Douglas and I are in Savannah celebrating our wedding anniversary. It is a beautiful city, one that reminds me so much of European cities in the styles of the houses, and in the layout of streets. People also walk a lot here, and there is a public transportation system geared toward making it where visitors can comfortably get around the city. It is hot and humid, and I told Douglas that when we visit again, it will not be in the summer months.
But, what has touched my heart and motivated this post is the history of African Americans in this lovely city, as Savannah was one of the cities in which stolen Africans were sold, and many of the slave ships and slave traders were from here. We both enjoy touring historic homes, and here in Savannah, slaves were one of the main source of wealth for the owners of these beautiful homes. Also, I was amazed to see that history sometimes really does repeat itself.
All I could think about was these black people sleeping on pallets on floors, while whites slept in the amazing beds that we all oohed and ached over. One young woman kept calling them “enslaved people,” somehow, to me, minimizing the brutality of this system.
At one point, we were told that if any slave was found with a pen or paper or a book, they were whipped, had their hand cut off, or killed, as the law forbade education for slaves. This means that for nearly four hundred years, a people were denied basic human dignity, and I simply had to ask the question, “Why could they [white slave owners] not see the humanity of these dark-skinned people?”
Here it is the year of 2018, and the pain of slavery hit me with such an unexpected power as I listened to the stories and visited the auction places and saw the boats that show black people shackled together around their necks. At First African Baptist Church, one of the stops on the Underground Railroad, we learned that children were sold away from their parents, taken from their arms, as the women and men screamed for mercy. I cannot help but think that after more than a century later, children taken from their families is still a strategy for humiliating and dehumanizing brown ad black peoples, as we witness in the news programs.
But, what is even more painful for me is that as the various tours wind through this beautiful city, with its many amazing trees and parks, the history of slavery is simply glossed over or not shared at all. Even as they pass the first African American Baptist churches, no mention is made of the brutality and inhumanity of slavery, and I ask, “Why?”
As I learned today in that church built by slaves that the slaveowners preached to slaves Ephesians 6: 5, “Slaves, obey your earthy masters with respect and fear and sincerity of heart, just as you would show to Christ,” I was appalled at the hypocrisy of the white slaveowners. Yet, even today, our politicians and their appointees often justify their inhumanity by quoting Bible verses or saying the move is biblical in nature, and I am reminded that hypocrisy is still alive and well in American Christianity.
But, I was also proud to hear how the slaves used all means to try to find freedom, for they knew that no human being was ever meant to be owned by another human being and that slavery was not of God, who freed the Jews from bondage because He had heard their cries of oppression and acknowledged the suffering of slavery (Exodus 3). Even today, as I have read of the criticism of some evangelical Christian leaders and other preachers regarding what is occurring on our borders, I am hopeful that just maybe we can find our way back to civility and justice.
On the statue above of an African family with shackles at their feet is a quote from the great poetess, Maya Angelou, and it reads, “We were stolen, sold, and bought together from the African Continent. We got on the slave ships together. We lay back to belly in the holds of the slave ships in each other’s excrement and urine together. Sometimes died together, and our lifeless bodies thrown overboard together. Today, we are standing up together with faith and even some joy.”
And my pain is somewhat assuaged by knowing that faith in God is still the key for overcoming the hardships of this life, and that joy is still possible, especially when I think of how far I have come through trusting in the Lord. The excruciating pain of history reminds us of how far we have come from those dark days, but the promise of history is that it also shows us how much further we still have to go.