Good afternoon! It is a lovely day to continue our series on Good Trouble! Good Trouble Step 7 continued. “Take a stand for forgiveness, sacrifice, and love even if you must break the law to do so.” Forgiveness, love, and sacrifice are concepts that have sadly been replaced with retribution, rejection, and self-absorption. In the name of justice, many seek revenge and a reversal of power roles in society. There is no doubt that people of color were powerless and impoverished, abandoned and treated with brutality and cruelty. There are no excuses or passes for those evil slave holders who treated an entire race of God’s creation with contempt. Not only this, but changing the hearts and minds of the Rebel sentiment has come with great difficulty. It is easy to see why such bitterness, anger, and resentment still exists generations later- over 150 years later. Yet, today much progress in race relations is clearly evident, the first black President Barak Obama, the first female black Vice President Kamala Harris, and many other minorities in places of leadership, Congress, and the Supreme Court.
In 1846, Laura Haviland widowed with seven beautiful children, who could care for one another, did not dwell on the loss of her husband, baby, parents, and sister who had died during a pandemic. Sound familiar? No, she was considered a celebrity for her work in protecting the Hamilton’s from Elsie’s cruel slave master. Held at gunpoint, Haviland spoke firmly into the nose of the gun! Human beings are not anyone’s property regardless of race, color, gender, or creed! This conviction guided her in times of danger as well as in her dangerous travels on the Underground Railroad. Laura could not understand why “doing the right thing should make anyone a celebrity!” Yet she was haunted by one sad reality. Her children had simple human privileges that those of black slave children couldn’t even imagine. A still small voice whispered in her heart. “Thy children are not in danger of being beaten, demoralized, and sold away from thy home.” She asked the Lord, “What can I, one lone woman, do to help these in terrible need?” Perhaps if she had never responded to this question, her question would have remained just that- a question. Instead, she believed that the answer would come as she stepped out in faith to respond to the needs around her in spite of personal risks that existed.
Surrounded by a very supportive community network, Haviland inspired her community to create 27 Underground Railroad safe places. As you know, the Underground Railroad created places for hiding and safely protecting slave refugees from being caught. The network was a web of these stops that ultimately led to Canada where slaves immediately became freed men and women who could now create independent lives and families without fear of reprisal.
One day Mrs. Haviland received a guest in the form of an Ohio school teacher who wanted to take a tour of The Raisin Institute. The school that the Haviland’s had created was the first multi-ethnic school in the state of Michigan in 1839. From the moment she met this “so-called” teacher, Mr. Smith, Laura completely distrusted him. Trying to politely give him a reason to head on down the road, it dawned on her that his scheme was probably to recapture one of their freed men, John White from Kentucky. Suddenly, she decided it was best to guide him on the long tour of the Raisin Institute so that she could set the Underground Railroad warning system into action. One of Haviland’s students rode into town to inform Mr. Watkins, John White’s host and then White, himself, of the impending danger.
Following the prolonged tour of the Raisin Institute, Smith quickly organized his posse along with George Brazier who was White’s slave master. They headed to Watkin’s farm, as he had been informed by a tip from a local boy of White’s whereabouts. The next morning the posse set out to re-capture White. They accosted Mr. Watkins outside of his home surly questioning him of White’s whereabouts. Mr. Watkins calmy responded, “I suppose he is in Canada, as I took him and his trunk to the depot yesterday for that country.”
Enraged George Brazier cursed Laura Haviland for her shrewd actions in securing White’s safety. However, Mr. Watkins informed the men, “Mrs. Haviland has not been here. There are many other individuals who gladly took a stand to support Mr. White’s freedom. He is greatly esteemed in our community.”
The Kentucky gang ignoring Watkin’s words, continued to curse Haviland’s name and make personal threats of bodily harm towards her. A concerned Mr. Watkins warned the posse, “There is a law to arrest and take care of men who make such threats. I’d be mighty careful if I were you!” Throwing caution to the wind, the Kentucky gang travelled to Snell’s hotel in Tecumseh, Michigan- four miles from Adrian where their drunken carousing led to displaying their pistols, dirks, and bowie-knives. Brazier, White’s slaveowner pointed to his metal and boasted they would have the life of Laura Haviland before they left Michigan. Judge Stacey of Tecumseh getting word of this sent Laura a private message warning her of these men’s evil intent. She asked the messenger to keep it quiet as she did not want to worry her children. Out of caution, four young male students were stationed around her home to keep watch. Some friends asked if perhaps Mrs. Haviland should take a trip to Canada. Her response was “No, I will not run or change my original course.” Instead, she decided to go undercover into Kentucky and pose as a berry picker. After the posse left the area, Brazier made the arrangement to serve a warrant for Haviland’s arrest if he had not recovered his slave by the following fall. Thankfully that day never arrived as Brazier died in his endeavor to capture White.
Laura, on the other hand, set out for Kentucky posing as a berry picker to find John White’s wife and children. This adventure was eye-opening for Laura as well as her entire anti-slavery network in Michigan. Jane White, John’s wife who we introduced in Video 7 was the slave of Benjamin Stevens and she met Laura, under the guise of Aunt Smith, that everyone knew was coming to visit, along with Mary, who was partly African but had white skin. Since Laura looked so much like Mary’s mother- no one asked questions. They came on the errand of picking and purchasing berries from the Steven’s plantation. Jane White was sent out to help the two ladies pick berries. The purpose was to slip a note to Jane that Laura had written to inform her of her husband’s status and never-ending love for her. Jane was thrilled to receive a message from John. She had been told by Benjamin Stevens that her husband hated her, had remarried, and had already forgotten her. Jane shared that she and her children were willing to work night and day if that meant they could be with John. Laura gave Jane a little memento from her beloved John. She found it difficult to leave the poor, heartbroken, crushed spirit. Here was a woman and sister whose widowhood was more desolate than even death had made Laura; and her poor children were worse than fatherless. Jane White’s story does not have a happy ending. A rescue was attempted a couple of months later when Laura was unable to participate, so John made the trip with a friend to rescue his family. They were reunited for a few short minutes-when six armed men pounced on them, capturing John’s family. John’s friend held him fast in the thicket to at least save John’s life against an impossible struggle. Finally, John fell into his arms in despair, having risked life and limb for a losing battle. Jane did not live long enough to grieve over her disappointed hopes. Jane died of cholera shortly after being recaptured. Later they learned that both George Brazier and Benjamin Stevens had offered a $600 reward for John and Jane. Stevens offered this reward for his own slave daughter. Yes, Jane was his daughter! He ended up selling all his grandchildren for the price of $1,000! The only good ending was John’s children all remained together and years later, they were reunited with their father who had remarried and had more children. Better days were ahead.
Such tragedy and betrayal are overwhelming; and fortunately, these types of experiences are minimal in our country today. However, there are still many struggles and inequities. One example of attempting to bridge these inequities and creatively iron out some of these struggles is the work done in “out of poverty” Core Community groups. In our Core sites, we offer resources and support for our participants and Core Leaders, those in poverty. We believe that given the right support and love, many will walk out of poverty on their own. The beauty of this relational program is that not only are we color blind, we are also breaking the unspoken rules of social class by pairing middle class and those of wealth to walk alongside those in the poverty class. It is simply astounding how the walls of class elitism fall when one walks in the shoes of their brother or sister from poverty. In a small Kansas county where poverty reigns high and jobs are hard to find, several prominent citizens stepped up to make a difference in their community. It was in Stafford County where I was privileged to serve. As I watched civic leaders, men and women who were representatives in the Kansas State Congress along with couples who came from wealthy families, befriend families with support and love, I was deeply touched to watch the walls of classism fall. These individuals had at one time believed all these folks needed was to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Yet, after hearing their stories, sharing meals with them, and truly caring enough to help them find resources, attitudes of righteous indignation and a “holier than thou” attitude just melted into love, understanding, and support. This county has less jobs than most others, and yet they are rejoicing and watching close to 14% of those in their program walk out of poverty, while 70% of their Core Leaders have calmed the chaos in their lives, learned to budget and pay their monthly bills.
Could a leader or a leadership team of community leaders and pastors gathered to simply care and lovingly listen and take action to support minority groups in their large cities make a difference?
Could such coalitions make positive changes in these communities if we allow those in poverty and distress to lead the charge?
After all they are the experts of their own circumstances!
Could a spirit of unity find its way to the surface and save our cities further violence?
Why does it seem we are at a stalemate?
Have we come so far in the dichotomy between the rich and the poor, between the BLM group and the police in our country, between the progressive and the conservatives that our only alternative is violence?
What do we have to lose by stepping out of our own skin and truly walking in the shoes of another? What do we have to fear? Or as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself?