Welcome back to our series on Good Trouble. Hi! I am Sheryl the Executive Director of Sarver Corp Foundation. Step 4 of Good Trouble is this: Do not judge/Strip away labels & stereotypes. Now, you may think this is an impossible task. Obviously, labels are not all bad, we are thankful for traffic signal labels whose green, yellow, and red lights keep us from many accidents. We are thankful for the warnings on the labels of products that protect our family and our pets from harm. However, In the United States of America, we are experiencing a deep philosophical divide. Yes, we are divided down the middle by labels & stereotypes. I used to watch the show Crossfire back in the day on CNN. I always loved to listen to both sides, choose one, and root for that side. It got my adrenalin revved up and I looked forward to these debates daily. Yet, today political philosophies divide our country into two camps; and for some reason the pressure is to choose one side or another to the exclusion of truth that may exist in the opposing side, or that both sides may have elements of truth. In the USA you are either prochoice or prolife. You are either for gun control or against it. You are either a Republican or a Democrat. You are either a liberal, a progressive or a conservative. Each presents their own platform and you either accept it or you are ostracized from the party. Yes, and one more thing- there is pressure to accept everything on the platform. So, it is only normal that on most issues the country is divided- either you are for or against. It is increasingly difficult to find statesmen and women who are willing to build a bridge of agreement from both sides.
Do you think this political divide is a new reality? Think again. Over 150 years ago the slavery issue marked a deep divide and as I mentioned in my last video, there are 620,000 graves from the Civil War to prove it. There was great drama in the 1850’s, the decade before the Civil War. One such dramatic scene includes our Laura Haviland. Handbills with her picture were spread throughout the South with these words: LAURA HAVILAND WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE-$3,000 REWARD. This was the doing of the Chesters, Elsie Hamilton’s slave owner. You will remember Laura protected Elsie & Willis from being recaptured which I presented in Video #3. After the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, many slave owners returned to free states to recapture their emancipated slaves as well as abolitionists who had assisted them. One abolitionist friend Calvin Fairbanks fell into this trap as he was trying to assist a slave woman to freedom. Fairbanks was thrown into a Louisville, KY prison. Fairbanks sent out a SOS letter with a special code to Levi Coffin’s furniture store where Laura Haviland worked and resided. Levi Coffin is known today as the Superintendent of the Underground Railroad. Back to the letter, this code included a signature of stars comprised of the number of letters in his name. Laura knew immediately after counting the six stars in the first name that it was Calvin Fairbanks and the count of the last line of stars verified her hunch. Though an attempt to travel and help him was risky and many friends warned her against it, Laura knew that God was with her and felt a great peace about making the trip. Her friends the Coffins loaded her with a trunk of warm clothes that would save Calvin’s life and Levi secured passage for her to Louisville on the Ben Franklin No. 2 ship with his friend, Captain Barker. Before her departure, Melancthon Henry, the freed son of Patrick Henry who had emancipated him, pressed 3 silver dollars into her hand for Calvin. He prayed over her saying, “You are going into the lion’s den, and my prayer is that you may be as wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove.” With a tearful thanks, she boarded the Ben Franklin No. 2 ship.
Safely arriving in Louisville at Colonel Buckner’s home, the jailer who lived next to the prison, Laura was accepted kindly and given a place to stay there because of a letter of introduction and the connection Captain Barker had with Colonel Buckner.
The Buckner’s gave great hospitality to Mrs. Haviland except for Colonel Buckner’s only topic for conversation, the faulty ideas of slavery from the North. Buckner believed the institution of slavery was a happy enterprise for his slaves. Laura questioned this proposition, “Well if thy slaves are so happy and contented, why do they make thee so much trouble in their efforts to reach Canada?” These conversations continued and took on many twists and turns. Surprised to learn that Buckner was not only the jailer but also a Methodist Sunday School teacher, she was even further surprised when suddenly out of nowhere he asked, “I would like to know Mrs. Haviland where you abolitionists get your principles of equal rights?” Holding nothing back Haviland replied,
“Colonel Buckner we find them between the covers of the Bible. God created man in his own image, in his own likeness….God created of one blood all the nations that dwell upon the earth….Christ shed his precious blood for the whole human family, irrespective of nation or color. We believe that all human beings are objects of redeeming love. Our Heavenly Father gave the power of choice to humans He created for His own glory and this power to choose good or evil as a truth co-existent with man’s creation.”
Silence ensued and no response given. Behind the scenes Laura had no idea of the scurrilous articles that were written about her implicating her in the incident for which Fairbanks was imprisoned. Yet, Buckner could find no cause to arrest her. Laura quickly realized that he was keeping her in his home to build a case against her. Though she wanted to see Fairbanks, she decided to pack and make preparations for the return back to Cincinnati on the Ben Franklin No. 2. As she told Buckner, he could present the trunk to Calvin. Then, right before she was to leave the Colonel relented and allowed her into the prison to see Fairbanks. She was able to deliver the trunk personally and have a very brief though intense conversation with him. Calvin’s eyes were filled with tears as were Laura’s. This meeting was deeply sad for Laura as she knew that bitter prejudice was the true charge of his crime. Calvin was surrounded by other slaves awaiting the slave market. Laura was most cautious not to acknowledge her recognition of them as it could make their plight worse. After a brief discussion with Calvin and a promise to do what she could to secure legal help for him, she bowed to them all and walked away. Outside of the jail Buckner warned Haviland with trembling voice that the officers in the jail had noticed a current sweeping through the slaves at the sight of her. He informed her as she left, she would be at the mercy of a group of officers determined to arrest her. Looking him straight in the eyes, she said, “I have nothing to fear. The God of Daniel is here. Should I be arrested, thou would not keep me in thy jail three days. I have no more fear than if I were in my own room in Cincinnati.” Following this, she left for the Ben Franklin #2 on her own as Colonel Buckner feared he could no longer protect her. Walking along the sidewalk down to the wharf, she passed one of Louisville’s nicest hotels where a group of 15-20 men were a buzz with excitement hovering around them. Her first thought was to cross on the other side of the street when a phrase from the Good Book came to mind. “I will neither turn to the right or the left, but pass through in the midst.” The men were so occupied in the buzz of the hour that they hardly saw her, but she did overhear one saying. “Great excitement in town today.” Another chirped, “Yes, Sir! You can see a group of men at every street corner.” Laura managed to smile and chuckle at the thought. “They had no idea that she was the little old lady causing the town’s excitement.” Yes, she walked through the lion’s den without a scratch!
Stereotypes do not adequately describe the whole reality or picture they are meant to symbolize. Sometimes they fit, but many times they do not. At other times, a stereotype or label is simply a cover for the truth. There is a danger of misjudging others by flippantly applying stereotypes without understanding the context in a situation. They are shortcuts that can be very wrong, deceitful, and most often painful.
Have you had experiences where you found you were completely wrong about someone you labeled or judged?
Consider the trend of athlete’s taking a knee, some interpret this as support for those less fortunate- Others think it is a disgrace to not stand for the American flag. How could a national discussion about this help us find common ground?
Can you share an experience where you were pleasantly surprised when someone you had stereotyped was not at all what you judged them to be?
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