The people Adeline enslaved risked death to be free, an heroic struggle for their human rights that is at the core of our national values, and for which my great-great-grandmother expresses nothing but disdain. As I read about what enslaved people risked for freedom and security, I find myself thinking as well about modern refugees trying to escape war, extreme poverty, political oppression, physical abuse, and drug cartels by packing into rafts, digging through tunnels, and crossing deserts to be “free as a bird”.
In my effort to keep the poems from getting out of control, I focused only on the inhumanity of the slave holders, but keep reading in this letter. Northern acts of destruction were more about vengeance than scorched earth: cutting cloth from looms, destroying crops, and seizing ordinary household items such as tableware. Depriving civilians of the means to feed and clothe themselves is a war crime.
l think we might be less defensive and more open to understanding the legacy of slavery if we focused on sins of humanity against humanity, which in this particular time and place in history played out as White on Black, South on North, North on South, but which have played out and continue to play out across time, place, and culture in so many horrific configurations that maybe we should stop pointing figures at anyone particular group and ask instead, “What can go so wrong in all of us, and how do we overcome?
I’ve chosen Paul Robeson’s recording from among numerous versions of “No More Auction Block for Me” because well, he’s Paul Robeson. If this tune sounds a bit familiar, and I am sure it will, see the side bar in this article on “We Shall Overcome.”