Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bound For Canaan

My current reading is a fascinating book called "Bound For Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America's First Civil Rights Movement" by Fergus M. Bordewich.  Not a lot is known about the underground railroad but the reason for the lack of written documents is unknown.  The underground railroad wasn't very secretive.  In fact, the more well known the "conductors" on the underground railroad were, the better it was for the fugitive slaves.  Slaves would flee from their masters, some knowing that help was available and some having no clue about the "conducters" and "stations" on the underground railroad.  The ones who knew a little about it usually had a tip as to who would help them, or what type of people (Quakers led the movement for many years), or at least what town might be sympathetic to their cause.  The ones who didn't know just stumbled across people who were willing to help them.  And the ones who fled north and didn't have anyone to help them?  We know very few of their stories because most of them were caught and returned to their plantations where they were most likely sold into the Deep South, never to be heard from again.

The book also describes the national feeling toward slavery in the North and South and how it changed over time.  A lot of people in the early 1800's, even slave owners, felt that slavery was a bad thing.  But the slave owners weren't willing to give up their slaves to change it and many in the north weren't willing to state plainly that slavery was a sin and should be erradicated.  There were a handful who spoke loudly and boldly though and because of their voices, the people in the north who were already feeling convicted started to realize that they needed to take a real stand and do something about the horrible evil.  As abolitionists in the north got louder, the backlash against them grew more vicious.  Many were harassed in some way, some were jailed, a few were murdered.  But the belief that God created all men equal, regardless of the color of their skin, continued to grow until the country was deeply divided.  (Interestingly enough, there were several women who joined the fight for abolition because they believed that if people changed their minds about all men being created equal, why not all people?)

And all of this brings me to a point.  Many people who were against slavery in theory but not willing to speak out against it claimed to be Christians.  They knew that by freeing their slaves or demanding that slave owners free their slaves, almost the entire economy of the south would collapse.  Many northerners also benefited from the cotton and sugar trade and, until it was outlawed, the slave trade.  These people were not willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of what was right.  They weren't willing to lose their jobs and income, be maligned and harassed, and possibly lose their lives.  It's not an easy thing to do, standing for righteousness.  But it's so necessary.  "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?"  (Matthew 16: 24-26)   

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