One of the (many) horrors of slavery

I began reading Catherine Clinton’s book Harriet Tubman – The Road to Freedom this week and within 10 pages I began to realize how the effects of cruel humans (slave masters) were to the people enslaved. I had trouble comprehending how people could stay in slavery for such long a period. How they could watch as friends and family were beaten or forced into submission and not do anything about it. Then on page 10 it hit me.

…approximately 10% of adolescent slaves in the upper South were sold by owners; another 10% were sold off in their twenties. Slave parents lived in abject terror of separation from their children. This fear, perhaps more than any other aspect of the institution, revealed the deeply dehumanizing horror of slavery.¹

Clinton continued later with…

Those left behind suffered more than just mourning. Family members lost to slave sales were worse than dead, as there was no peace or closure. Fugitive slave Lewis Hayden painfully recalled: ‘I have one child buried in Kentucky and that grave is pleasant to think of. I have another that is sold nobody knows where, and that I never can bear to think of.’ ¹

I am slowing beginning to realize how this “institution” could continue when I think about the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in the 1900s. (Also thinking about China, Germany too.) Just like the slave owners, they ruled with fear, poverty, labor camps and poor nutrition. I guess the idiom better the devil you know than the devil you don’t was alive and in full force with slavery.

¹Catherine, Clinton. Harriet Tubman – The Road to Freedom. (New York: Little, Brown, 2004.)

Published in: on November 28, 2009 at 4:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

Wrestling with Frederick Douglass


Book Cover

This has been a hard blog to write. I finished Frederick Douglass’ book Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave over the weekend. It was very well written. Very descriptive of the treatment of slaves (but not as gruesome as descriptions in a Stephen King novel.) At times I became distraught and needed to put down the book and do something else. It is very hard for me to understand or grasp how treatment of these people, these slaves, could happen and how they could endure this for decades.

The toughest part to comprehend was how slaveholders could kill a slave for disobedience; beat naked women with whips; or how they could demand so much work from the slaves and give them so little food. I’m trying to wrap my 20th century (USA) mind and values and understand 19th century practices.

But then, I think about today and the world I live in. There is still slavery. Still oppression of people. Working conditions in countries like China must be similar to what the Negroes experienced albeit, maybe not the personal injury they suffered.

This thinking led me to the tank man from Tiananmen Square in 1989, just 20 years ago. How that lone (unidentified) student risked his life to stand up to the oppressive force symbolized in those tanks. Much like what Frederick Douglass did in his desire for freedom.

Douglass was not an instigator nor an agitator. He did not stir the emotions of others to a point of revolt against their slaveholder. Just like tank man, he allowed the desire of freedom to quietly build within until he had to break the bonds of his slavery. He eloquently references Patrick Henry to the fugitive slaves’ plight…

“In coming to a fixed determination to run away, we did more than Patrick Henry, when he resolved upon liberty or death. With us it was a doubtful liberty at most, and almost certain death if we failed. For my part, I should prefer death to hopeless bondage.” (p86)

Published in: on November 6, 2009 at 10:47 am  Leave a Comment