Friday, November 20, 2009

Some Deep Thoughts on Slavery

I wrote just a bit right here about slavery. About my wonder of how we as humans could do such horrible things to other humans. I shutter at the thought of what people went through, and in many ways are still going through, because of the color of their skin. My father is a very deep-thinking man. I remember growing up thinking that he was a man who just demanded respect. People flocked to him in admiration. I wondered how he did he managed to have so many people think so highly of him. As I have grown older I realize that the respect and admiration he has is not because of something he does or demands, it is something he has earned through the way he approaches people. He respects and admires all people, and all things, and in turn has that same reflected upon him. It is his integrity and love of people and life that attracts so many followers and admirers. Who would not want to spend time with someone who makes you feel so good about yourself, about life, and about living? My father is also a reader. He reads poetry, and stories and was recently asked to speak during chapel at the college where he is the Chief Information Officer. My father is not a religious man, although his faith in people and his commitment to the betterment of society could quite easily hold the same distinction. He emailed me the speech he wrote, which I finally sat down and read today. I am so moved by his thoughts and will likely read them over and over when I feel like being closer to him. The following is an excerpt he included, which made tears pour down my face, while I read it at work. I don't know that I would have felt as strongly about this if I were not a mother, but I can almost feel the pain as I read the words of this young slave as she was being sold away from her family.
From the diary of Mary Prince – slave of Bermuda – written in 1831 – escaped from slavery to freedom in England in 1828
The black morning at length came; it came too soon for my poor mother and us. Whilst she was putting on us the new osnaburgs in which we were to be sold, she said, in a sorrowful voice, (I shall never forget it!) "See, I am shrouding my poor children; what a task for a mother!"--She then called Miss Betsey to take leave of us. "I am going to carry my little chickens to market," (these were her very words.) "take your last look of them: may be you will see them no more." "Oh, my poor slaves! my own slaves!" said dear Miss Betsey, "you belong to me: and it grieves my heart to part with you."--Miss Betsey kissed us all, and, when she left us, my mother called the rest of the slaves to bid us good-bye. One of them, a woman named Moll, came with her infant in her arms. "Ay!" said my mother, seeing her turn away and look at her child with the tears in her eyes, "your turn will come next." The slaves could say nothing to comfort us; they could only weep and lament with us. When I left my dear little brothers and the house in which I had been brought up, I thought my heart would burst.
Our mother, weeping as she went, called me away with the children Hannah and Dinah, and we took the road that led to Hamble Town, which we reached about four o'clock in the afternoon. We followed my mother to the market-place, where she placed us in a row against a large house, with our backs to the wall and our arms folded across our breasts. I, as the eldest, stood first, Hannah next to me, then Dinah; and our mother stood beside, crying over us. My heart throbbed with grief and terror so violently, that I pressed my hands quite tightly across my breast, but I could not keep it still, and it continued to leap as though it would burst out of my body. But who cared for that? Did one of the many by-standers, who were looking at us so carelessly, think of the pain that wrung the hearts of the negro woman and her young ones? No, no! They were not all bad, I dare say, but slavery hardens white people's hearts towards the blacks; and many of them were not slow to make their remarks upon us aloud, without regard to our grief--though their light words fell like cayenne on the fresh wounds of our hearts. Oh those white people have small hearts who can only feel for themselves.
At length the vendue master, who was to offer us for sale like sheep or cattle, arrived, and asked my mother which was the eldest. She said nothing, but pointed to me. He took me by the hand, and led me out into the middle of the street, and, turning me slowly round, exposed me to the view of those who attended the vendue. I was soon surrounded by strange men, who examined and handled me in the same manner that a butcher would a calf or a lamb he was about to purchase, and who talked about my shape and size in like words--as if I could no more understand their meaning than the dumb beasts. I was then put up to sale. The bidding commenced at a few pounds, and gradually rose to fifty-seven, when I was knocked down to the highest bidder; and the people who stood by said that I had fetched a great sum for so young a slave.
I then saw my sisters led forth, and sold to different owners: so that we had not the sad satisfaction of being partners in bondage. When the sale was over, my mother hugged and kissed us, and mourned over us, begging of us to keep up a good heart, and do our duty to our new masters. It was a sad parting; one went one way, one another, and our poor mammy went home with nothing.
I had to read this twice, so just so you get the full affect, go ahead and read it again. Don't worry. I'll wait. My heart sank as I imagined what is was like for women during this time. To love and embrace your child only to "shroud" them, as this woman's mother said. I had to look up the meaning to shroud, to shroud means to wrap and prepare for burial, but this mother was not burying her children, she was preparing them for a life she knows all to well. A life that she herself lived. She would then have to always wonder what her children were doing, how they were living, if they were living, if they gave her grandchildren that she would never meet. I worked with a woman once whose husband was severely injured in a car accident. After sustaining a massive head and spinal cord injury, he relied on a ventilator to breathe, a catheter to pee, his wife to change his clothing after accidents, and a life that would likely rely on nursing home placement, although this wife fought to avoid it. When she learned of the untimely death of the child of our agency's founder, she said to me "sometimes death is kinder". How true this might have been during this slave's life. At least in death one can find peace and closure. To never know what happens to your child would be torture. I wonder, if I lived as a black woman at that time, would I celebrate a life I created or mourn what was sure to come for my precious child? This is something I am so happy to say I do not have to even think about.
I wonder too, what became of this woman. This is the only time I have heard of this woman's diary, of her personal experiences with a life I can't begin to imagine. The heading states that she escaped slavery, so I wonder if she was reunited with her mother, with her family. I am searching for the happy ending, the something that can make me feel better after this sad story I have read. Even if this ending is happy, there are so many more unspoken stories of torn families, people sold as cattle, and treated as less-than-human.
I like to think the world has changed, and in many ways it has, but we have miles to go before we sleep and must never naively believe that things are as good as they can be.