Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Who Writes History?
I am currently reading an award-winning book on the Underground Railroad, the escape route, or routes, for escaped slaves. I decided to do so to further my education in Black History Month. Eric Foner is a thoughtful and thorough writer and I am learning about what this conduit to freedom actually was -- and wasn't. It wasn't nearly as organized as is often portrayed. And it wasn't necessarily the noble efforts of white people who made escape possible. Why do we think it was? Because whites wrote the story, and didn't hesitate and embellish to portray themselves in a heroic light. The truth is that the escapees were the heroes, and much of the support they received came from other blacks who were already free in northern states and in Canada. They took considerable risks and made significant sacrifices, often for those they did not know in any way.
Yes, religious folk such as Quakers helped escaping slaves, and there were other Christians who were involved as a matter of conscience. Some of them were brave and suffered for their efforts. Some were beaten and had their homes burned. Organizations were formed called manumission societies which worked to support escaping slaves. At the same time they could be paternalistic and established policies which didn't really support blacks as equals.
Reader Eric -- my bro -- commented on my earlier blog about To Kill a Mockingbird and mentioned the article by Lawrence Hill and subsequent CBC discussion about the novel. He's correct in saying that the novel is still worthwhile, as is the film. They give us a window on a troubling aspect on North America history and call us to something higher. Hill's point about the story of racism being written by whites is well taken just the same. We need the different perspectives that are emerging.