Someone once said to me, “Slavery is complicated.” Actually there is nothing complicated about slavery. Many families in both the North and the South became wealthy because of unpaid labor in the first 100 years of this nation’s establishment and those unpaid laborers were enslaved because of their heritage and skin color.
Enslaved African-American were held against their will. They were not considered fully human. In fact they were considered only 3/5s of a person by the U.S. Government in 1787.
And if they escaped from their slaveholders to the “free North” they and those who assisted them could be arrested, according to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. (Nothing’s new under the sun.)
And most importantly, slaveholders were more interested in their own economic survival – and wealth -than the fact that they believed they could actually own other human beings who were created in God’s Image.
Slavery is not complicated.
Please feel free to challenge me on this. When the Bible speaks of slavery, it’s not what was happening with the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
But history is indeed complicated.
I don’t do weddings at former plantations. It’s like celebrating at a prison camp and even though it might be a pretty prison camp, it’s still the site of violence and darkness. And so I walked down the long, luscious driveway of a “farm” in Albemarle County, Virginia to officiate at the wedding of a special couple in my life, my heart sank. “This is a former plantation that held enslaved people,” I thought to myself. The wedding invitation called the venue a farm. The owners call it a farm.
I’ve been doing some research. The property includes slave graves haphazardly located around the property. And the owners also say that they’ve found a tunnel under the outbuildings which was used by The Underground Railroad. Those on this beautiful “farm” both enslaved human beings and helped enslaved human beings. Both things could be true. It also could be true that the owners didn’t actually find a tunnel but it makes it more palatable to tell people their home was part of The Underground Railroad. In my research about other UR locations in Virginia, their home is not mentioned.
My point is that learning our history- however difficult- is important. But let’s not stop there.
Responding to our history – whether it involves our own family tree or the property on which we live – shows that we want to repair the breach. It signifies that we recognize the humanity of those who were not considered fully human in the past. It means we are committed to seeing all people as God’s Children.
It was a beautiful wedding. We pray for a future that’s beautiful for all people.
Image of the Estouteville Farm in Albemarle County, Virginia.