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DudleyTyng

Dudley A. Tyng, 1855

In 1856 Reverend Dudley A. Tyng delivered the sermon, Our Country’s Troubles,  before the congregation of the Church of the Epiphany in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Times were indeed quite troubled in the country. As he began he acknowledged the general disdain of discussing politics in the pulpit: “It is undoubtedly a great evil when the teachers of religion forsake their appropriate themes to mingle in all the heated controversies of the day.” But then he goes on to say, “But may there not be also an opposite extreme? May there not be silence when great principles are at stake? … May not the dread of offence be carried so far as to put the pulpit in bondage? Society can suffer in no member without a true-hearted Christian’s ministry suffering with it. … At such times the Christian ministry may be criminal if it does not speak out boldly in behalf of right … It seems to me that we have now reached such a time.”

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1856 map showing the slave states (gray), free states (pink), U.S. territories (green), and Kansas in center (white)

Kansas was bleeding. Two years earlier, Congress had passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act which allowed people in these two territories to decide for themselves, at the polls, whether or not they would allow slavery within their borders. The Act nullified the Missouri Compromise of 1820 which had prohibited slavery north of latitude 36 30′. Corruption and coercion were widespread as people tried to control the polls and the spread of slavery. Conflict erupted between anti-slavery and pro-slavery interests. Thousands poured into the state to sway the voting through rhetoric and violent intimidation.

 

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Abolitionist John Brown, 1856

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Pro-slavery Border Ruffians

Violence would erupt within the walls of Congress as well. In May 1856, anti-slavery Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner delivered an address titled The Crime Against Kansas. He’d written and memorized 112 pages of text. It took him five hours over two days to share it. He focused his carefully crafted ire at two pro-slavery Democratic senators, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina, authors of the Act.

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Stephen A. Douglas and Andrew Butler

Butler was not present in Congress during the address but his cousin House member Preston Brooks of South Carolina was in attendance. Two days after Sumner spoke, Brooks entered the Senate chamber and severely beat him with a heavy cane. It is considered one of the precipitating events of the Civil War. And it certainly must have inspired Tyng to write his sermon, Our Country’s Troubles, one month later.

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Charles Sumner and Preston Brooks

I claim a patient hearing…,” Tyng beseeched the congregation as he brought the issues of the day into the pulpit. “For the first time in this country it is the scene of civil war. Armed men, in battle array, are marching on its soil and carrying with them all the horrors of a hostile invasion. Towns are sacked, houses pillaged … Society is in confusion, public security at an end … Families are driven out from lands which they have tilled, and houses which they have built, and warned to leave the country or be hung. … Hardly a day passes without bringing telegraphic news of some new outrage, so dreadful that we can scarce realize its possibility, or arouse ourselves to feel as the occasion demands.”  As for the author of these outrages, our “own countrymen, citizens of our own free and happy land, imbuing their hands in brother’s blood! And what is the crime … Merely difference of opinion. Merely assertion of their right to think, speak, write and act according to their own conscience and interests …”

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Tyng  outlined the strategic construction of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and how ultimately its purpose, and the ensuing violence in Kansas, was to give slave-holding interests control of Congress. He describes voter fraud involved with election of a Territorial legislature, a legislature that would go on to pass laws that not only enabled slavery but penalized those who were anti-slavery including preventing them from sitting as jurors, and “That writing, printing or circulating anything against slavery should be punished with five years’ imprisonment at hard labor.”

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With regard to the attack on Sumner he asks, “Without the right of freedom of speech, neither our liberties or our religion are secure. If the bludgeon is to be the ruling power in our country, where will be our boasted freedom and national Christianity? If the flag of our country and the symbols of her liberty cannot protect the members of her government within the walls of her Capitol … what is to become of our republic? … The act itself itself is not so ominous of evil as its endorsement. To hear it defended and eulogized [throughout the Southern states] by public assemblies giving votes of thanks to [Brooks’s] iniquities, by the press almost unanimously holding it up as worthy of imitation, and by fellow representatives who screen the offender from punishment, may well make one feel sadly apprehensive for our country.” …

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…why are Southern men so madly resolved that Kansas shall be thrown open to slavery? Is it because they desire to be residents of the country? Very few of them have any such idea. But it will give them first an increase in political power. It will wheel another state into the phalanx, and give them two more Senatorial votes for the control of the government which the far swifter progress of the free states has taken from them in the House of Representatives. Few among us have reflected on the political power given by slavery to the few.

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“Three-fifths of all the slaves are counted in with the whites as the basis of representation, largely increasing the political importance of the white person at the South over the white person at the North. … [Southern] Political honors and influence are confined to a few.  … these are the persons who control the policies of [the sixteen slave holding states] and by their influence at home and at the North have controlled the policy and monopolized the honors of General Government. …” 

“Doubtless one sin for which we are suffering is the base spirit of truckling and pandering to sectional interests … Vainly do we look for patriotism in the wire-working of our political parties. The whole government is administered upon the principle of the division of the spoils. There has been no prejudice so opposed to the spirit of our institutions, no sectional interest so degrading, that political leaders, low and high were not willing to sell themselves to it for votes.”

Tyng held everyone culpable, from Northern politicians courting slaveholder votes to the people sitting in the pews before him.

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As Mark Twain is thought to have said, history doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes. How prescient are Tyng’s words for this day in these United States about people and politics?

Well, in his day, Tyng did not completely leave his audience in despair with his sermon. He left them with what I describe as not so much a call to action as a list of action steps including the following:

“Ours is a government of opinion. To public opinion every party and coalition is compelled to bow. It is mightier than bayonets.  … There is freer circulation of news in this country than in any other, and yet there is surprising ignorance and unconcern in what is taking place in the country.  … Very few of the political journals have reported a faithful report of facts. They have been advocates not witnesses, catching up events for special pleading for party effect, instead of relating the whole truth before the tribunal of the people. … Now let every person seek to inform himself and his neighbors of events as they are. Put the facts before the people. … Let them be taught to view the facts and principles of the present crisis, irrespective of party affinities. … Our first duty, therefore, is to enlighten the public mind. …”

Now, I’m not sure if it was this sermon or if this was simply one of a series of sermons that would so disgruntle the congregation of Church of the Epiphany but it was in the same year as this sermon, 1856, that Tyng would resign and take his followers to form Church of the Convenant in Philadephia. He would die in a tragic farming accident just two years later.

Now the only reason I learned of Tyng and his horribly timeless yet wonderfully timely sermon is through a reference made by Phillips Brooks.

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Phillips Brooks in Philadelphia

While more well-known for his later work as Rector of Trinity Church in the City of Boston, prior to that placement Brooks served as rector at two Philadelphia churches including Church of the Holy Trinity. On Thanksgiving Day in 1863, just three years after it had become an official holiday, Brooks delivered a renowned sermon, Our Mercies of Re-Occupation. Preaching during the midst of the Civil War, like Tyng, Brooks chose to bring the issues of the day into the pulpit. He spoke during a time when people questioned the economics of ending slavery, whether or not slavery was in the bible and so on.

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For Brooks there was but one answer:

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Brooks known for his whirlwind sermons that carried listeners away would touch upon many subjects in his sermon and always remind people, no matter their position, that they could do better. For instance, he states, “If the negro is a man, and we have freed him in virtue of his manhood, what consistency or honor is it which still objects to his riding down the street in the same car with us if he is tired, or sitting in the same pew with us if he wants to worship God.”

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While Tyng’s sermon(s) forced him to leave his church and start anew, Brooks “only” lost a few parishioners and there were many ready to join his church. Self-deprecating, in a letter home, he simply says, “I am glad you liked my sermon. … I have just been reading over Dudley Tyng’s famous sermon from seven years ago. What a brave thing it was to do! Thank God anybody can do it now.”

Who in the world was Tyng, I wondered, to have touched Brooks so.

I subtracted 7 from 1863 and did a little search for Dudley Tyng 1856 sermon. And that was how I learned of a young man who wrote some timeless yet still timely words. By the way if you do a search for just Dudley Tyng (and not his sermons), you’ll most often find references to him being the inspiration for the hymn, Stand Up! Stand Up for Jesus!

Sources & Additional Reading

Dudley A. Tyng’s Our Country’s Troubles (1856) – http://deila.dickinson.edu/cdm/ref/collection/slaverya/id/64330

Charles Sumner’s The Crime Against Kansas (1856) – https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/pdf/CrimeAgainstKSSpeech.pdf

Bleeding Kansas – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bleeding_Kansas

http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Bleeding_Kansas

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “Southern chivalry – argument versus club’s.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1856. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/6232540d-9d12-b4e8-e040-e00a18061bf0

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library. “”The same chain that passes around the slave’s neck is fastened to the white man’s heel.” Par. XXVII.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1856. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-75da-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. “Young boys.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dc-4926-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library. “Commissioner’s sale in 1863.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1940. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dc-9f9a-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

[Two unidentified Border Ruffians with swords / Blackall, photographer, Clinton, Iowa]. [Clinton, iowa: blackall, between 1854 and 1860] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <https://www.loc.gov/item/2016646192/>.

Our Mercies of Re-Occupation by Phillips Brooks. https://ia802305.us.archive.org/33/items/ourmerciesofreoc00broo/ourmerciesofreoc00broo.pdf

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I photographed this tree today. It stands in an adjacent property that has been purchased for development. Given the type of development taking place around me and across Boston, I don’t think the tree is part of the developer’s plan. Its roots may be strong but the tree will be cut down and those roots dug up. Change happens.

DSCN9552Near the tree there is a wild tangle of forsythia branches. For years I’ve watched the brown turn to green and then gold when it fully flowers. A bright sign of spring. I’ve always wanted to sneak onto the property, cut some branches and place them in a vase, like bringing the sunshine indoors. I think they will have the opportunity to bloom one more time before they too are dug up and tossed away. Part of the change.

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I think a lot about change and how change happens. I’m not happy about the changes around me. I am at times near paralyzed by the scale of idiocy and inhumanity in the world right now and especially in my own country under what should be an insignificant presidency. I’m not always sure what to do except donate money where I can, give my time when that makes more sense, and send notes of gratitude (and occasionally of protest). One of my greatest regrets during Obama’s tenure is that I never sent a note of thank you. Not because he was a perfect president but because he was (and remains) a good man, an inspirational figure for the ages. Speaking of inspirational figures … I was looking for some words and came across a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. that seemed relevant.

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In a 1965 commencement address, Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution, King spoke to Oberlin graduates about the strides that had been made in this country.  “We have come a long, long way since the Negro was first brought to this nation as a slave in 1619. In the last decade we have seen significant developments – the Supreme Court’s decision outlawing segregation in the public schools, a comprehensive Civil Rights Bill in 1964, and, in a few weeks, a new voting bill to guarantee the right to vote. All of these are significant developments, but I would be dishonest with you this morning if I gave you the impression that we have come to the point where the problem is almost solved.”

“Let nobody give you the impression that the problem of racial injustice will work itself out. Let nobody give you the impression that only time will solve the problem. That is a myth, and it is a myth because time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I’m absolutely convinced that the people of ill will in our nation – the extreme rightists – the forces committed to negative ends – have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic works and violent actions of the bad people who bomb a church in Birmingham, Alabama, or shoot down a civil rights worker in Selma, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.”

Well, I do not feel I am silent, nor do I like to wait around, but I do feel a bit stalled at this moment. Stalled and appalled.  Appalled at what is taking place in this nation with regard to immigrants. Appalled, when I can stomach it, to view the websites of anti-immigration organizations and to see on their staff and boards people who look like me. And so darned appalled at the petty political games being played with “immigration deals” that leave hundreds of thousands of people in limbo. How are people expected to live with such constant anxiety in their lives? They just do. They live. And they act.

People taking action. That is the key, isn’t?

Today even as I grappled with the overwhelming amount of bad news in the headlines, I found uplift in a little video that was heartbreaking but ultimately so inspiring because it featured two people taking action, in two very different ways, and how those actions galvanized the people around them. Its worth a view when you have the time.

 

 

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nature overwhelming private property

It is important to analyze the how and the why of Trump winning the 2016 Presidential election but right now I am more concerned with the present situation. It’s Fall 2017. While there’s that whole Russian influence piece to be dealt with, there are no hanging chads to be counted. Trump is president. So my question for today is … why is this man who is technically the leader of the most powerful nation in the world being allowed to grandstand and postulate like a spoiled uneducated potty-mouthed silver spoon-wielding toddler without consequence?  Why hasn’t his phone been taken away and put in a lock box until he learns some manners?

He leads the world closer to war(s) with schoolyard taunts back and forth with other world leaders most of whom are as juvenile and narcissistic as Trump. He’s debasing the idea of the American Dream by consistently, if not systematically, instilling fear across this nation. He’s planted the seeds of hopelessness in the hearts of those most desperate, and who aspire to make it to these shores, to start a new life, and to become a productive part of what should not be a stagnant place, this place called the United States of America.

Is there no censure for this man’s juvenile behavior? Does the title of President prevent one from being held accountable for one’s actions?

I mean, really, in a world where daily scores of men, women and children die horrible deaths from violence, starvation, drugs and so many other tragedies, he spends his time (and U.S. tax dollars) and internet bandwidth taking on the NFL as an institution? Through his words and actions he taunts and bullies individually the men and women who expressed once again the idea of the American Dream, an idea that includes freedom of expression?

I think that there is no greater recent expression of what makes America great than what NFL players and owners did this past weekend … they did not all agree that kneeling during the anthem was the right thing to do … but they agreed that those who do bend the knee have the right to do so because where else but America can you do such a thing, to publicly and safely protest what you perceive to be an injustice? Linking arms this weekend, whether standing or kneeling, were Americans of every race. How beautiful was that?

I recollect from the Civics and Government classes that used to be taught in grade schools that there was this thing called “a system of checks and balances” which made U.S. government rather unique in the world. What are the checks and balances on a sitting U.S. President who is inadequate to the tasks before him?

Clearly it is in the best interest of certain individuals and certain institutions for a man like Trump to have the keys to the kingdom. Let him (and those for whom he is simply a mouthpiece) try to bar the gates and build the walls. Others have done so in the past. And over time those gates have been reopened and those walls have been taken down brick by brick. Too many people are becoming near frozen with fear and I say, even if it be easy for me to do so, remain steadfast. Put your words into actions. Keep in mind the upcoming elections. And, you know what else? Be good to your neighbor. Trump isn’t going to be building any bridges. But individually we can. We know what’s tearing us apart. So become agents of change to unite.

 

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One day I stood before a giant globe atlas with a friend in elementary school. We liked to spin it round and round. That day, and I’m not sure why, he stopped the globe and pointed at a place. He looked at me and said with a smile, “That says nigger. That’s what my mama told me.” I squinted at the spot (I needed glasses) and then I said to him, matter of factly, “No. That says Niger. I think your mama got it wrong.” His smile faded. And then we went out to play.

One day in high school computer class (Pascal!) I sat next to a friend whom I’d known since elementary school. We were both geeky. I wore a short skirt and one of my first pair of pantyhose. I almost felt grown up. He kept rubbing my knee. I was beginning to think he might like me. I didn’t know how to giggle but I did smile at what he was doing. I guess he noticed because he said  all of a sudden, “Cynthia, my mother doesn’t like black people. She wouldn’t let me bring you home.” I simply said, “Okay.” And in my mind’s eye I remembered his mother and my mother talking cordially at a parent-teacher meeting.

One day not long ago I stood in a place where I was tasked to welcome strangers. Two men walked in, one wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a Nazi symbol and the other wore a t-shirt that said, white people are the best people. I did not feel very welcoming but to be welcoming was my job. In the end, on that day, the gentlemen and I conversed about everything except what they wore on their shirts and the color of my skin. We went our separate ways both still existing and having to live with each other in this world.

All of these things happened to me before Trump was voted in as President. I don’t blame Trump for racism, conservatism, alt-right, Breitbart and all the other ugliness in this world. I blame him for fanning the flames of hate. I hold him accountable for the blinders he chooses to wear about what he has done and his active willful ignorance about the scale of the harm he will do to this nation and the world with his cabinet choices.

He has become the President of a flawed, great nation. That nation will not fall with his presidency but it may fracture in ways not even conceived of yet. Will I hold him, Pence and others accountable? Yes! But I will also hold myself and others accountable if we do not take every opportunity, each day, no matter how seemingly small, to become better educated, informed, engaged and active world citizens.

One day …

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butterfly in herbs

I don’t trust the incoming President of the United States, nor the people he is likely to appoint to his cabinet, nor the Republicans already in Congress who supported him, nor those Republicans who didn’t support him but were re-elected anyway, not the person he will try to appoint to the Supreme Court, and possibly not even the person he will hire to walk his dog assuming he decides to have one in the White House — I don’t trust any of these people to look out for my best interests as a human being let alone as a citizen of the United States and of the world. So what am I supposed to do as a human being, as a citizen of the United States and of the world?

It is rather despicable to see the likes of Mitch McConnel and Paul Ryan on stage stating that as soon as Trump is officially President they will work to repeal the Affordable Care Act (why not work to fix its problems and expand what works?), cut taxes (for whom or what?), confirm conservative judges (why not find the best judges?), shrink government programs (which ones and why?) and roll back regulations (for whom and why?). They speak only to removing and wiping away President Obama’s legacy — they speak not a word about how they will unite a clearly divided country, provide support to people of all races and socio-economic backgrounds whether at the federal level or by supporting state governments to do work at the ground level.  There is no acknowledgement, nor will there ever be I suspect, of how the Republicans chose to purposefully roadblock Obama every chance they could, and that roadblocking had absolutely nothing to do with the best interests of the American people. It was to prove a point, to hammer it home, at the expense of the American people.

I will not pull out the race card, immigration, fear of “the other.” Van Jones did that eloquently enough.

To some degree the issues that divide this nation are the issues that have been present since the founding of this nation – race, class, gender, fear, hope, desire and so on. There especially seems to be a universal anxiety about the future. If there are those who are not anxious then I wonder what bubble they live in.  Somehow or other, we have been able over time, and sometimes bloodily so, to overcome if not outright address these issues. But these issues, a part of our human nature, do not ever fade away.

I will continue to mull over what I will do positively to move forward as a human being and citizen of the United States and of the world. I personally do not feel a desire to wrap myself inside a cocoon until a better day arrives. Today is all we have. I will continue to celebrate what has made this country great all along, to seek out its beauty with my camera, to share the stories of its people, past and present, and those who strive to become part of its future, and I will make a greater effort to be an active citizen. I’m never going into politics, but I am reinvigorated to go knocking at the door of those who serve the people at the local level and to ask them, what are you going to do?

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A long trip is nearing its end. I rest in a place that is stunningly beautiful. It is an unexpectedly thought provoking place. The mountains of West Virginia. I have been here before but never during a campaign year. Trump-Pence signs are on many a lawn, as are surprisingly to me, a few Gary Johnson. No Hillary Clinton signs seen so far. As I interact with people here, I can imagine that she would seem quite foreign. I am reminded of the time I sat in an airport near two older ladies watching a television. George W. Bush was on the screen. He spoke but the sound was on mute. One of the ladies said, “I’d invite him to my picnic. I think I’ll vote for him.” Policy and experience were moot. He came across as familiar and likeable. Clinton does not. Yet Trump does? Fascinating.

I am in an area that is approximately 96 percent non-Hispanic White according to demographic tables. Without looking up the statistic, I suspected such a number. I stand out quite a bit. People stare whenever I step out of a car, walk across the parking lot, sit in a restaurant. The culture here is a bit different than my recent experience in South Carolina. There, even if you stand out as different, the culture is such that you “throw up a hand” or acknowledge a presence in some way. At least, that’s the way it used to be. Here … people sometimes seem startled when I say hello or look at them and smile in greeting. Some will nod back. Others just stare. At times I felt uncomfortable, and it wasn’t just the Confederate flags peppering various places. The flags were old and tattered. Perhaps those were really about heritage and not about the new symbolism of hate.

Sitting in a diner — lovely staff, good food –I watched the local news. On screen, a black man was asked by a white man if discrimination still existed. Everyone who walked through the door glanced at me. That’s fine. Once while working with a youth writing program in Boston, we brought the children across town to do an activity. Afterwards we went for ice cream at a nearby ice cream shop. One of the girls leaned against me. She said, “Cynthia, nobody here looks like me. Like us.” I said, “And that’s okay. To go places and to be different. Let’s pick out our ice cream.”

To go places. To be different. Even if one is not readily welcomed. There is value in that especially in a world where it is too easy to view those who are different, those with whom one has had no personal experience, as … well … those who should be held at bay with walls and exclusionary laws that have been passed in the past and can be again.

Because of the various circles I run in for work and pleasure, sometimes people will say to me, “Cynthia, I think you’re the first black person that such-and-such has interacted with.” I have to hope that I am not the last. And I have to hope that interaction is more than what’s shown on TV and in social media.

This is an incomplete post in the sense that these thoughts and my experiences from this trip are still percolating. We’ll see what the future holds. I’m grateful for the opportunity to wind my way through West Virginia and to glimpse just a bit of its natural beauty.

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They could have stayed in the land where they had been born, a land that over time their ancestors had come to consider home. During the war the land had been bloodied but the war was over. A few cities and institutions had been destroyed but for the most part key systems and infrastructures had been preserved.  Yes, war had ended, and with war’s end some change had come.  Were they not free? A big change, for sure, but clearly not enough.

Word spread of a different place, a place with more opportunities, where one could make a fresh start.  It would be an all or nothing gamble. Not everyone was sure of such a gamble but some were.  Families mobilized.  All they need do to reach this promised land was to cross the river.  And they did.

Not everyone was happy.

This is how one group’s journey was described by an observer:

“… today there are sixty or seventy … of all ages and sexes on the river bank … singing and shouting … waiting for a government boat that will give them free transportation … These emigrants are the most lazy … too lazy to make a living in this warm and generous climate, where nature holds out to them her arms laden with rich and magnificent fruits that never fail. She points to her lakes … with unfailing yield of food from the waters, and can boast of a soil more productive than any other. Yet this lazy class of emigrants are compelled to go [elsewhere] to make a living or be fed by a magnanimous government.  The most important of these emigrants have abandoned comfortable homes, and many of them have no means to pay passage … and what money they had was expended … [They] have been deceived by designing rascals in our midst who have held out flattering hopes and promises for the future that can never be realized. …”

As for that elsewhere considered a promised land? It was Kansas. The river crossed was the Mississippi.  The emigrants were African Americans departing the south in what’s considered to be one of the first major migrations after the Civil War. The above excerpts were posted in the Boston Post on May 2, 1879 (just fourteen years after the end of the Civil War and two years after the end of Reconstruction) in a letter written by a resident of Vidalia, Louisiana to his client in Massachusetts. His client owned a Louisiana plantation.

While over six million people were freed by the end of the Civil War, many continued to work the fields where they had once been enslaved. Few other employment options existed.  By the late 1870s, white southern elites returned to power and quickly undid many of the advancements made with regard to voting rights and economic opportunities for blacks. As economic pathways disappeared and violence increased, people sought a promised land and that land was out west and especially Kansas, home of the mythic John Brown.

One concern sparked by the exodus of African Americans was, who would work the fields?  In his 1879 letter, the author includes a clipping from another southern voice reflecting upon this potential impact and proposed federal actions.

“The proposition of [President] Garfield to appropriate from the Treasury of the United States seventy-five thousand dollars for the relief of these emigrants … it is one the of most “cheeky”propositions, to use a cant expression, we have ever heard.  Here is a people, probably in combination with Garfield himself and other haters of the South, who leave their comfortable homes in the South, and under certain unexplained influences go voluntarily to the West to better their condition.  They there find only those who have persuaded them into such a wild goose chase … They find the conditions identical with what had been told them over and over again by intelligent men in the country they have left, they find the same difficulties and trials which every class of immigrants have to encounter when moving to a new country, and they are thrown on their own resources to no greater extent than the thousands of white immigrants who every year throng the Western Territories. Why does not Mr. Garfield ask the Congress of the United States to appropriate money for the temporary support of German and Irish and other European emigrants? They are as worthy …

“If this proposition to support this band of crazy wanderers should be adopted and money appropriated for keeping them in idleness, there would be created a drain on the public Treasury which hundreds of millions would not satisfy … and the time would not be long before our Western friends would have a surfeit of their colored brethren. … How long is this peculiar care for this class of our population to continue? … The colored people are as free as the whites … He has the same right as the white man has to emigrate but he has no further right than the white man for assistance …

“The place of those who go from the South will doubtless be soon supplied by the Chinamen, and what would Mr. Garfield say if the people of the South should apply to Congress for a year’s support for the almond-eyed Mongolians who may be brought here to develop our cotton lands?”

There are other letters from that time that echo the same sentiments about the roles of African Americans, the Chinese immigrants and more but I stop here. The history of that time — of emigration, migration and refugees arriving in a new land — is complex and is part of what makes America so darned unique.  Though no wall around Kansas or along the Mississippi was mentioned, as I read the words, I could not help but think of Trump. He is nothing new. Nor are the people who look up to someone like him, a man who puts down everyone, and who enables some peoples’ worse base instincts toward selfishness, fear of others and violence.

I do not find hope in these old letters but I am reminded that we as a nation have survived such people and attitudes before.  I have seen many stories of late debating whether or not Alex Haley’s Roots should have been remade. I don’t know but I do believe that there are always lessons to be learned from studying and remembering the past.

Sources

Boston Post, May 2, 1879, page 2, “The Negro Exodus”

National Archives Exodus to Kansas

 

 

 

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