To Tell the Truth
Good Trouble Step 6 taken from the experiences of our abolitionist heroine, Laura Smith Haviland is Seek out the truth, not talking points. Truth is a verified or indisputable fact – a Webster definition. Our sixth step of Good Trouble is to seek out the truth not talking points. Welcome back to our series on Good Trouble. In our contemporary era, we have news 24/7 on a plethora of satellite television, radio, podcasts, and internet channels. Flip the channel to any news station and keep it on for a few hours and a recurring theme will prevail. This theme generally aligns closely with the philosophy and views of its station. If a person generally agrees with the underlying philosophy, that will become their “go-to” channel. Whatever happened to the good ole’ days when Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley & David Brinkley presented the news
in what we believed was an unbiased news media. Was the news of yester years truly unbiased? Compared to the 24-hour news cycle today, it may appear so. Still, the news media has always been selective in sharing. Of course, to be fair 24 hours a day coverage could still never report all the important news of the day.
Philosophical themes were also significant in the news during the slavery era of the nineteenth century. There was the persistent view that slavery was ordained by God as we witnessed in Colonel Buckner. There was also the theme that many in the North insisted and believed abolition workers exaggerated the dire straits and suffering the slaves endured. Finally, there were those who walked side by side assisting escaped slaves. They witnessed firsthand the horrible atrocities that hatred and bigotry played in the lives that these innocent victims of color endured. Mrs. Haviland was determined to respond honestly and directly to those who carried the first two positions. She went undercover as a spy in yet another trip to find out if it really was just a few unprincipled slave holders by which the entire system of slavery was being judged. Travelling to Little Rock, Arkansas she posed as a politically neutral seamstress. Unfortunately, she could not reveal any of her thoughts or show any signs of concern or sympathy for the plight of slaves there. Her job was to listen and act indifferent. She revealed it to be one of her most difficult tasks ever. Laura witnessed two small slave boys, Jack and Jim being brutally beaten with cowhide, strung up by their wrists on a pole over the bay in the barn simply for being late to start the morning fires before dawn. Their Aunt Winnie had simply been sick and had forgotten to wake them up. The horrible slave mistress and master continued beating them with heavy blows all day long. By four in the afternoon, Laura was so distressed she excused herself with the need for exercise and fresh air. She felt such relief walking up and down the streets where she was able to allow her tears to flow freely.
That evening while Laura was sitting by a warm fire with her seamstress friends, the Shears, they recounted the horrors of the day and lamented the fate of poor Aunt Winnie, Jim, and Jack. Mrs. Shears exclaimed “I tell you people this cruelty, makes dealing with the devil almost look tolerable.”
Her son-in-law moaned under his breath. “Be careful. Don’t talk so loud, or you will make a fuss here.”
Mrs. Shears responded, “Well, I don’t care. I am mad! I tell you, Joseph. Hell is lined this very minute with such folks as these.”
“Yes, he agreed. “I do believe they are more cruel here than in Georgia.”
“I’ve not seen such cruelty in Georgia or in Alabama, yet I know it’s everywhere in the South. But, I tell you, there are more slaveholders in hell tonight for treating slaves this way than for all other sins put together, and I know it.” The good mother lamented.
“Be careful,” Joseph cautioned. “They’ll hear you and it will make trouble. It’s their property. It’s none of ours.”
“I don’t care! Slaves are human beings and have feelings as well as other folks.” Mrs. Shears concluded.
Mrs. Haviland asked nonchalantly. “What can these slaves do to get away from this cruel treatment?”
Mrs. Shears responded. “They go somewhere. I don’t know where…something underground. They disappear and I think Winnie, Jack, and Jim should run for it.”
Ahhh, so they were aware of the Underground Railroad, Laura thought to herself.
Haviland’s other purpose in going undercover was to help a young slave girl, Ann escape. Going on a walk to meet her at an appointed time, Laura was greeted by three formidable enemies circling her with a low growl, hair on end, and showing their sharp, wicked teeth. Remembering that a stern and steady gaze would disarm the animal of its ferocious intent, she resolved to try it. She fixed her eyes fiercely upon the sparkling eyes of the leader as he came within six feet. He stopped. Soon the growling ceased as the lips dropped over the long tusks, his hair smoothed back and he walked away with his slighter smaller companions close behind. Trembling for several minutes after this threatening encounter,
Ann’s contact came running towards her. “Did the hounds come to you?” She gasped.
“They did,” Laura said barely above a whisper.
“Did they hurt you? What did they do?”
After Laura shared her traumatic encounter, she exclaimed, “Oh, Mrs. Haviland! That was the only thing that saved your life. If you would have stirred an inch, they would have torn you to pieces. I was so anxious to have Ann see you. I forgot the hounds until I started back, and I almost fainted, for I know they are awful. I wanted to scream ‘God have mercy on that dear friend’ for I was most sure I’d find you dead.” She said, visibly shaken herself.
“Oh no, the Lord has preserved me, and I am not harmed.” Laura continued. She spoke trying to calm her excited friend. It took some time for both of us to regain composure. But Laura thanked God knowing that He is always present for His trusting children.” After making secure plans for Ann, word had gotten out that Ann was planning to take a trip, so all the plans for her rescue had to be abandoned.
Soon, Laura was on the first boat home. She quickly befriended a slave family traveling with their young slave owner. The couple had been separated from their older children by this young master. They were frequently in tears. Some of the other passengers noticed and made cruel remarks. Now that Laura was far away from the very, difficult role of pretending to be an indifferent observer, she went out of her way to comfort this sad couple. They were devastated that they would never see their children again. As they huddled together the tears poured without warning, Laura took their hands and said, “Dear friends, Jesus is the friend of the poor. He knows thy sorrows; and if thee will pray, He will comfort thy broken hearts.”
The true story these slaves endured has often been overlooked, ignored, and whitewashed. The truth is that generations later, many people in minorities find themselves in cycles of poverty that have never been broken. This is also a reality that creates stereotypes and misunderstanding. Yes, “pulling yourself up by the boot strap” may work in certain places and times, but when there is an inequity of resources for those who continue to repeat the cycle of poverty something must be done to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” In the Core Community “out of poverty” group I serve, this is our aim. We work to shore up resources for our Core Leaders, allowing them to make positive changes while we share, support, and love them.
Jesus calls us to go the second mile, to care for our neighbor- and that neighbor many times turns out to be a despised Samaritan or minority.
How do we avoid talking points and seek the truth?
How can we dig deeper and uncover glimpses of truth that could build bridges between divisive points of view? How could this help build a win/win in relationships?
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father – but through me” John 14:6. He also said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free" (John 8:32)