shall have passed since that event, they will greet a day whose rising sun will not shed his beams upon a single negro slave in all our broad land.” (The Anti-slavery Anniversary At Philadelphia. Originally published in the The New York Tribune. December 9, 1863. Republished in the Liberator, Vol. 33, No. 51. December 18, 1863.)

Hopefully I have provided an adequate highlight of William Lloyd Garrison’s life. If not, well, I’m definitely going to be talking more about him in future posts. Everyone had an opinion on Garrison, so next I plan to highlight what Garrison’s detractors had to say about him.


The Abolitionists: Prudence Crandall

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:

IMG_8166 no shadow

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?

Fine, Let’s Talk About History: The Robert E. Lee Edition

On Saturday, Aug. 12, I woke up, checked my phone, and read about the far-right protests in Charlottesville. The night before people were waving around tiki torches as they marched on the University of Virginia campus and on that Saturday at least one person was killed in the riots.

What the hell is happening!?

I’m not asking that because I didn’t research why those people were there. From what I understand, these people had congregated in Charlottesville because the city is taking down a statue of Robert E. Lee, the famous Confederate general.

…Okay? As a Southerner, that sounds like a good thing to me.

Robert E. Lee was on the wrong side of history. At best, it could be said he acted in a way that most closely aligned with his conscience, but at the end of the day he lead soldiers in a war where his side were fighting to keep people in chains.

Oh, and since then I’ve heard that taking down these statues commemorating people that most agree were on the wrong side of history is “destroying our heritage” and “erasing history.”

…Are you seriously telling me that the best heritage we have is the Confederacy? I would love to think we can do better than having the heritage we honor be people who fought to keep slavery. Why do we have statues honoring what should be the most shameful time of our Southern history? If we must commemorate Southerners, why can’t we replace these statues with people like Helen Keller or Martin Luther King?

On the second point, is taking down these statues erasing history? Answer me this: Who last learned their history from a statue? Literally tell me. I’d love to know.

But if you want to talk about history, then let’s talk about Robert E. Lee. What were his views? Why did he fight for the Confederacy? What were his thoughts on slavery? Lee wasn’t an excessive writer; he didn’t keep a journal like Washington did. But he did write letters. His words were recorded.

The best answer I could find for why he fought for the Confederacy is what he told a friend in 1861, “If Virginia stands by the old Union, so will I. But if she secedes… then I will follow my native State with my sword, and, if need be, with my life.”

What he thought about slavery was easier to discover. This is an excerpt is from a letter Lee wrote to his wife in 1856:

“The Consequences of [certain people of the North’s] plans & purposes are also clearly set forth, & they must also be aware, that their object is both unlawful & entirely foreign to them & their duty; for which they are irresponsible & unaccountable; & Can only be accomplished by them through the agency of a Civil & Servile war.

In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy. This influence though slow, is sure. The doctrines & miracles of our Saviour have required nearly two thousand years, to Convert but a small part of the human race, & even among Christian nations, what gross errors still exist! While we see the Course of the final abolition of human Slavery is onward, & we give it the aid of our prayers & all justifiable means in our power, we must leave the progress as well as the result in his hands who sees the end; who Chooses to work by slow influences; & with whom two thousand years are but as a Single day.

 Although the Abolitionist must know this, & must See that he has neither the right or power of operating except by moral means & suasion, & if he means well to the slave, he must not Create angry feelings in the Master; that although he may not approve the mode which it pleases Providence to accomplish its purposes, the result will nevertheless be the same; that the reasons he gives for interference in what he has no Concern, holds good for every kind of interference with our neighbors when we disapprove their Conduct; Still I fear he will persevere in his evil Course. Is it not strange that the descendants of those pilgrim fathers who Crossed the Atlantic to preserve their own freedom of opinion, have always proved themselves intolerant of the Spiritual liberty of others?”

…Just as a reminder, this is what slavery looked like:


…At best, at literally the absolute best, the man is completely delusional.

Let’s dissect Lee’s letter further. In short, he acknowledges slavery as wrong, but he believed bringing Africans to America was ultimately better for them because everyone knows Africa is a terrible place full of backwards and savage people and OBVIOUSLY America is always a better place for all people at all times of its history. [Heavy sarcasm]

America was better for the pilgrims, right? Better to brave the wilderness of a new world than to be subjugated to the religious doctrine of others. Even Lee acknowledged that! “Is it not strange that the descendants of those pilgrim fathers who Crossed the Atlantic to preserve their own freedom of opinion, have always proved themselves intolerant of the Spiritual liberty of others?”

Yes, Lee, “descendant of those pilgrim fathers,” who are you to partake in a system that is not only “intolerant of the Spiritual liberty of others” but also keeps them in such a low state that they are unable to even seek out “spiritual” liberty or any other kind?

Then there’s the religious connotations in his letter. He expresses the same sentiments Martin Luther King Jr. argued against in his letter from a Birmingham jail written in 1963. This sentiment that “all good things will come together under God’s perfect timing” sounds all good and holy, but where in the Bible does it say you must wait on God’s timing before you can feed the poor, clothe the naked, or visit those in prison? Or in MLK’s words,

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct-action movement that was “well timed” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “wait.” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “wait” has almost always meant “never.” It has been a tranquilizing thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say “wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society… when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodyness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience…

… I MUST make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. In your statement you asserted that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But can this assertion be logically made? Isn’t this like condemning the robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical delvings precipitated the misguided popular mind to make him drink the hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because His unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to His will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see, as federal courts have consistently affirmed, that it is immoral to urge an individual to withdraw his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest precipitates violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth of time. I received a letter this morning from a white brother in Texas which said, “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but is it possible that you are in too great of a religious hurry? It has taken Christianity almost 2000 years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” All that is said here grows out of a tragic misconception of time. It is the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively. I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”

…I know I’ve just been quoting large bodies of texts, but MLK’s words are true, and I can’t say it any better than he did.

Robert E. Lee should not be forgotten. But there is a stark difference between remembered and venerated. As a Southerner, I don’t want him to be venerated. I would much rather honor those who fight for the equality of all people and recognize the worth of every human being. Let us learn to venerate the type of people that all can look up to and admire. Not a man who fought on the wrong side of our shameful past.


A Girl Named “Fear”

A few months ago, I was getting a cake from Publix for my friend’s birthday. I didn’t know what flavor of cake she would prefer, but since the cake was a surprise for her I couldn’t ask her. So I asked her husband and he didn’t know either (turns out she doesn’t have a favorite cake flavor). I ended up going with the raspberry flavor since that’s what sounded good to me, but the whole time between getting the cake and giving the cake to her I was insanely terrified that she would absolutely hate it because of the flavor.

When I say I was insanely terrified, I’m literally talking about a fear beyond what’s rational. My friend is a very sweet, mature person, but I was still terrified that she would yell at me or be upset with me because I somehow got the “wrong” flavor. I mean, after I gave her the cake she thanked me. She told me I had made her day. Everyone liked the cake and I even had some people come up to me and tell me that they especially liked the cake flavor. I mean, of course she’d like the cake, right? It’s cake! Where in the world did that fear come from??

That wasn’t the last time I’ve felt fear like that and it was far from the first. If I had to guess, I’d say it was the worst in Middle School. Back then, I felt like literally everyone was smarter than me. I didn’t talk much for fear of saying something stupid and then everyone would realize that I was a total idiot.

So for me, fear is a girl who has just become a teenager. She wears glasses and has braces and zits on her face. She’s pale and spends a lot of her time alone wishing other people would come up and talk to her. Sometimes they would; sometimes they would and she wouldn’t know how to interact with them. She never thinks she’s good enough. She always listens to the negative voices in her life – the ones who thinks she’s weird or fat.  She thinks that if she stays around people too much everyone will just see her as a burden or annoying. She feels awkward if someone does compliment her. She’s terrified of taking risks. She never tries any new styles because no one has criticized her old style and why take the risk? Her hair always looks the same. And if she does try something new she is going to make sure she is least decent at it before she even tells anyone she has an interest in said thing. She amplifies her negative traits in her mind to the point where everything else about her is eclipsed.

I’m visited by this girl a lot. No reason to feel lonely when she’s around, right? I know this girl isn’t real. She never was real. She’s just my fear and I am more than my fear. But then the question is how much of her is me? How much does Fear control me?

She doesn’t have to be any part of me, right? I don’t have to be anything like her, and wouldn’t I be much better off if I could just ignore her? If I could just not have anything to do with her and leave her on the side of the road until she slowly dies off for want of nourishment? (Is my metaphor getting too literal?) But can I ignore her when I know that that’s one of her strongest fears? If abandon her – the person who knows her better than anyone – isn’t that just confirming to her that she’s worthless? Isn’t that telling me that there’s a part of me that deserves to be abandoned by everyone? Doesn’t that just play into all of the negatives that she tells me? All this talk of getting rid of fear reminds me of a scripture verse:

1 John 4:15-18 “15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. [emphasis mine]”

Then… What? Should I love the girl named Fear? Would that get rid of her negativity? Should I just accept that she’s a part of me? Should I accept her? Engage her? Treat her the way I would want to be treated? What would that do to her? Can my fears and negativity exist in the face of perfect love? What is perfect love?

I know what perfect love is not. I know that perfect love doesn’t stop loving. That it doesn’t give up or throw in the towel. I know that it doesn’t hold a grudge against the worst in people. I know that it doesn’t look down on people or judges people beyond how you would judge yourself in their shoes. I know that it shows mercy and prays for good for people. It doesn’t belittle people or makes anyone feel worthless.

So can I show that love to myself? Can I know that love if I don’t see anyone who loves me in that way? How can I show love to myself and others if I can’t accept the love that others have for me? How can I understand love if I don’t experience love? Isn’t that the whole importance of the gospel? Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” So Christ is my example of perfect love. Because of Him, I know what love is. Because of Him, I see an example of love so strong and sacrificial that he gave everything – even his own life – for the people he loved. So knowing He loves me and others in that way, I can also show that love to me and others. That’s the gospel.

Should I Change My Names?

Over two years ago, I was sitting in one of my art history classes. This was before I had switched over to taking notes on my laptop, (I really can’t tell you why it took me so long to make the switch) so I had a notebook where I would doodle in the margins instead of paying attention to the lecture.

One day, I was thinking about Harry Potter and how “I am Lord Voldemort” is an anagram of Tom Marvolo Riddle. I thought it was really cool that a character’s name was an anagram for their role in the story. So then I tried doing that with The Dark Lord.

…I couldn’t think of anything.

So I tried just mushing it into Thedarklord to see if that would help me. In the picture below you can see that near the top right of my notes.

IMG_8947 (3)

From there I said to myself, wait, what if I just change the spaces? Then I got Thedar Klord. Then I got a bunch of other names using the same formula. Like Thech Ose None and her younger sister Forg Otte None, Whitesor Cerer, and Bur Lywar Rior. So for the rest of the semester whenever I couldn’t focus on my class I’d come up with stories for my characters.

Over the years, I got serious with my story and now I have enough words for a decently-sized book. My characters changed a lot over the years too. Some things have been small like changing Mis Singking to Nomis Singking because my sister said Nomis sounded more like a name. And Spo’s last name is now Iledare.

But there’s been bigger changes too. For instance, at first Spo really did act spoiled. She was shallow and had trouble really caring about anyone that wasn’t her. She cared about pretty dresses and makeup and things that in my youth I disliked because of how “girly” they are. I didn’t want to be girly because to call someone girly was an insult. My sister and I would pretend to gag whenever we passed by anything too pink and cutesy.

But the more I wrote about Spo, the more I saw myself in her, and I began to empathize with her. She was always someone who fantasized about dating someone cute and well-respected – but her crushes were never reciprocated. I’ve experienced my fair share of unrequited love too. Once I could see myself in her she really became her own character. I feel like we grew together in empathy and understanding. But after seeing our similarities I had to step back and see how she’s not like me. I’m not someone who dresses up just for the fun of it or likes to be the center of attention, but that’s still who Spo is. And I learned that she doesn’t have to be like me in order for me to like her. I can love her for who she is apart from me too.

I’ve had similar epiphanies with a lot of my characters. To me they’ve really become their own three-dimensional characters that far eclipse who they were when I first came up with their names. I’ve always felt like their names were pretty silly, but that’s why I liked them. But now since I guess I’m writing a novel that I actually want to get published some day, I keep wondering if I should change their names.

So, my question: Are my names stupid? Should I change them?

Reworking a “Happy Scene”

There’s this “happy scene” I wrote a somewhere between a few months and a year ago that badly needed revision. So I figured I’d post my process for rewriting this scene.

This is what I had:

“There you two are! We were wondering when you two would show up!” Queen Advi greeted them joyfully as they entered the room. She gave her only nephew a hug, since she had missed her chance to earlier. She looked a good deal like her son, with same blond hair and blue eyes, but Thedar suspected that Nomis would look more like his father in a few years. He came up now to shake Thedar’s hand. He wasn’t one for overt displays of physical affection, not even in a private place like this. As king, he felt like he had to take on an air of regal aloofness, in fear that his enemies may think of him as soft and weak if he did not maintain a sort of rigidity about his person. His hair and beard had greyed prematurely.

“What did you do today?” He asked both Nomis and Thedar.

“We were… working on one of my songs…” Nomis answered, knowing that his father would have liked to hear a more productive answer.

The king’s face remained neutral, so at least it wasn’t the look of disappointment Nomis had expected to see. “Well, today is a day of fun. Our relatives are here, so the next few days are to be days of fun!” He said with a glance towards his wife.

“That’s right!” Queen Advi said with a smile. “Who wants to play charades?”

Thedar went first. His word was “cat.” Nomis and Queen Advi laughed when began to claw on an invisible scratch post. It wasn’t long before Lady Blac and King Lea were joining in on the laughter too. Blac was the one who guessed right. They all laughed when it was King Lea’s turn and he had to be an elephant. He placed his arm in front of his face and pretended his arm was a trunk that he was blowing through. The others were enjoying the spectacle too much to guess right away.

Suffice to say, it was a fun night with light hearts and merry faces. Too bad it didn’t last.

“Suffice to say,” it… hurts to look at. It hurts a lot… So I tried completely rewriting the part I hated the most:

“Let’s play charades!” Nomis said with a huge grin on his face. “Thedar you go first.”

“Okay.” Thedar said before taking a card. It said “cat.” Thedar thought for a moment. Then he got down on all fours and started rubbing up against King Lea. X Then he got down on all fours and pretended to scratch the furniture. (He’s never owned a cat. Is that a habit he’d know about? He likes cats, so I’d say yes. He’d’ve read about them or something.) Nomis and Blac wore baffled expressions on their faces, but King Lea realized what Thedar was doing pretty quickly.

“Cat!” He yelled.

(Yeah no I can’t do this I’m bored.) Unless I can reveal something about the characters (the character of my characters?) then this scene is pointless. I might try to expand the one paragraph, but to make this a whole scene feels mind-numbingly dull…)

Then I asked questions:

What am I feeling right now? Lonely even though I’m surrounded by people. Is it because none of the people I’m around are the people I want to see the most? Or am I deliberately not reaching out to the people I’m around because I want to save my energy for the people I feel like matter more? Would Nomis or Thedar feel similar to that right now? Haven’t they both tried to reach out to the people they see every day and been dissatisfied? Do they purposely keep a part of themselves apart from everyone except those they’ve decided they’re closest to? Are they actually picky in who they consider friends or is it that their position demands that they don’t treat their subordinates as friends?

Then I answered those questions:

Nomis and Thedar have both tried to reach out to people, but people see their position before they see the person who just wants a friend. That’s why they’re so close to each other, because their position is so similar that they can’t be overawed by their positions. They’re so close because they really would be alone if they didn’t have each other.

Of course they’re close to their parents too, but no one wants to only be close to their parents.

Nomis has a fear of loneliness. Thedar’s more of an introvert, but he empathizes with Nomis’ fear. Should I show that fear in the charades scene? Or did I do enough with that song to show Nomis’ strong desire to interact with people?

I’ve read that every scene needs to either reveal something about the character or advance the plot. So since the “happy scene” is supposed to be a scene that happens before the plot really begins, then it needed to show character. So I listed the struggles the secondary characters in the scene would already be having too.

King Lea. The closest person he had to a father figure growing up had a quick and volatile temper. No one he’s around now has a quick and volatile temper. But maybe he should act like any moment now someone could suddenly blow up even though he has no reason to think anyone would. Maybe I should show that aspect of him in the “happy scene.” (I came up with a backstory I liked for King Lea VERY recently; so that’s why literally none of this backstory is hinted at in the earlier draft of this scene.)

Obviously Blac misses her husband. I go into that a lot later in the novel. I don’t believe it’s necessary to bring it up this early.

Queen Advi. She’d miss her brother (Blac’s husband). But of all my characters I’d say she’s the most adjusted. What does that really mean? To be adjusted? Do I actually mean she has the least scars? But she’s affected by everyone else’s scars because she loves them and what affects them affects her. She’s not going around trying to fix broken people, but she does love the broken people, and are quick to remind them of their better selves and of the bright side of life. Light and happiness are just as real as darkness and gloom. It’s harder to dwell on happiness, and it’s important to work through negative emotions and talk about them, but don’t dwell on them. Learn to live and love again. That’s what she tries to tell Lea and Blac. What was Blac’s mantra? Don’t dwell on it. Don’t be consumed. Maybe that’s something ADVI tells Blac.

Then I rewrote the scene:

Queen Advi greeted them with enthusiasm. “There you two are!” She said before giving her only nephew a hug because she had missed her chance to earlier. She looked a good deal like her son, with same blond hair and blue eyes, but Thedar suspected that Nomis would look more like his father when he was older. King Lea was only a little bit taller than his wife and his hair and beard had greyed prematurely. He came up now to shake Thedar’s hand. He wasn’t one for displays of physical affection, not even in a private place like this. For as long as Thedar had known him King Lea had had an air of rigidity and aloofness even with the people he was closest to. Thedar had just assumed rigidity and aloofness were just how kings were supposed to act and his uncle didn’t want to break character.

“What did you two do today?” Lea asked.

“We were… Working on my song…” Nomis answered suddenly feeling very unproductive. He braced himself for what he was sure was the inevitable “That’s it?”

Instead, what he got was, “Well, today is a day of fun! You can’t work hard every day!” Lea said with a glance towards his wife.

“That’s right! Who wants to play charades?” Advi said with a pleased smile.

Everyone voiced their consent. Thedar went first with the word, “cat.” He thought for a moment, then he began clawing at the furniture.

“Squirrel!” Nomis yelled excitedly.

“Baker!” Advi yelled.

“You have OCD!” Blac yelled.

“Cat!” King Lea answered correctly.

Next it was Lea’s turn. He extended his arm out from in front of his nose and stomped around the room. Everyone was laughing too much at the comical sight to guess right away. With tears in her eyes Blac was finally able to get “elephant” out and finish Lea’s round.

The game went on for a long time. Everyone was exhausted when it was time to go to bed. “If only this day could last forever.” Thedar told Nomis before the two of them departed from each other to head toward their respective rooms. Little did Thedar know that there would be many times in the future where he would look back on this day and think, “If only that day could have lasted forever.”

It’s…… better. Good job me. 

Jesus: An Outcast Who Ministers to Outcasts

There is a lot of comfort in knowing that Jesus understands our sufferings. There’s comfort in knowing that Jesus sees us and comes to us where we are. Well, don’t get too comfortable with Jesus; because following his ways have costs.

Luke 6:20-23  “And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. 22 Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. 23 Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.”

In my last post I said that Jesus ministered to the outcasts. But here he says we’ll be outcasts as his followers. “But the outcasts are the people who don’t speak like us or look like us or act like us! The outcasts are the poor and the prisoners. Did you hear me? Prisoners! The morally decadent in our society! Are we to be like them!?” Well, no, that not what I’m saying, Voice-I-Really-Hope-Is-Only-In-My-Own-Head-Because-Said-Voice-Sounds-Like-A-Really-Unlikable-Person-And-I-Wouldn’t-Wish-This-Voice-On-Anyone. But if we’re following Jesus, then Jesus expects us to do as he did. That includes ministering to the outcasts and seeking justice for the oppressed. In doing so, we may be unpopular. We’ll face opposition from whoever is doing the oppressing. We’ll have people look down their noses at us because of who we associate with. People questioned the type of people Jesus associated with too.

Matthew 9:9-13 “As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. 10 Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

I strongly believe that Jesus will always more readily be found with the outcasts that with the religious. He went out of his way to talk to the shunned Samaritan woman, to eat with the hated tax collectors, to hang out with the rough fisherman. He called them friends.

Jesus was always telling people to not judge. But… Doesn’t he judge people? Doesn’t he see both the good and the bad? Didn’t he call people out if even their thoughts were bad? Well, yeah:

Matthew 9:4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?””

But… You’re not Jesus. You can’t know what’s in a person’s heart. Heck, I’ve had times where it took me months to completely sort through how I felt about certain things. So how can I ever say I understand what’s going on in another person’s heart? But Jesus sees. He sees both the good and the bad and desires to love people fully regardless of what’s there. “Come as you are.”

One more thought: Isn’t it good to try to understand people and their motives? Are we really not supposed to put any thought in discerning a person’s character? Shouldn’t we be finding out who is trustworthy? Shouldn’t we be looking out for who would make a good friend? Etc.? The answer is “Yes!” All of that is good. We should seek to understand people. And we also should call people out if we think they’re doing something harmful. We shouldn’t be passive in dealing with people. But there is a danger in conflating a person’s character with their worth. It’s easy to dismiss someone who you think has a negative character, and by all means don’t be afraid to distance yourself from toxic people. It’s okay if you come to a point where you need to say, “Enough is enough! I can’t associate with this person any longer! This relationship is doing more harm than good!” But even there, don’t mistake a person’s character with their worth. Jesus doesn’t. He loves.

It is better to love than to be holy. Or maybe it’s better to say it is the loving who are actually holy. But how can you love people you won’t associate with (I’m not talking about people you won’t associate with because the relationship is toxic, but people you won’t associate with because you think they’re beneath you.)? Why is it that the image I have of holiness are people sequestered behind stone walls far away from the rest of the world? Is that an image other people have too? Why do I even care what image I give off? That sounds like a pride issue. Pride cares about our own image; it also keeps us from looking at others. C.S. Lewis said, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” Those with humility don’t bother themselves with asking how holy or righteous they are, or whether whoever they’re associating with is good or bad.

“So, what? We’re to love people regardless of how they treat us? Are we supposed to be a doormat? Should we just let people walk all over us? Is that really what you’re saying?” No. That’s not what I’m saying. At all. Do you not remember Sophia Auld from my Frederick Douglass post? Letting someone control you is not being loving. Letting someone control you harms the other person as much as it does you. Look, it’s because you love them you don’t let them treat you like a doormat. Not giving people control over you could be the most loving thing you could do.

The question ultimately is, what is your focus on? Is your focus on Jesus or yourself? If it’s on Jesus then your focus is on his love for you and how he sees and loves the people around you. You’re not asking yourself how other people see you. It doesn’t really come into the equation.