Greetings as we continue in our series on Good Trouble. In this series, we have introduced you to Laura Haviland, an unsung heroine of the 19th Century Underground Railroad, Union Army staff member, and post, Civil-War nurse and humanitarian. The fifth step of Good Trouble is to passionately promote non-violent change and action.
Laura’s work in sheltering slaves and guiding them to freedom certainly created a spotlight on this principle. Her humanitarian work gave no time for violence or aggression. The more she traveled in the Underground Railroad the more she experienced the blatant brutality and excessive hatred that impacted those of a different color by bigoted slave holders.
One runaway refugee who sheltered in the Haviland home allowed her the opportunity to share this truth with her family. While sharing a meal with this man, she had him tell his story. He conveyed that this was his second attempt in escaping to Canada. He shared, “I traveled three nights by the Norf Star. As Indiana is a free state, I thought I would stop and buy some bread.” The people were kind there and said I could stay and rest. They offered to pay me for the work I did to help me on to Canada. “But firs’ thin’ I knew my master come for me, an’ I seed him pay them money s’pose ‘twas reward.” Escaping this second time he did not talk with a living soul until he knew he was in Michigan where he found Mrs. Haviland. Looking him over, she said, “Your coat and pants are too ragged and need repair.” Giving him a towel, soap, a pail of warm water, and a pair of her son’s Joseph’s clothes to wear while she mended his, she said. “Now, go upstairs and take off your shirt.” When he returned, he still had not taken off his coat or followed her suggestion, so she said, “Thou must listen to me. I am not thy mistress, but thou must clean up.”
Tears began to roll as he slowly pulled off the coat revealing his torn and bloody shirtsleeves. There were long scars and sores on his arms that were far from healed.
Laura asked, “Are these the marks of the slave whip?” He nodded, as the tears continued to fall. “When was this done?” she asked.
“Two nights afore I lef’.”
“What was thy offence?”
“Dis is what I got for runnin’ off, an’ I fainted an’ master dragged me in my cabin and didn’t lock me in, cause I’s so weak. I recken he thought I’s safe. But I got something’ to rub over the bottoms of my shoes so dogs couldn’t foller me, and I got four loaves o’ bread and a big piece o’ boiled meat, an’ crawled into the barn an’ tuck dis bag an’ buffalo-robe for my bed, an’ dragged it into the woods, and tuck my bes’frien’, de Norf star, an’ follered clean to dis place.”
Laura asked “What did thee eat?”
“I tuck corn in de fiel’. When I foun’ log heaps an brush burnin’ I roasted a heap to las’ a few days, but I was weak an’ trimbly to start, an’ kep’ so all de way.”
After this brief history, Laura had him take off his vest as well. He did so very reluctantly and gingerly with cries of pain.
Ahh! What a sight! A big scab came off as she gently helped him remove his shirt from the waist, leaving a mass of open flesh! Opening his collar, she helped him very delicately remove the shirt off of his shoulders. It appeared to Laura that his shoulders and back must have been slaughtered into one mass of raw flesh. There were still very, large, unhealed sores. She wanted her son and son-in-law to recognize the severe brutal actions of slaveholders. Laura asked him if he would permit them into the room.
As they gazed at this poor man’s back and arms, Laura’s son-in-law, Levi Camburn cried out. “Mother, I would shoot the villain that did this as quick as I could get sight of him.
“But Levi,” Laura rebutted, “the villain is not fit to cause such violence in thee.”
“Yes, but the quicker he goes to the place he belongs the better. Indeed, I would shoot him as quick as I would a squirrel if I could see him,” Levi continued. Joseph agreed. “I think Levi is right mother, the quicker such a demon is out of the world, the better.”
Laura emphasized. “I know this is a sad sight for us to look at, but I did not call thee here to encourage violence. That is not the Quaker way.”
Laura felt that she was fighting a mentality of disbelief from her family in judging all slaveholders by the actions of a ‘supposed’ few unprincipled men. However, after this encounter with this severely whipped and poor beaten fugitive, she never once heard her son-in-law remark on her severity in judging slaveholders.
Doing her best to relieve this poor man of his pain, she furnished him with healing salve for his journey. Sending him off with a note of introduction and some pocket change to the next station in the Underground Railroad, it was several weeks before she heard back. When she did it was a friend George Wilson who said of him. “The first two weeks he seemed to have no energy at all. But then he went to work and quite disappointed our cynicism. He is getting to be one of the best hands to hire in Windsor.
In contrast today, the horror of twenty-first century racism is depicted with the murder of George Floyd, an African American man, by Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer. Floyd was suspected of using a counterfeit $20 bill in a store and was arrested by four police officers. Chauvin, the lead officer, knelt on Floyd’s neck and back for 9 minutes and 29 seconds blocking his air waves. Caught on video it was played and replayed throughout the United States igniting flames of fires and riots in US large cities and around the world during the summer of 2020. The group “Black Lives Matter” initiated many of these riots in cities where fires destroyed businesses and government property. Chauvin was convicted on two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter with a 22 ½ year prison sentence. The City of Minneapolis settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Floyd’s family for $27 million. Still the battle wages on.
How far have we come in countering the evil effects of racism? I encourage you to comment on the thread below with your input. Before we end, I want to highlight a couple of important points for your consideration. First: The racial issue for equity is deeply rooted in poverty and a system that rewards those who have resources to succeed.
The philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr. of peaceful protests has been swept aside by militants losing patience with a system they believe is stacked against them. The brutality of slavery from four generations earlier still carries with it sparks of anger and calls for retribution.
Did MLK and John Lewis’s call for non-violence die with them?
Is retribution a positive solution to racism?
Why do so many call for retribution rather than justice? Or reform? Or redemption?
If we practiced the steps of Good Trouble as designated here, do you believe a positive result would be possible?
How can we avoid this violence where innocent people continue to pay the price for the horrors of racism?
Will it not in the end destroy our country if we do not find a better way to respond?