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Forgiveness = Freedom!

Good Trouble – Step 7 “Take a stand for forgiveness, sacrifice, and love even if you must break the law to do so.” Abolitionists in the 19th century sought to bring slavery to an end. They assisted slaves to freedom from their slaveholders on the higher truth of the Constitution and from the Word of God. They firmly believed the Declaration of Independence applied to all people, slaves included. The nineteenth century abolitionists risked their lives to uphold these truths. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

For the most part abolitionists believed in non-violence, John Brown being an exception. These early abolitionists knew what Martin Luther King Jr. attested to a century later, love is the answer to the sin of racism- a love that is forgiving and sacrificial. This love forgives the slave holder, the racist, and the bigot whose cruelty devastated many lives and families. They understood the secret of “loving one’s enemies,” and “laying down one’s life for their neighbor.”

This is what our heroine Laura Haviland and family believed. “One day as the Haviland family was shopping in the Raisin Dry Goods Store, the proprietor, Brother Hinshaw introduced Charles and Laura to a lady who would change their lives forever. This experience was the beginning of the Haviland’s active involvement in the anti-slavery, abolitionist movement. A beautiful young lady, Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, made our acquaintance. After a proper introduction, Miss Chandler pressed a circular into Laura’s hand. ‘Mrs. Haviland, I would love to have thee join me at my home for a time of reading. I am inviting members of the Raisin Township and Lenawee Community to participate. Will thou come?”

“Certainly, what is the time?

She responded, “Tomorrow mid-afternoon. I live two miles north of thy brother Harvey’s place.”

“Gladly, I will be there.” Laura said.

After she left the store, Brother Hinshaw, a fine birthright Quaker, told Charles, “Miss Chandler is a Hicksite Friend. She has recently moved here with her aunt. I am afraid she is here to stir up all sorts of trouble in our fine town.”

“What type of trouble, Hinshaw?” Charles asked in a concerned voice.

“She writes poetry about slaves,” Hinshaw retorted. “I fear it will only stir up anger and resentment.”

“Brother Hinshaw, thou knows most of the folks in Lenawee County are very sympathetic to the abolitionist cause. How can she cause trouble when so many agree with her views?” Charles countered.

“I don’t know, Haviland. Thou knowest that many Quakers do not approve of this type of talk in aiding and abetting slaves. It is out of character for our Society.”

It was true that Quakers believed they had done all that was necessary to fight slavery. Their Friends meeting did not approve of holding slaves or purchasing goods made from slave labor. They believed that if everyone followed this practice there would be no slaves! Laura knew that slavery was alive and well; and something must be done to stop this abominable institution.

The next day at the Chandler meeting, there were many there who were of common mind that their community should do something, to be proactive in speaking out against the institution of slavery. Everyone took turns sharing.

When it was Laura’s turn, she shared her story about Ben. “Ben came to our town with a family who opened an inn. He was employed mostly in the kitchen, and while Ben was asleep on the kitchen floor, some cruel boys put a quantity of powder in the back of his pants. Placing a slow match to it, they left and watched as if it were a sport through a window. They saw the victim blown up. It was said Ben’s body nearly hit the ceiling. His hips and body were so badly burned that he was never able to sit or stoop after this wicked act. He always had to walk with a cane. Whenever too weary to stand, Ben was compelled to lie down as his right hip and lower limb were stiffened. Little notice was taken to this reckless act except to feed and clothe this life-long cripple as he went from house to house because he was of that crushed and neglected race.”

After Laura shared Ben’s story, there was not a dry eye in the room. Elizabeth closed the meeting with these words of William Lloyd Garrison from the Genius of Universal Emancipation, October 9, 1829. “Slavery is a monster and must be treated as such - hunted down bravely and dispatched at a blow.”

Following this first anti-slavery meeting the group grew in numbers and enthusiasm to the point that a few of the Friends leaders, the Hinshaws and a few others, grew distressed at Laura’s involvement. It was inevitable that one day at Worship, Sister Hinshaw aired her concerns. She spoke openly and blatantly regarding this new anti-slavery group that intentionally set out to disobey the Romans 13 Scripture directing Christians to ‘obey the laws of the land.’ She was grieved that some members of the Raisin Valley Friends Meeting were participating in this group. It was as though someone had dropped a bomb in the room. Laura’s brother, Harvey stood up in disagreement with Sister Hinshaw. Brother Hinshaw stood in defense of his wife. And the debate raged on. The poor church had never seen such an uprising until finally Laura’s husband and pastor, Charles stood and closed the meeting with a prayer for peace. After the service, the Smith and Haviland families gathered to discuss this turmoil amongst the Friends leaders. Laura and Harvey, her brother, shared their belief with the extended family that first and foremost they were Christian. “It is not the Christian way to stand by and watch the suffering of slavery and look the other way. Rather Jesus said, “’If thou hast done it to the least of these my brethren thou hast done it unto me’ Matthew 25:40.”

So, it was on the following Sabbath that Charles stood and read a signed letter of resignation from the Smith and Haviland families: “We the undersigned, do say there is a diversity of sentiment existing in the Society on the divine authority of the Holy Scriptures, the resurrection of the dead, the day of judgment, justification by faith, the effect of Adam’s fall upon his posterity and the abolition of slavery….we therefore, do wish quietly to withdraw from the Monthly Meeting, and thus resign our right of membership with the Society of Friends.”

The Havilands left their church that day never to return until 42 years later, when Laura returned to her Quaker roots. Sacrifice, forgiveness, and love guided their steps in this decision and in the decision to shelter, educate, protect, and lead slave refugees out of bondage. The Havilands created an Underground Network of 27 safe places in the Adrian/Raisin area of Michigan. Laura also led many groups on the Underground Railroad into the promised land of freedom for them – Canada.

Was the United States built on the values of love, sacrifice, and forgiveness?

If so, are these the values of our country today?

Do you believe that sacrifice, love, and forgiveness can serve to reunite our divided United States of America?

How would this step in Good Trouble look in today’s society?

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