Recently, I’ve read four 19th century biographies and autobiographies of men and women who escaped slavery in the South. If you want to read about what slavery was really like in that time, these classic books will let you hear the stories in the words of those who experienced it.
Sarah Hopkins Bradford, Harriet, the Moses of Her People.
This biography, written by a white friend of Harriet Tubman gives a firsthand account of the amazing life of an amazing woman who bravely made so many trips to the South to rescue over 300 of her people along the “Underground Railroad.” The author is somewhat patronizing toward African-Americans, yet beautifully portrays the unwavering Christian faith that sustained Harriet through it all, and the events surrounding her that some call “supernatural.” Her story has recently been made into the film, Harriet.
Solomon Northrup, 12 Years a Slave.
The most dramatic story I have read of someone escaping slavery is that of Solomon Northrup, a free black man who was kidnapped in New York, and sold into slavery in Louisiana, where he suffered until his dramatic rescue. Northrup himself vividly describes his experiences, which shows the cruelty of slavery in the Deep South. The events surrounding his rescue will have you on the edge of your seat. No wonder this was made into an Academy Award Winning film!
Harriet Ann Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself.
This account of a female former slave, using the name Linda Brent, shares graphic details of brutality and especially sexual abuse by white owners. There is a constant tension between Linda and her owner, Dr. Flint, whose affections she continually rejects. Although a true story published at the outbreak of the Civil War, it reads like a novel, and I read it quickly. It gives so many insights into slave life in the South, and even discrimination against blacks in the North.
Josiah Henson, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave.
This true story was the basis for Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I downloaded it and read it in one day. Henson was an industrious man with great leadership and organizational skills. The storyline moves quickly and is so emotional, that it overcomes the 19th century formal writing style. I highly recommend this short read to get a feel for the heartless institution of slavery in the South.
Protesters in San Francisco have pulled down a bust of Ulysses Grant, the former U.S. president and Union general who defeated the Confederates, because Grant married into a slave-owning family. They also pulled down other statues, including that of Francis Scott Key (pictured above), who wrote the U.S. national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” since Key owned slaves.
I readily agree that slavery was and is reprehensible, and the Confederates were traitors to the Union. I also agree that statues of many such historical people need to be removed to museums, not glorified front and center in our parks and courthouses. But where does this sort of thing end? What person, past or present, is without character flaws?
I wonder if these same protesters would be willing to tear down a statue of Charles Darwin, since he was a racist who said Africans were less evolved than white people? I wonder if these same protesters would be willing to deface a statue of John F. Kennedy, since he was reportedly an adulterer?
Interestingly, some of those people of the past, if they were here today, would likely be shocked by the immoral practices of some of these modern protesters, some who may cohabitate outside of marriage or may have killed babies through abortion– but at least they didn’t own slaves, so they judge themselves righteous. How blind these self-righteous anarchists are, seeing the sins of the past but ignoring the sins of the present.
These modern moralists do not see how similar their vandalism is to ISIS fighters who tore down ancient statues in the Middle East because they were “pagan.” These revolutionaries do not see how their onrush to destroy any and every injustice in the name of the people is similar to another revolution– the French revolution, a time when the revolutionaries were soon devouring each other for not being radical enough. Today’s radicals could read about it in their history books, but it seems they have torn out most of the pages.
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
“We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,” repeats the beloved spiritual. “Every rung goes higher higher.” The last verses urge, “Keep on climbing, we will make it,” and finally asks, “Do you want your freedom?” I can just hear Southern slaves singing this as they pick cotton and dream of liberty from oppression. It must have seemed that God was not there, but they found hope in a vision of escaping one day.
Yet when we read the beloved story of Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28, we find a reassurance not just for the future, but for right now. Jacob had left his father Isaac and mother Rebekah in Canaan, and was on a journey to see his relatives in Mesopotamia, and to find a wife.
Ancient pagans thought that a god only dwelled in the land where he was worshiped. If you left that territory, you also left that god. So what a surprise, when Jacob got a vision in a foreign land, of a stairway from the earth to heaven, and angels going up and down it. Then the Lord himself spoke, “I am the LORD (Yahweh), the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac” (Genesis 28:13). The God of Jacob’s father’s was not limited to a territory! The Lord continued “Look, I am with you…” (Genesis 28:15.
In amazement, Jacob named the place Bethel, meaning house of God, and said, “Surely, the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16).
What a reassurance to us when we feel that we are in a god-forsaken place, that there is no god-forsaken place, for God is omnipresent, always present, always here. He is not limited by time, place, or circumstances. Look around and see what God is doing right here, right now. Surely, the Lord is in the place where you are, but do you know it?
Copyright by Bob Rogers
Canaan be cursed. He will be the lowest of slaves to his brothers. – Genesis 9:25, CSB
One of the most despicable distortions of the Bible in all of history, was the use of Genesis 9:25 to justify enslaving the African people.
According to Genesis, shortly after Noah and his sons survived the flood, Noah got drunk and was lying naked in his tent. One of his sons, Ham, saw his father naked and told his two brothers. The two brothers took a cloak and walked backwards into the tent to cover their father while showing him respect by not looking at him. Genesis 9:24-27 says that when Noah awoke and learned what his youngest son had done, he cursed Ham’s descendants by cursing his son Canaan, saying he should be the slave of the descendants of the other sons.
This verse has been used to justify African slavery by those who claimed Canaan was the ancestor of Africans, and that Negroes were destined to be slaves of Caucasians. Since Genesis 10: 6 mentions that one of Ham’s sons was Cush, generally identified with Ethiopia, he has been falsely identified with Ham’s other son Canaan, as though both were African. However, the curse was on Canaan, not Cush, and Genesis 10:15-19 says that the descendants of Canaan included the Jebusites, Amorites and the settlers of Sodom and Gomorrah. All of these are well documented as being in Palestine, not Africa. The Amorites were so evil that Genesis 15:16 says, “the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (This full measure eventually was punished when Joshua entered the land to destroy this people, who were known for such evils as child sacrifice.) As for Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19 tells the story of the destruction of those cities due to their homosexual perversion.
Not only did the curse of Noah apply to Canaan and not Cush, but a prejudice against a descendant of Cush is specifically condemned in scripture. Numbers 12:1-16 tells how Moses own brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam, criticized Moses for marrying a Cushite woman, and the Lord became angry with Aaron and Miriam, cursing Miriam with leprosy for speaking against Moses and his Cushite wife. There are many other scriptures that condemn racism and teach that God does not show favoritism, showing how God accepts people from every race and nation who follow Him (Genesis 12:2-3; 1 Samuel 16:7; Psalm 96:3; Isaiah 2:2; 56:6-7, Jonah 4:11; Acts 10:34-35, Galatians 2:11-14, Colossians 3:11, James 2:1-4, Revelation 7:9).
Thus, not only is it a devilish distortion of scripture to say that Africans were cursed to be slaves, it is also a correct conclusion from scripture to say that those who practice racism against Africans (or any other people) are cursed!
“Ever heard of the ‘Free State of Jones?'” my father asked me when I was a boy. “When Mississippi seceded from the Union, Jones County seceded from Mississippi, but Mississippi forced Jones County back into the state, and the Yankees forced Mississippi back into the Union.”
It wasn’t quite so simple as that, but Dad had the basic story right. Now this little-known (but well-known in south Mississippi) and strange piece of Civil War history is on the big screen, in Free State of Jones.
My wife and I saw the film in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, which is in the county immediately south of Jones. The theater was packed for an afternoon matinee, as people are fascinated by a film about local history. Some people personally knew minor actors in the film. Behind us, someone whispered in a swamp scene, “That must be the Okatoma.”
What they saw was an mostly accurate, violent film about the stubborn, tragic character of Newton Knight, who led a band of escaped slaves and poor white deserters, at times numbering in the hundreds, that literally took control of Jones, Jasper and part of Smith Counties in south Mississippi late in the Civil War, and rebelled against the Confederacy.
(Above: Newt Knight, played by Matthew McConaughey, leads his band of rebels.)
Why did they do it? Jones County had the lowest percentage of slaves in the state of Mississippi. A law passed during the war allowed whites who owned 20 or more slaves to be exempt from fighting. Poor white farmers in south Mississippi had no interest in the war and resented being forced to fight. As Newt Knight famously said, “This is a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”
Notice that I said the film is mostly accurate. There are some dramatized scenes based on the true story, of details that we cannot know, such as some of the interactions between Newt Knight, his wife Serena, and his common-law African-American wife, Rachel. Also, the film takes major liberties with Newt’s killing of the Confederate officer who was trying to capture Knight. The movie invents a dramatic scene involving an ambush at a funeral and shows Newt killing the officer in a church. The historical records indicate that what really happened was that Newt hunted down Major Amos McLemore at the Deason home in Ellisville, killed the colonel in the house, and then fled. This scene is the only major departure from the historical record that I saw in the film, and even though the film took liberty with the events for the sake of drama, at least got it right that Knight hunted down and killed the man who was trying to capture him.
Matthew McConaughey’s portrayal of Newt Knight is convincing, as is all of the acting. The costumes and cinematography are realistic and gripping. Little details are correct, such as names of places, and the correct Mississippi flag of that era. The plot appears to reach a climax of victory and then it feels like an alligator painfully dragging you into the swamp. That is because this is not fiction, this is history. History doesn’t always fit into neat plots with satisfying endings. But the adage applies here: truth is stranger than fiction.
Caution: Free State of Jones is rated R for graphic war violence.
(Above: Newt Knight rallies poor people of Jones County to fight.)
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” — Genesis 1:26, HCSB
Essay Copyright 2015 by Bob Rogers
The Bible says that human beings are made in the image of God. Scholars debate the theological significance of this– that humans resemble God as spiritual beings, rule with God as stewards of His creation, and have a relationship with God by faith. But let’s come down to earth and think about the practical significance of this:
If we are made in the image of God, then abortion is wrong, and murder is wrong, euthanasia is wrong and war is wrong unless it can be shown to be justified by saving more lives than it takes, because these things kill a soul that is made to be with Jesus.
If we are made in the image of God, then racism is wrong, sexism is wrong, pornography is wrong, kidnapping is wrong, and slavery is wrong, because it devalues somebody who is made in the likeness of the king of kings.
If we are made in the image of God, then it is wrong to abuse a child, or abuse a wife or husband, or abuse an elderly person; and it is wrong to neglect and mistreat people because they are poor or mentally unstable or mentally handicapped, physically disabled, or unable to care for themselves due to illness. For each human life is a spiritual life, capable of spending eternity with Christ, so how we treat them down here on earth will be remembered forever up there in heaven.