Monday, September 5, 2011

Changing the world in perspective

Hope. That's what every activist lives on. Speaking to a friend the other day I had to remind her of something. I had to remind her that big changes in the world have rarely come easy or fast. A mere one hundred years before the year of my birth, the American Civil War was ending. It took another 100 years for the American Civil Rights Movement to come into its own.

To help encourage those in this fight, who so often understandably want to quit, I offer the following loose timeline, thanks to Wikipedia.

The first American movement to abolish slavery came in the spring of 1688 when German and Dutch Quakers of Mennonite descent in Germantown, Pennsylvania (now part of Philadelphia) wrote a two-page condemnation of the practice and sent it to the governing bodies of their Quaker church, the Society of Friends.

The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage was the first American abolition society, formed 14 April 1775, in Philadelphia, primarily by Quakers who had strong religious objections to slavery.

The first article published in what later became the United States advocating the emancipation of slaves and the abolition of slavery was allegedly written by Thomas Paine. Titled "African Slavery in America", it appeared on 8 March 1775.

The importation of slaves into the United States was officially banned on January 1, 1808.

Beginning in the 1830s, the U.S. Postmaster General refused to allow the mails to carry abolition pamphlets to the South. Northern teachers suspected of abolitionism were expelled from the South, and abolitionist literature was banned. Southerners rejected the denials of Republicans that they were abolitionists.

In 1841 John Quincy Adams represented the Amistad African slaves in the Supreme Court of the United States and argued that they should be set free.

The well-established colleges, such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton, generally opposed abolition.

In the early 1850s, the American abolitionist movement split into two camps over the issue of the United States Constitution. This issue arose in the late 1840s after the publication of The Unconstitutionality of Slavery by Lysander Spooner. The Garrisonians, led by Garrison and Wendell Phillips, publicly burned copies of the Constitution, called it a pact with slavery, and demanded its abolition and replacement. Another camp, led by Lysander Spooner, Gerrit Smith, and eventually Douglass, considered the Constitution to be an antislavery document. Using an argument based upon Natural Law and a form of social contract theory, they said that slavery existed outside of the Constitution's scope of legitimate authority and therefore should be abolished.

The most influential abolitionist tract was Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), the best-selling novel and play by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Outraged by the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 (which made the escape narrative part of everyday news), Stowe emphasized the horrors that abolitionists had long claimed about slavery.

Historian Frederick Blue called John Brown "the most controversial of all nineteenth-century Americans."[48] When Brown was hanged after his attempt to start a slave rebellion in 1859, church bells rang, minute guns were fired, large memorial meetings took place throughout the North, and famous writers such as Emerson and Henry David Thoreau joined many Northerners in praising Brown.

Union leaders identified slavery as the social and economic foundation of the Confederacy, and from 1862 were determined to end that support system. Meanwhile pro-Union forces gained control of the Border States and began the process of emancipation in Maryland, Missouri and West Virginia. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on 1 January 1863, and in the next 24 months it effectively ended slavery throughout the Confederacy. The passage of the Thirteenth Amendment (ratified in Dec. 1865) officially ended slavery in the United States, and freed the 50,000 or so remaining slaves in the border states.

The movement started in 1688 and was effectively victorious with the end of the American Civil War in 1865.

It took another 100 years, 1965, to bring a movement that finally brought equality and true civil rights to the former slaves.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks (the "mother of the Civil Rights Movement") refused to give up her seat on a public bus to make room for a white passenger. She was secretary of the Montgomery NAACP chapter and had recently returned from a meeting at the Highlander Center in Tennessee where nonviolent civil disobedience as a strategy had been discussed.

1965 Congress passes the Voting Rights Act of 1965, making it easier for Southern blacks to register to vote. Literacy tests, poll taxes, and other such requirements that were used to restrict black voting are made illegal.

We live in the Internet age, where we expect such immediate results for anything we do. And sometimes, if we don't see it, we start to question whether we are even doing the right thing at all.

I don't know how often, on news story message boards, I have read, not without a shiver, some polygamy apologist saying that polygamy is a viable "form of marriage" as evidenced by history, and most specifically the bible. The same, the very same can be said of the practice of slavery. Its history, too, is one as old, and real, and viable as the history of the world, and even of the bible. Yet, here we are, today, in a world where very few of us will ever see the gross message on a news comment site, lauding or defending the institution of slavery. The world has changed. It never changed because of one single person's efforts, but was the culmination of centuries of sweat and toil and the blind love of the right thing, by many different individuals.

Let us not make the mistake of becoming faint of heart, just because the world does not fall at our feet and declare the gross error of its ways. Let us take cheer in the knowledge, that like others before us who faced the very same things, they pressed on. That is, after all, what faith is, isn't it, the ability to keep doing what you know is right, even when the circumstances around you offer little or no proof that is exactly what you are, right.


  1. I think that emphasizing the resemblance between polygamy and slavery is a winning formula. When I look at a theory, I go directly to the fallacies, when they're there. I've found that this is an interesting way of grouping the bad theories for further analysis. The bad ideas always have a self-serving apparatus concealed somewhere, and these days people are just using the same self-serving reasoning that kept US slavery in existence for so long.

  2. Everything you write is so... moving. God bless.

  3. This might be one of the most profound blogs I have ever read. God bless you K. Dee.

  4. Keep on fighting K Dee!

  5. Thanks! Will do! G-d bless us all for sticking to it.