Each year in February, the U.S. takes the entire month to pause and reflect upon the lives and sacrifices of Black Americans who helped build the nation we now know as the United States of America. Last week we kicked off the first Sunday of Black History Month examining how we came to celebrate Black History in the month of February along with our first story of triumph in harmony with this year's theme Black Resistance. (If you missed last week's article, you can check it out here.)
This week, we are continuing to spotlight stories from the resistance from Black Americans who were enslaved in America. Welcome to part 2 of our Shadows from Our Past: Triumphs in Black History.
"In 1854, Charles was owned in the city of Richmond by Benjamin Davis, a notorious negro trader. Charles was quite a 'likely-looking article,' not too black or too white, but rather of a nice 'ginger-bread color.' Davis was of the opinion that this 'article' must bring him a tip-top price. For two or three months, the trader advertised Charles for sale in the papers, but for some reason or other Charles did not command the high price demanded. While Davis was thus daily trying to sell Charles, Charles was contemplating how he might escape. Being uncommonly shrewd he learned something about a captain of a schooner from Boston and determined to approach him with regard to securing a passage. The captain manifested a disposition to accommodate him for the sum of ten dollars, provided Charles could manage to get to Old Point Comfort, there to embark. The Point was about one hundred and sixty miles distant from Richmond."
Story of those times; looking to make a profit off a Black body. However, Mr. Davis did not realize he was dealing with the spirit of a MAN who was determined to be more than just a commodity to fatten someone else's change purse. His resolve had to carry him because 160 miles was no hop, skip, and jump especially when you were Black and wanted by the bounty hunters. But try he must. He made it to Old Point where he was well known as he had been partly brought up there and still had relatives and friends there. It would be thought that this would be his providence, but it turned out to be quite contrary. Traps were laid for him and even his closest relatives, in fear of the harsh penalties of violating the rule of the laws at that time, were too afraid to provide him lodging or even food or drink.
"Having watched his opportunity, he managed to reach Higee hotel, a very large house without a cellar, erected on pillars three or four feet above the ground. One place alone, near the cistern presented some chance for a hiding-place, sufficient to satisfy him quite well under the circumstances. This dark and gloomy spot he at once willingly occupied rather than return to Slavery. In this refuge he remained four weeks. Of course he could not live without food; but to communicate with man or woman would inevitably subject him to danger. Charles' experience in the neighborhood of his old home left no ground for him to hope that he would be likely to find friendly aid anywhere under the shadow of Slavery. In consequence of these fears he received his food from the 'slop tub,' securing this diet in the darkness of night after all was still and quiet around the hotel."
Eating slop was the sacrifice Charles was willing to make in order to taste freedom and resist the bondage of slavery. This arrangement worked well for him until one evening a young boy threatened to blow it all out of the water.
"While prowling around in the darkness he appeared to be making his way unconsciously to the very spot where Charles was reposing. How to meet the danger was to Charles' mind at first very puzzling, there was no time to plan now. As quick as thought he feigned the bark of a savage dog accompanied with a furious growl and snarl which he was confident would frighten the boy half out of his senses, and cause him to depart quickly from his private apartment. The trick succeeded admirably, and the emergency was satisfactorily met, so far as the boy was concerned, but the boy's father hearing the attack of the dog, swore that he would kill him. Charles was a silent listener to the threat, and he saw that he could no longer remain in safety in his present quarter."
Some persons who found themselves enslaved would rather die taking the chance at freedom than to live under the yolk of slavery. I wish I could conclude here with you how Charles' tale ends but, you know, copyrights. To find out for yourself more on Charles story (and other others who made daring escapes from the grips of slavery) see William Still's book, "The Underground Railroad: Authentic Narratives and First-Hand Accounts" from which these excerpts came. So, tell me in the comments below. Do you think Charles reaches his dream of freedom? Or does he die valiantly standing for what he believes in? I am most curious to know the following: Do you think you could have taken those chances?
History is tough to digest sometimes. Uncomfortable even. As mentioned last week, wellness is varied and we cannot exclude intellectual pursuits from our picture of wellness. When we know where we have been, this knowledge can help us more positively shape where we are headed. Please remember though, as you begin this journey, do not worry about getting it perfect; just get it going. Until next time. Happy reading!
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